“There are things known, and there are things unknown. And inbetween are the doors.”
— Jim Morrison
The Doors are a rock quartet from Los Angeles, California. Jim Morrison was a UCLA film student when he met recent cinematography graduate Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach. They shared musical ideas and decided to form a band. Manzarek and John Densmore knew each other from a meditation class. By September 1965, they added another friend in the class, Robbie Krieger, to complete the quartet.
The poetic, mercurial Morrison embraced Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors Of Perception, Huxley’s recollections of an afternoon experience with mescaline.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
— William Blake (1757-1827)
Breaking down the doors of perception to a new reality became the band’s theme. Success came quickly; their first album The Doors was released in January, 1967. One door opened immediately, the door of opportunity — for popularity, fame, and adulation. Suddenly the band was in demand for television appearances and concerts. But Morrison was cynical about fame, and he was self-destructive, defying authority and convention at critical moments.
The band stayed together until January 1971, producing five more albums of original material, culminating with the fine L.A. Woman. Despite the tumult created by Morrison’s outrageous public behavior and poor adjustment to fame, the band evolved brilliantly; from an airy, psychedelic sound to a rough, bluesy attack. Among rock bands of the late sixties, The Doors were among the most compelling musically, featuring a lean, robust sound, with all four musicians essential. Organist Ray Manzarek’s sound is unmistakable, providing bass, rhythm and organ solos from a pair of keyboards. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out how the trio backing Morrison created such a full sound. And though Jim Morrison is the band’s recognized poet, with his mystical songs and deep, powerful voice, it was guitarist Robbie Krieger who initially came up with the ideas behind their biggest hit, “Light My Fire”, highlighted by Manzarek’s opening and closing riff.
Sadly, six albums is all Morrison could give. He died in July, 1971, after years of alcohol and drug abuse. He remains a rock icon today.
“This song has haunted me for 40 years living in the fog of depression and despair: the mysterious realm that is ever present at the seam between consciousness and sub consciousness. I’m never sure whether I move toward it or it moves toward me but when immersed, life is surreal and terrifying like the scenes from ‘Apocalypse Now’. And then its gone and everything clears. I need that fog to appreciate the absence of it.”
— Joe R., Portland
The Doors at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJEL6b9Z78w
- They were prominent west coast American musicians.
- They died of drug and/or alcohol poisoning at the age of twenty-seven.
- They died within three years of one another.
- They were devotees of blues music.
Rolling Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones, another rock musician with drug problems and strong ties to the blues, also died at age twenty-seven. Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and Robert Johnson are three more examples of popular musicians whose lives were cut short at the same age.
What Do The Stats Say?
How can this possibly relate to baseball? A fine question that will largely go unanswered.
As a kid, I was fascinated with baseball statistics, a passion I maintained for the better part of twenty-five years. The obsession started when Dad showed me a board game he played as a youth, Cadaco’s All-Star Baseball. I knew how to play baseball; the San Francisco Giants were the most popular sports team in town, and every boy’s idol was the great Willie Mays. Daddy was a fine baseball player as a youth, even receiving an offer to try out professionally. But it was the tables of statistics describing player performance that piqued my interest.
As a kid, my Dad played All-Star Baseball, keeping statistics for each player. It’s a simple game where you spin a dial, with each player card having a different percentage breakdown of various outcomes such as “home run” or “strikeout”. Idolizing all that Dad did, I began to play table baseball and keep statistics, a pastime that lasted for decades. Within a few years, I began playing a more elaborate baseball game called APBA, and recruited neighborhood friends to join me. Sometimes Dad played, too. For years we played almost every day, compiling player and team statistics as they accumulated. I kept playing long after my friends lost interest. Many nights in college I stayed home and played table baseball, while others socialized and pursued the opposite sex.
For a century or more, baseball stats have been a near religion for its devoted fans, a way to compare and evaluate players. Baseball players have enough pitcher versus batter confrontations each year to create a statistically significant profile of their ability. In the mid-seventies, one young man from Kansas City, Missouri, enamored with baseball statistics, decided to leave his job at the local cannery, and devote his life to the numerical analysis of baseball, in hopes of learning greater truths about player strengths and weaknesses. Bill James wrote his first The Bill James Baseball Abstract in 1977; I purchased my first Baseball Abstract in 1982, and continued the annual purchase until 1995.
Bill James wasn’t the first prominent baseball statistical analyst (see Earnshaw Cook), but he was the first commercially successful one, credited with adding key new metrics that accurately determined a player’s true value. His work paved the way for men like Billy Beane, whose efforts as the Oakland Athletics’ general manager were documented in Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball. Subsequently, James was hired by the Boston Red Sox in 2003, and the Red Sox promptly won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, their first championships since 1918, breaking the “Curse of the Bambino”. Thanks largely to James, baseball statistical analysis is now a mainstream topic, with millions of fans using this type of research (now referred to as “sabremetrics”, after the Society of American Baseball Research) to compete against one another in fantasy “rotisserie” baseball leagues.
Because of table baseball, my schoolwork suffered. I was a solid A-/B+ student, but might have been a top student, if not for hours compiling and tallying statistics for baseball games played with cards and dice. But I learned some important concepts that can’t be taught in school. I gained a working knowledge in outcomes and percentages, and what sorts of deviations from the norm can be expected. During junior high school, there were four friends playing table baseball most every day. Two of them went on to lucrative careers in the financial industry; the other became a grade-school teacher. I became an engineer, because I could handle the math, but that real-life education in watching statistics helped me understand the nature of probability.
In the 1982 Baseball Abstract, Mr. James wrote an essay called “Looking For The Prime”, where he analyzed the careers of every major league player (977 total) born in the thirties, an effort to determine the age at which baseball players achieve a peak in overall performance. He found these athletes tend to reach their peak at about twenty-seven years of age, the inflection point where their combination of physical prowess and mental acuity are greatest.
The point of this discussion is finally made. Musicians are not professional athletes, but if athletes reach their peak physical/mental prowess, it is not a far stretch to suggest that human beings reach a physical peak at or near this age. These beloved musicians — Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones — died when their body and mind should never be better. And in virtually every case, save for possible Robert Johnson, they died by self destruction. Yes, a rock star’s life must be difficult, with all the temptations and few of the restrictions the typical person encounters, and yes, one’s vitality slowly begins to fade away, but life is still lots of fun in middle age, even for us regular folks. I’ve lived to tell how the drugs and alcohol grab ahold of you and don’t want to let go, and it’s been hard to stop, and stay stopped, and then try to forgive myself for the lost energy and erratic behavior. And surely it must be even more difficult for heavy, all day users, with bottles of whiskey and shooting heroin into their veins, but damnit, wouldn’t it have been worth it to stick around and see what happened next? I’m fifty-six years old now, and pretty healthy as of 2015. A lot happened since 1970. It’s not as nice as it used to be, but watching the transition unfold was worth it. My wish is for twenty more years, so I can see what happens next.
Ray Manzarek on LSD
“If you’re interested in knowing what existence is all about, I highly recommend LSD.”
— Ray Manzarek
The Doors were inspired by psychedelic drugs to test reality’s boundaries. Many artists use drugs for creative purposes; many beautiful words have been said and thought and written under the influence. Tangerine trees and marmalade skies. But were doors truly opened? Some artists lost their minds delving too deep into mind alteration, borrowing creativity now, and paying for it later.
LSD is the only drug I ever used sensibly, less than ten experiences, all before I was twenty. And it was amazing, a drug that literally granted me extra-sensory perception. For those few precious hours, I could see and hear things better: brighter, clearer, quicker. It did not produce hallucinations, unless you count “tracers”, the lingering images following movement.
I always took LSD with close friends, and as long as we felt safe, it was glorious. When the slightest danger was perceived, moods spiraled quickly into deep fear on a moment’s notice. Thankfully, this happened only once for a few frightening minutes. Otherwise, we enjoyed ourselves immensely, playing games, enjoying nature and laughing uncontrollably. I wouldn’t change a thing about these experiences, and the knowledge that the world can be experienced in a vastly different way.
“A Door Opened”
“A door opened, and I went through it.”
— Temple Grandin
One of my favorite movies in recent years is a made-for-TV movie starring Claire Danes, a real-life story about Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who overcomes her handicaps, and achieves great recognition, first for designing humane livestock facilities, and second as a spokesperson for autism. It’s a great story of a patient, loving mother, who recognizes her daughter’s unusual gifts, and insists that young Temple is different but equal to her normal, or “neurotypical” peers. Together, the two persevere through Temple’s difficult childhood, in a time when autism was poorly understood. But as she enters adolescence, she encounters important mentors, who see that this young woman has abilities that few possess.
Ms. Grandin perceives the world in pictures, recallable snapshots and videos in her mind. Hard work earned her the ability to translate these visualizations into speech and writing. It took years for those around her to accept and understand she could “see” mechanisms and processes in ways that others can’t.
Doors play a recurring role in “Temple Grandin”. Early in the movie, the self-made sign that hangs on her bedroom door that states, “Temple’s Room”, falls off the door by mistake, leaving her cowering in fear when she returns. As a young college graduate student working in Arizona, she must confront an automatic sliding door to shop for groceries; the prospect paralyzes her with fear. With the help of a gentle and thoughtful woman, she makes it in and back through the door that first time; a new achievement, and another obstacle navigated. Ms. Grandin begins to symbolize changes in her life as passing through a new door:
“During my life I have been faced with five or six major doors or gates to go through. I graduated from Franklin Pierce, a small liberal arts college, in 1970, with a degree in psychology, and moved to Arizona to get a Ph.D. As I found myself getting less interested in psychology and more interested in cattle and animal science, I prepared myself for another big change in my life — switching from a psychology major to an animal science major. On May 8, 1971, I wrote:
“I feel as if I am being pulled more and more in the farm direction. I walked through the cattle chute gate but I am still holding on tightly to the gate post. The wind is blowing harder and harder and I feel that I will let go of the gate post and go back to the farm; at least for a while. Wind has played an important part in many of the doors. On the roof, the wind was blowing. Maybe this is a symbol that the next level that is reached is not ultimate and that I must keep moving on. At the party [a psychology department party] I felt completely out of place and it seems as if the wind is causing my hands to slip from the gate post so that I can ride free on the wind.”
— Temple Grandin, from “Thinking In Pictures”
In the movie’s climactic final scene, Grandin attends an autism conference, and begins to share her experiences from the audience, at which point the speaker asks if she would like to come to the podium and tell her story. She imagines a door between her and the podium, as she walks to the podium and embarks on a new chapter in life. It’s a triumphant moment, an a-ha moment for the devoted mother, beaming with pride for her gifted daughter, a beautiful way to end this fine story.
The Doors Song Notes:
1. In recent years, surviving band members released a series of concert recordings, now available on iTunes. Some of these concerts feature excellent sound, and make a great addition to a representative library. Live At the Aquarius: The Second Performance is recommended. I spent some time reviewing the new offerings, and added seven live performances, as follows:
Live At the Aquarius: The Second Performance
Back Door Man (Live)
Mystery Train / Crossroads (Live)
Touch Me (Live)
The Crystal Ship (Live)
Live In Detroit
Been Down So Long (Live)
Break On Through (To The Other Side) (Live)
Live In New York (Highlights)
Peace Frog (Live)
2. “Indian Summer (Alt)” is found on the remastered The Doors: 40th Anniversary Mixes. The remaining songs are the best known versions found in the exected locations.
3. People who enjoy The Doors will get a kick out of Weird Al Yankovic’s satire “Craiglist”, complete with Ray Manzarek on organ. Highly recommended.
The Doors Songs:
Light My Fire, The Doors ✭✭✭✭
Riders On The Storm, The Doors ✭✭✭✭
Break On Through (To The Other Side), The Doors ✭✭✭✭
The Crystal Ship, The Doors ✭✭✭✭
L.A. Woman, The Doors ✭✭✭
Roadhouse Blues, The Doors ✭✭✭
Peace Frog, The Doors ✭✭✭
Back Door Man, The Doors ✭✭✭
The Crystal Ship (Live), The Doors ✭✭✭
Twentieth Century Fox, The Doors ✭✭
Love Me Two Times, The Doors ✭✭
When The Music’s Over, The Doors ✭✭
The End, The Doors ✭✭
Love Her Madly, The Doors ✭✭
The WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat), The Doors ✭✭
Touch Me (Live), The Doors ✭✭
Back Door Man (Live), The Doors ✭✭
People Are Strange, The Doors ✭✭
Break On Through (To The Other Side) (Live) ✭✭
Soul Kitchen, The Doors ✭
Alabama Song, The Doors ✭
Hello, I Love You, The Doors ✭
The Spy, The Doors ✭
Indian Summer (Alt), The Doors ✭
Mystery Train/Crossroads (Live), The Doors ✭
Been Down So Long (Live), The Doors ✭
The Changeling, The Doors ✭
Touch Me, The Doors ✭
Peace Frog (Live), The Doors ✭
Gloria, The Doors ✭
Back Door Man, Howlin’ Wolf ✭✭✭✭
Gloria, Them ✭✭✭✭✭
Gloria (Live), Van Morrison ✭✭✭
Gloria, Van Morrison ✭
Gloria, U2 ✭
Mystery Train, Elvis Presley ✭✭✭✭✭
Mystery Train, Junior Parker ✭✭✭
Hearts & Bones / Mystery Train / Wheels (Live), Paul Simon ✭✭
Light My Fire, José Feliciano ✭✭
Craigslist, Weird Al Yankovic ✭✭✭