Behind the Band Name: The Doors

Like many of the bands we still adore today—Nirvana, The Beatles, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience—The Doors had a short lifespan. Active from 1965 to 1973, and deeply affected by frontman Jim Morrison’s death in 1971, The Doors were together for less than a decade. The brevity of their career together, though, does not correlate with the rock band’s success.

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The Doors were first associated with the 1960s counterculture movement in the United States, especially with Morrison’s delightfully erratic stage presence and personal beliefs. (In an interview with Creem Magzine in 1981, Morrison said, “There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first… You can take away a man’s political freedom and you won’t hurt him—unless you take away his freedom to feel. That can destroy him.”) Morrison was the subject of great intrigue, and the band he fronted became known as one of the great classic rock bands to come out of the U.S. So, alongside Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore, The Doors became known for their psychedelic and blues rock in songs like “Break on Through (To the Other Side),” “Light My Fire,” “Riders on the Storm,” and “L.A. Woman.”

And, what set the precedence for their sound and success, was in part, the band’s name: The Doors.

Where “The Doors” Came From

The Doors took its name from the autobiographical book, The Doors of Perception, by English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley. The book, published in 1954, was a written account of Huxley’s experience with mescaline, which is a hallucinogenic drug similar to LSD. In his book, Huxley concludes that embarking on such a trip is transformative and helpful, but not necessary, for intellectuals to gain different perspectives of life. Further, the title of Huxley’s book was taken from a line of poetry written by English poet William Blake in his book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.”

Morrison himself was an avid reader and considered himself a poet before fronting The Doors, which is likely how the group stumbled upon The Doors of Perception for inspiration. During The Doors’ live performances, Morrison was known to occasionally give a spoken word passage of poetry.

The Lizard King

As most Doors fans know, one of Morrison’s nicknames was “The Lizard King.” Having little to nothing to do with his musical ability, the name begs the question, “Where did ‘The Lizard King’ come from?”

While many liked to speculate that it had something to do with drug use or being reflective of the places Morrison grew up, the source of this nickname is more straightforward. As we noted above, Morrison was a poet in addition to a songwriter, and he had written a poem titled “Celebration of the Lizard.” Part of the poem contains the verses, “I am the lizard king / I can do anything.” Likely, Morrison began to call himself The Lizard King after writing that poem, and unknown to him, the nickname would stick.

Celebration of the Lizard” would later be published and released as a performance piece by The Doors from the album Absolutely Live.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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