In his last interview, on KSAN Radio, February 13, 1981, Blues-Rock Guitarist Michael Bloomfield, made the following pertinent statement about the effect of music on our collective and individual consciousness:
“As you know, the music you listen to becomes the soundtrack of your life. It may be the first music you made love to, or got high to, or went through your adolescence to, or whatever poignant time in your life. Well, that music’s going to mean a lot to you. It’s going to take on much more import than just the sound of the notes, because it’s become the background track of your existence.”
Now for years, I have partially quoted or paraphrased Michael’s aforementioned words in regards to the music I love the best. Ultimately, for me, it comes down to one basic fact: I have never liked disposable, meaningless music. Music topped with a substance-less froth has never been very appealing to me. No Pop Tarts in my collection.
While appreciating and considering the true benefits of our technology, I determined a long time ago that it is people, not machines, that create the most lasting legacies in music. The best music that we listen to crosses over decades in the soundtracks of our shared existences.
The music of The Doors remains a rich part of American musical history. The Doors created a body of work that continues to inspire generations. Personally, the were the perfect midnight radio backdrop for my childhood that was fraught with shadows. After the murder of my Father, at the age of eight, Doors songs like Strange Days and People Are Strange made absolute perfect sense to my young troubled spirit.
On a larger basis, the music of the Doors framed some of the best and some of the worst moments of American history; In the 1960’s and beyond. The Beatles may have sang that all you need is love, the Stones may have asked to be given shelter, but the Doors framed both the ecstatic and the haunted aspects of life for their listening audience. They were the first American Rock Band to have clearly defined antecedents in Film, Literature, Music, Myth and Theater in regards to what influenced each member, their individual expertise and the applied talents within the band.
Recently, I have experienced an even more mature shift in my appreciation of the Doors. This occurred through the reading of the Robby Krieger Biography “Set the Night On Fire.” (2021, Little, Brown & Company) Krieger has joined fellow Doors members, John Densmore and Ray Manzarek in the writing of a memoir as his time as a member of the Doors.
Drummer John Densmore was the first Doors member out of the gate with his 1991 memoir, “Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and the Doors” (Delta, Reissue 1991). At the time of its release, Robby Krieger made the following statement about the Densmore book, “This book is the real story.” I wonder if he Krieger feels the same way about Densmore’s work with the publication of his own memoir?
The great heart center of Densmore’s book, for me, is his despair about both the occasional horror show of playing with the Doors and the loss of Jim Morrison. Pertinent to my own experience is Densmore’s description of the loss of his own blood brother, also named Jim, to suicide. Sadly, in reality, he lost two brothers, far too tragically.
Over the years, in addition to music performances, John Densmore has tackled Acting. In the mid to late 1980’s there was a satirical detective show called Sledge Hammer. Densmore had a cameo performance in one of the episodes as a Janitor. (The series also featured our own PolitiChicks CEO and Editor Ann-Marie, who doubled co-star Anne-Marie Martin and was featured as an actress in several episodes.) Densmore has acted in everything from sitcoms to one man shows. He remains a spiritual seeker and an active artist.
Keyboardist of the Doors, Ray Manzarek, contributed his own version of the story of the Doors with his 1998 book, “Light My Fire,” (GP Putnam & Sons). “Light My Fire,” details his beginnings with and attraction to the Blues scene of the Chicago of his youth, his attending the Film Program at UCLA alongside future bandmate Jim Morrison, the establishing of and success of the Doors and the diminishment of the band with the death of Jim Morrison.
I liked Manzarek’s book and along with Densmore’s book it holds a special place in my collection. As Manzarek was about seven years older than Jim Morrison there is an element of him looking at Jim Morrison as almost like a son. I get the feeling that he never fully processed, in a healthy manner, Jim Morrison’s tragic 1971 death in Paris, France. His despair ran deep and that fueled an obsession to preserve the legacy of the Doors in what seemed, at times, a somewhat grandiose manner. Manzarek sadly died of a rare form of bile duct cancer in May 2013. His contribution to the music of the Doors will stand the test of time
As stated the antecedents of the Doors were quite interesting. Ray and Jim both had a passion for film and both were huge fans of classic Blues singers like Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. So was Krieger who also was directly influenced by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Manzarek shared a passion for classic Jazz of folks like Miles Davis with both Densmore and Krieger. Additionally, Ray Manzarek’s childhood training in Classical and Stride piano served the Doors music well.
Jim Morrison, despite his propensity for self destruction, was considered to be quite brilliant. He allegedly had an IQ of 158. He had a photographic memory. He had hundreds, if not thousands, of books in his collection. He used to play a drinking game where he would have a friend pick out one of the books in his collection and then read a passage from anywhere in the book. Morrison could name the title of the book, the author and the chapter the friend was reading from. Morrison never lost the bet and drank for free more often than not. His reading range was incredibly broad from Classical Literature to Beat Poets
Additionally,Jim Morrison was a huge fan of Greek Tragedy and Experimental Theater. These passions, among others, directly influenced the music and performance style of the Doors.
Robby Krieger’s book, “Set the Night On Fire,” reveals information about The Doors that has not been actively revealed before. It details some very interesting details of the songwriting collaboration between Morrison and Krieger. Most Doors fans know that Jim Morrison wrote the following lyrics in the Doors classic song, Light My Fire:
The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre
The other contribution that Jim Morrison gave to the Doors most famous song was the last line, repeated three times: Try to set the night on fire….
Many people have made the mistake of thinking that Jim Morrison wrote all of the Doors lyrics. Not true. Take Light My Fire for instance: Morrison wrote the second verse and the ending coda. That’s it. Light My Fire was the number one song in America in the Summer of 1967. This was Robby Krieger’s first attempt at songwriting. Sometimes the stars line up.
But Light My Fire was not the only Doors hit that Krieger wrote. He also wrote Love Her Madly, Love Me Two Times and Touch Me, among many. As referenced in Krieger’s book, the original title for Touch Me, was “Hit Me,” a reference to the game of Black Jack. Morrison was helpful when he suggested the title change of Touch Me for the title and the chorus refrain.
Robby Krieger is unique as a guitar player in the fact that everything he played on guitar for the Doors was played with his bare fingers. Unlike many guitar players in Rock bands, he didn’t play with a plectrum, popularly known as a pick, until after Jim Morrison passed. This comes from his early lessons in Classical and Flamenco guitar styles. Robby’s Father, Stuart Krieger, purchased for Robby three 1963 José Ramírez III acoustic guitars on a business trip. Two Flamenco, one classical. Costing hundreds of dollars in the 1960’s they are worth thousands today.
In addition, Robbie Krieger played great slide guitar with the Doors, a technique that he still uses today. His tone and approach were unique. But the trained ear can hear hints of the influence of guitarist Michael Bloomfield on Krieger in songs like Break on Through. Likewise, the James Brown guitarist, Jimmy Nolen influenced the approach of songs such as Soul Kitchen. Great guitarists have astute ears and Robby Krieger remains unique and influential.
While all the parents of the Doors all offered some sort of input; It was Stuart and Marilyn Krieger that offered the most tangible support. Early in the band’s career they could not find a Bass Player that would gel with the four members. They discovered a Fender Keyboard Bass, a four octave instrument that simulates a bass guitar. ( I played one once, it does sound like a bass). This let the Doors have a pronounced bass sound without a fifth member. It also allowed Ray Manzarek to utilize his own training in Classical and Stride piano, making full use of his extensive left hand capabilities.
When the Doors needed a Lawyer, as their career took off, Stuart Krieger suggested a Beverly Hills Lawyer, Max Fink. Fink remained the Doors lawyer for the entire career of the original band. He represented Jim Morrison in the infamous Miami trial where he had been falsely accused of exposing himself at a 1969 Miami concert. That trial and the ridiculous guilty verdict caused a lot of heartache to Morrison and the band. Florida Governor, Charlie Crist, pardoned Jim Morrison posthumously in 2010.
From a heart center, Stuart Krieger participated in an intervention the band tried with Morrison. Morrison respected Robby’s Father and the intervention had a temporary curbing effect on Morrison’s extensive drinking and drug use. Robby Krieger’s parents deserve their own chapter in the history of The Doors.
These sort of warm moments are one of several reasons why I like “Set the Night On Fire”, above all the books written by the three surviving members of The Doors. There is a human and warm tone that weaves its way throughout Krieger’s book. His descriptions of collaborating with Jim Morrison are revelatory.
Jim Morrison, by Krieger’s written account, was a great songwriting partner. He was not always drunk or out of control. In addition, Krieger clears up some urban legends perpetuated by Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” film, the book “No one Gets Out Alive and by some of the Doors themselves. Krieger tells tales built on reality and dispels the myths with grace, warmth and humor. Ultimately, he communicates real love for his band mates with his stunning stories. Bands are like family. Occasionally, they fight. But Krieger is fair.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Krieger is articulate and honest. He holds back nothing, but this book is not a tabloid expose, but is an honest historical document of a time we shall never see again.
I only have one minor criticism of Krieger’s book. On a balmy night in March 2000, I saw the Robby Krieger Band guest with the Virginia Symphony at the Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Virginia. The first set that night was Robby Krieger, his son Waylon Krieger and their band playing some Doors songs and a lot of the Jazz Fusion from some of Krieger’s solo albums. What was exceptional and still memorable was the second half of the program which was all Doors music. As a Doors’ fan you haven’t lived until you hear songs like Riders On the Storm and Strange Days, among others, backed with a full Symphony Orchestra. Those violins and violas and symphonic backing breathed a new life into the songs I knew so well.
Berry Oakley Jr, son of original Allman Brothers Bassist Berry Oakley, did a fine job covering the Jim Morrison vocals that night, with occasional vocals from Robby. Robby Krieger only performed this sort of concept twice, once in Norfolk, once in Los Angeles. One of the best concert experiences of my life.
For you, my dear reader, I have included a YouTube link HERE that references that Norfolk night. It is the encore of “Roadhouse Blues.” Robby Krieger fails to mention these concerts in his book, I wish he would had done so.
Yes, the Doors remain part of my personal soundtrack. A soundtrack that encompasses the best parts of the American night.