CANNABIS CULTURE – Cannabis reformers lost a comrade when Ray Manzarek, keyboard player for The Doors, died on May 20 at the age of 74.
Manzarek was born in Chicago in 1939. He studied classical piano, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at DePaul University, and enrolled in UCLA’s law school but soon switched to cinematography. In December 1961 he enlisted in the army and was assigned to play piano in Okinawa and Thailand, where he first smoked marijuana. (Source: No One Gets Out of Here Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman.)
Back at UCLA, Manzarek earned praise for his early films, practiced transcendental meditation and formed a band. It was he who recognized the potential of his darkly Dionysian classmate Jim Morrison, teaching him to sing in a two-week crash course at his parents’ house. Their band was named for Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, which borrowed its title from William Blake’s poem, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
While the troubled Morrison descended into alcoholism and worse, Manzarek has stayed sharp over the years with his choice of inebriants. He appeared in the 2006 VH1/Sundance Channel documentary series, The Drug Years in an episode named “Break On Through”, from The Doors seminal hit “Break on Through (to the Other Side)”. Manzarek also spoke engagingly about marijuana in the HBO documentary The UCLA Dynasty about the glory daze of the UCLA Bruins basketball team.
In October 2008, Manzarek spoke at a NORML conference in Berkeley, California (see video). There he described beautifully, and musically, how The Doors’ first music was made after the group partook of marijuana.
“What’s great about marijuana is that it opens the doors of perception,” he said. “Music is the purest representation of that marijuana high: absolutely delightful, stunning, thrilling.”
David Letterman’s bandleader Paul Schaffer put it nicely in a memorial Tweet:
“The sound of Ray Manzarek’s organ will forever reverberate in the cathedral of Rock and Roll.”