I’ve been on a Doors kick lately, the music swirling constantly in my brain much like it did when I first discovered them way back in high school, and it’s because Ray Manzarek died three weeks ago. Rather than mourn though, that evening turned into a kind of celebration, so to honor Ray, his music, and the rest of the guys in the band, I wanted to say the following:
Ray Manzarek died on May 20, 2013. I didn’t believe it at first, thought it was one of those internet hoaxes, that surely he was alive and well somewhere getting ready for another performance or two with Robby and John, that he’d be on a stage soon banging on the keys with his right hand and tapping out the bass lines with his left, that he’d smile in between songs and entertain the crowd with tales of Jim and Jimbo and his thoughts about the lasting influence The Doors’ music has had over the years, continues to have, but I was wrong. He was dead. The music, for him at least, was over.
My girlfriend and I were bummed, were silent at the dinner table and on the couch afterward. A man whose music had given definite shape and meaning to both our lives was no more, so we turned off the TV and did the only thing we could do. We went out to a pub to honor him with post-dinner drinks. When we got there, it was dark, a little depressing. There were only about ten people in the place including the bartender. “Welcome to the Jungle” was playing, and that wasn’t what we wanted to hear. We ordered drinks, and in need of some joy, I went to the jukebox and dropped in some cash, loaded it up with The Doors, but the music didn’t come. Someone in the bar was apparently on a Guns and Roses kick, and that’s a band I just can’t stomach anymore. Their music hasn’t aged well. It wrenches my innards, seems stuck in its time, but the songs kept coming. “Paradise City”, “November Rain”, “Mr. Brownstone”. When “Sweet Child O’Mine” came on, my girlfriend said, “Let’s get out of here,” and we paid and left knowing we’d miss the songs we wanted to hear, but that was fine. Playing the music was tribute enough. It didn’t matter if we stayed to listen. Others would hear it, maybe be moved when “Light My Fire” or “Riders on the Storm” came on.
“Did you hear Ray Manzarek died today?” someone would say.
“Yeah, that’s sad. Let’s go get some tacos.”
Because of that Oliver Stone movie about the band, I always think about tacos when their music comes on. The idea is fixed in my brain, The Door and Tacos, two most excellent forms of sustenance. I’ll hear the opening riff of “Roadhouse Blues” or “Five to One” and the image image will come, Val Kilmer pushing the microphone out of his way, taking a slug from a bottle, looking toward the sound booth, “Let’s go get some tacos.”
And so we did on our way home from the bar. We got six tacos from a truck parked next to the Shell station near our place and grabbed handfuls of hot sauce while we were at it. We started laughing for some reason, too, giggling, sometimes doubled over like we couldn’t accept the sadness of it all. Ray couldn’t be dead. I was only two when Jim died, and my girlfriend wasn’t even alive. Neither of us were much affected by his death, so over the years, it was Ray who seemed the leader, the embodiment of the band from interviews and videos, from the old story about how Jim sang to him on the beach those first few lines of “Moonlight Drive”. He was a co-founder, a creator. His sound defined the music more so than Robby’s guitar or John’s drums, even if it was Jim and Robby who wrote most of the tunes. It saddened us greatly, but we couldn’t stop laughing. The guy working the taco truck must have thought us drunk. “Ah, muy loco.” When we got home, we ate standing in our kitchen with beers, each of us taking turns singing our favorite Doors’ songs and spitting bits of taco on the floor in between the melodies and the laughter and even a bit of dancing.
“Show me the way to the next whisky bar…”
“Carry me caravan, take me away…”
“My wild love went riding…”
“Wild child, full of grace, savior of the human race…”
“All our lives we sweat and save, building for a shallow grave…”
“It’s all over, the war is over…”
We finished the tacos and the beers and wiped hot sauce from the corners or our mouths, she with a napkin, me with the back of my hand. We stopped laughing but were still hungry, and being only a little past eleven, we were just getting started on the singing thing, the reverberation of music that we have on the inside thanks to Ray and the boys. She looked at me, sighed, “More tacos?”
So we got in the car and headed over to Taco Bell. On the way, we held hands singing yet another Doors tune, one of my favorites, “My eyes have seen you let them photograph your soul, memorize your alleys on an endless roll.” When we got to a stoplight, I raised her hand and kissed the back of it then burped quietly. It smelled of beef and onions and cheddar cheese, of hot sauce, of us, and though neither of us spoke, we knew what we wanted to say. We wanted to speak of love, of moments that last, of music that gets us through, of now, of a night we hoped would not end because we didn’t want to stop singing, or eating.
When we got to Taco Bell, we ordered four more tacos and a Mexican pizza. “Sure thing, lady,” came the young squeaky voice that was a little too energetic for working the drive through at that hour, “Anything else I can get you with that?”
“No thanks,” she replied to him, “just some extra fire sauce, please.” We pulled around to the window. She fished in her wallet, looked up at the guy, “How much is it?” Then she burped, a nice loud one, guttural.
“Whoa, lady!” He sounded a little put off.
“Sorry,” she apologized, but she was laughing, again. “Here,” she gave him a twenty. He looked at her sidelong while making change, then handed her the bag without saying anything else. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I put Strange Days in the CD player and clicked forward to “When the Music’s Over” and there came those mighty keys. I started tapping the dashboard and bent forward as I imagined Ray would, as I’d seem him do in numerous videos, lost in the sounds, lost in the moment.
Ray once said, “You don’t make music for immortality, you make music for the moment. For capturing the sheer joy of being alive on planet earth. Wow, is this fun.”
He was right.
I opened a taco for each of us and we ate while singing, while laughing, while driving the circus-filled streets toward home.