Writings About Music
Interviews with Indian Masters
Indian Summer in Forests of Azure:
Time & Thyme with Ray Manzarek
Ray Manzarek and Michael Robinson at Ray's home in Beverly Hills, California
He once made gin and tonic drinks with fresh limes from his own garden, explaining how British sailors of the nineteenth century were dependent on this potent citrus fruit in order to prevent scurvy. Another time he prepared grilled cheese sandwiches featuring four different varieties of contrasting yet balanced cheeses.
At our first lunch together in Beverly Hills, we both savored three glasses of white wine with conversation that went on for nearly three hours. He insisted upon taking the check, after which the waiter, recognizing the name on the credit card, produced a cassette tape for him to evaluate.
Part of our friendship was probably due to my realization that it would be best to never mention his former band, especially the lead singer, and only discuss those subjects if he brought them up, which was nearly never.
Better not be one minute late for any meeting with him! He functioned with a precise punctuality and easily riled impatience at anything less than perfect; clearly not the common image of someone who had reputedly taken scores of LSD trips.
Early one Sunday morning, I was returning a videotape to a movie rental shop, avoiding being charged before it opened. Walking south on the west side of Beverly Drive, there appeared in the distance another figure walking north directly towards me on the silent, deserted thoroughfare. As we got slightly closer, Ray and I recognized each other at once from afar. He lived on South Rodeo Drive, one block over, and was also returning a videotape that morning. Upon realizing who it was, I immediately and involuntarily flashed to the famous chance meeting when Ray, sitting on the sand by the ocean in Ocean Park, an area in-between Santa Monica and Venice Beach, witnessed Jim Morrison emerging from the horizon into his view, soon sitting down to join his friend not seen since they left UCLA where most everyone except Ray disparaged him as a jackass. It was at this chance meeting that Ray and Jim decided to form a band together.
When Ray and I began making music together, collaborating with Indian and Arabic classical musicians, we prepared by first meeting privately in order to audition timbres he would use coming from a sound module and played on an electronic keyboard. I had already made much use of this module with my own music, and had some favorite sounds, but Ray, with his uncommonly tuned perceptions, unearthed a particularly fine natural piano sound I had overlooked, and it subsequently became a personal favorite. He took particular delight in the Just Intonation I programmed into his keyboard, approximating the tuning found in Indian classical music.
Ray had a grand manner and presence when playing that was apparent even though something like seventy-five percent of his keyboard technique and fluency had evaporated from years of relative inactivity compared to his peak nexus before Jim died suddenly.
He admired my music and musicality, and interest in avant-garde and world music traditions, encouraging me to overcome fear, complacency and shyness in order to share my music with the outside world.
When we first met by chance in the Beverly Hills Library, Manzarek was intrigued by the Milton Babbitt and Indian classical music CDs I was returning, together with an upcoming concert I was giving, and wrote down his home address, asking me to send a CD. Fortunately, he enjoyed that recording, my first album titled Trembling Flowers, and that was when he invited me for lunch. Subsequently, when Ray visited my studio for the first time, he reflexed in startled fashion: "Where's the keyboard!?" astonished that I had composed and recorded all of my CDs without the use of any keyboards, the reason being that I prefer to compose at a table with manuscript paper and pencil, followed by bringing the music to life programming the meruvina. I use pencil to allow for misstrokes, never changing a single note of compositions that may have as many as 80,000 or more - the meruvina counts such events, too.
Ray was fond of commenting on the pervasive influence stemming from the fauna and flora of the place we live on our music. Another time he gently questioned me about my diet after noticing a slight weight gain that he viewed unhealthy, casting a skeptical eye upon my attraction to an array of dried fruit, regardless of how natural or organic it might be.
He said that increasing pollution and warming from fossil fuels destroying our earth was not due to evil, but rather, colossal ignorance, greed, and self-importance.
His mind moved effortlessly with the speed of a supercomputer, his intelligence actually seeming to give off heat. Manzarek did his best to relax and let concerns cool off by losing himself in improvisational investigations stemming from AUM – not literally!
Ray always treated me as an equal, including myself as someone to learn from, too. I will forever be amazed at the many hours we spent together because people like him were supposed to be inaccessible. Having the elevated experience of absorbing his splendid thoughts and unique temperament remains unreal, like, "Did that really happen?!"
After all, his band, The Doors, not only changed music, but they also changed the world. He seemed to detect some shared, lesser-known qualities of Jim in myself; mostly intellectual thoughtfulness, an exploratory nature, and a meditative calm, which he did his best to nurture in terms of musical growth. There was a subtle sensation that Ray was cautiously reliving what is was like to have a creative friend with a blossoming musical gift however modest mine was in comparison to his late best friend.
Thank you, Ray. I still glean meaning from our conversations, sessions and performances. I see you somewhere enchanted and perfect eventually being reunited with Dorothy in the far-off future where any fruit, stone or tree you touch produces tones touching stars of the darkest night and the sunlit, shimmering, palm tree nirvana you conjured with Jim, Robby and John in this amorphous, extemporaneous city of tamboura-like Indian Summer.
Years before I met Ray, while discussing singers, Diamanda Galas surprised me by stating that she believed Manzarek was the driving force of The Doors even more than Jim Morrison, not suggesting there was anything other than quartile equality in terms of importance among band members. It's true that Ray's use of electronic keyboards was revolutionary and tremendously influential, pioneering new forms of musical expression and technique. His distilled, Spartan, and geometrically-balanced style of play and sound became part of my bones and blood while growing up a teenager in Wantagh named for the Native Americans who lived there for thousands of years.
- Michael Robinson, June 2014, Los Angeles
© 2014 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
A poem about The Doors by Michael Robinson