An Inside View Of The Doors From Guitarist Songwriter Robby Krieger
It’s possible that somewhere among Robby Krieger’s possessions is a rare leather bound inscribed copy of Jim Morrison’s book An American Prayer. It’s also very possible that the book is moldering in a storage unit or was misplaced long ago and discarded.
The Doors guitarist Robby Krieger is not quite sure. In a life that has been tinged by a great deal of drug-taking, Krieger doesn’t remember quite a number of things.
Krieger writes, “…most of what I’m describing happened when my whole generation was drifting through a haze of weed and pills and acid, and we didn’t bother to take notes, let alone film everything on our phones.”
But what he does remember and relates in his autobiography with co-author Jeff Alulis, Set The Night On Fire Living, Dying and Playing Guitar With The Doors (Little Brown and Company) 2021, will be fascinating to any fan of the seminal California rock band of the late sixties and early seventies. The Doors are one of the handful of bands that despite not putting out a new album in dozens of years still retains a large devoted following.
Young people today when exposed to The Doors can still relate musically and lyrically to the themes they explored.
Break On Through
In a non-linear telling of his life, Krieger writes the way he riffs on guitar. The prose is free-flowing and free of pretension. Krieger is very honest when he describes his triumphs or demons.
Krieger tells his story of being raised in an upper middle class family in southern California, going to school, getting involved in music, meeting his bandmates and the formation of The Doors quite well.
While Jim Morrison, the self-destructive singer for The Doors, is given a generous amount of attention, Krieger provides large portions of insight into the personalities of keyboardist Ray Manzarek and drummer John Densmore, each who have previously written autobiographies about their lives within and outside of The Doors.
Set The Night On Fire should be entitled Light My Fire as Robby Krieger was the writer of The Doors most famous song. Instead Krieger uses a phrase within Light My Fire for the book’s title because Manzarek usurped Light My Fire for his own autobiography. “Shouldn’t I have first dibs on that book title?” Krieger half-jokingly muses.
Set The Night On Fire
Set The Night on Fire focuses on Krieger’s life and the people that move in and out of it. The tone of the book is positive overall, despite the many losses contained within the narrative.
Some of those losses include Krieger having his beloved red Gibson SG guitar which he composed Light My Fire on and played on stage for years, being stolen. Though he does not explicitly say it, that guitar, seemed to be an extension of Krieger’s karma. It is a small in the scheme of things, yet important utilitarian loss has gnawed at his psyche for 50 plus years. Then there is not just material loss, but human.
Krieger’s twin brother Ronny battled mental issues which contributed towards an unstable and shortened life. Krieger’s part in the paralysis of a passenger in a car crash while he was driving has a profound impact on his life. He tells of the loss of many unproductive years due to some serious addictions. And most prominently, the loss of his band, The Doors.
Yet the uplifting spirit of Robby Krieger is clearly evident. He is able to recall tough times without being maudlin. Krieger is introspective, funny, and self deprecating with a chapter called “The Worst Hair in Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Enough To Base A Movie Upon” (which explodes many of the myths in Oliver Stone’s biopic 1991 movie). Krieger also warns in a tragic-comic story of his mistake in once owning wild, exotic cats as house pets.
Stories about The Doors songs are told with details that only Krieger can provide.
“The standing accusation is that when we wrote Hello I Love You we ripped off the Kinks. Nothing could be further from the truth: we ripped off Cream!” Krieger writes.
The original title for Touch Me was Hit Me since the song was inspired by blackjack. Morrison suggested the change in title because he was worried people wouldn’t get the symbolism and take the phrase “Hit me” literally.
Krieger shares behind the scenes glimpses of creativity, concerts, other bands and musicians. Life on the road and the interpersonal relationships that result in the oft quoted “being in a band is like being in a marriage,” is clearly evident to readers. The unstable Morrison could be unpredictable and downright dangerous, especially when he was drunk, which was frequently. There were also strains of conflict within the band when Morrison left for France in 1971. You might conclude that The Doors may have been over even if Jim Morrison had not died. Without Morrison, The Doors did record two albums as a trio, Other Voices in 1971 and Full Circle in 1972. Both had disappointing sales. The Doors disbanded in 1973 with Manzarek walking out on his band mates while in England.
From Krieger’s perspective we do learn:
Jim Morrison is definitely dead and Krieger’s surprising reaction after learning of Morrison’s death was one of relief.
Jim Morrison never exposed himself on stage.
Though Krieger would write the music and lyrics to Light My Fire, it was a collaborative musical effort. The whole band and producer Paul Rothschild all made important contributions to creating one of rock’s most iconic songs.
Bandmate John Densmore’s lawsuits against him and the late Ray Manzarek do not prevent Krieger from calling him a friend. He hopes Densmore still refers to him the same way,
Krieger’s supportive parents should get some credit for helping the The Doors to success.
Oliver Stone’s, The Doors movie does not portray reality, but is great entertainment.
And finally, there is life after The Doors.
Today the 76-year-old Krieger continues to perform with The Robby Krieger Band and appears occasionally as a guest musician with other bands. Krieger has been married to his wife Lynn Ann Veres since December 26, 1970. Krieger has formed a very close relationship with their musician son, Waylon.
As he says, “I ended up married to the best partner a person could ask for and I’ve spent my golden years traveling the world with my son and playing music by his side.”
Returning to Krieger’s copy of An American Prayer, Krieger writes:
My original copy of Jim’s American Prayer has since gone missing. I’m fairly sure it’s tucked away in an old box that’s sitting among other old boxes in a rented storage space where I keep the things that belong in old boxes. But it’s just as likely that it has vanished over the past few decade.
It’s one of only a handful that were ever printed, personally signed by Jim Morrison to his bandmate Robby Krieger. It would probably be worth a pretty penny on eBay. If I still have it I could never sell it, of course. But if it’s already gone , that’s okay too. I haven’t bothered to go frantically digging through my storage space to find it for the same reason I don’t lie awake at night pining for my lost Gibson SG. To other people, an object may be valuable. To me, its value lies in what it inspired.
Robby Krieger recently underwent a battle with cancer that he has mostly recovered from. Here’s hoping that Robby Krieger has many more productive years ahead of him. Hopefully he can appreciate the joy and inspiration he has given millions of listeners through his music, including this reviewer.
For a Doors fan this is a book worth owning that you will not want to put down. 422 pages goes by too quickly. You’ll want to stay up late reading “until the end.” And to paraphrase another Doors song When The Music’s Over after you finish – “turn out the lights.” It will please Krieger’s ecocentric bandmate John Densmore that you’re saving electricity.