The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, the Chicago Seven trial and the craziness of Woodstock in 1969, the 1968 election of Richard Nixon with his escalation of the war, the 1970 killing of students in a demonstration at Kent State by National Guard soldiers -- all foreshadowed -- would eventually wear down much of the rampant idealism that, for the moment, was still thick in the air.
Released on the band's debut album, "The Doors," "Light My Fire" was the band's first big hit. It went to No. 1 on Billboard's charts in late July of 1967. The album lodged at No. 2 for two weeks on the Billboard 200 chart, kept out of No. 1 only by the Beatles' legendary "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
The song, with Jim Morrison's seductive vocal, has a dark, powerful quality, inciting "the time to hesitate is through, no time to wallow in the mire, try now we could only lose, and our love become a funeral pyre." Those lines said "seize the spiritual LSD moment," according to Manzarek, in his excited account of the song's creation available on the blog TwentyFourBit, with him playing examples on the piano as he's talking.
In that audio clip, Manzarek shows how the song was made, the whole group collaborating effectively, each bringing in their own strengths: guitarist Robby Krieger, the basic inspiration and a Latin-tinged feel, Morrison the dark poetic images, Manzarek and drummer John Densmore enlivening with jazz and rock references deeply rooted in Manzarek's keyboard bass lines.
"Freedom" was the word of the day, infused in every aspect of the youth culture. Seizing the moment meant, in part, acknowledging that wide range of cultural influences, the freedom available at the turn of a radio dial. Manzarek's reference to LSD seems off-putting to those for whom drugs represent only addiction, criminality and self-delusion. But in 1967, LSD represented a liberation from old patterns of thought, a freedom to imagine new possibilities, breaking down boundaries to reveal new realities both beautiful and terrifying. It was all the more potent a symbol once the government made it illegal in 1966. The message of "Light My Fire" is hedonistic, yes -- push the sensational envelope, get higher, love without considering the consequence because death awaits us all. But all that also was emblematic of an important social distinction, a thrilling way of looking at a world where anything was possible, an anarchistic embrace of freedom that the Baby Boomers' parents, survivors of the Great Depression and World War II, struggled to understand or simply dismissed.