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Deriving criminal defense inspiration from Keter Betts and The Doors

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One day, a likable colleague invited me to see his office nearby the courthouse after we had each finished court for the day. I knew him little at the time, and thought this would be a good chance to know a bit more about him and his practice. As he drove us there, he wasted little time in starting to talk about business planning, creating a law firm name suitable for helping to sell one’s law practice to another lawyer in the future, and making money. I was not put off by his talk, because he seemed to be interested in my input as a lawyer with many more years of experience as my own boss, and because he seemed — and still seems — different than the lawyer more experienced than I who turned me off in wasting no time at lunch asking “Isn’t the law practice all about making money?”

I am here to serve my clients and their liberty interests, which by itself precludes me from treating my work as “all about making money.” I am here to serve first. Moreover, for those wanting to make money in any endeavor, putting clients ahead of money earns one more money than doing the opposite.

I love great music and great musicians for many reasons, not least of which is their pure devotion to the craft. As an accomplished amateur pianist whom I had played with dozens of times in the same band emphasized as we rode the train together in 1985 from Connecticut to Manhattan, with him going to his architecture firm and me going to the Wall Street bank where I was working: “What kind of question is it to ask a music great how many hours the musician practices daily? You practice til you’re f’in [he said the full expletive] great… Then you have a cup of coffee… Then you practice some more.”  And some more.  I yearn to know not only criminal defense lawyers who feel that devotion — and I fortunately know many — but people in numerous professions and hobbies who are purely devoted to their craft.

Music is a great way to be purely devoted to one’s craft, because it can be composed and played with few barriers, unless one wants expensive equipment or to pay for large ensembles. Unfortunately, I let my trumpet sit for many years after college without playing it, after starting on the horn in 1972. Moving it into my current home a few months ago, I picked it up and started to play, although I need to grease the valves better to have them smoothly go up and down. I still have it in me

I have previously sung the praises of such music superhumans as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Cecil Taylor, and McCoy Tyner. Today, I add The Doors and the late bassist Keter Betts, who apparently lived within a mile of my old Silver Spring, Maryland, office until he passed away in 2005. Not until he passed away did I realize from Keter’s obituary that his daughter was my nearby neighbor from two years earlier. The Washington, D.C., area has had its share of resident accomplished jazz musicians, including Andrew White, Buck Hill and Keter Betts.

Had Keter Betts met the Doors, that would have been quite the juxtaposition, starting with the drug and alcohol-pickled lifestyle of Jim Morrison if not with some or the rest of the Doors’ members, and proceeding with the Doors’s members having to cope with superstardom, when Keter so often played as a sideman.

I know but a little about Keter Betts, but what I do know is that he was purely devoted to his craft, and was so capable that many of the music greats over the decades had him play alongside them. I have experienced scores of jazz history’s greatest musicians, and for all I know, Keter may have been playing in one of those bands. I do not think I ever caught him locally in the Washington, D.C., area music venues. Here is a clip on a documentary project about Keter. Here is part of an interview with Keter.

The Doors came front and center to my attention in 1979, when “The End” played during the disturbing napalm-filled introductory scene of Apocalypse Now. At the time, I was a high school junior working on Sundays at the now-defunct Caldor discount department store, in the book and music department. The department staff was limited to playing music from returned albums, and The Doors became among my favorite to play during the workday. With Doors music being so great, I could only imagine their music being returned for defective vinyl records, which was common with vinyl music.

Doors lead singer Jim Morrison was apparently forever haunted since early childhood from witnessing the gruesome aftermath of a car accident on an Indian reservation. He apparently also struggled over being so widely worshipped as a singer to the exclusion of his wanting to be recognized as a writer. Jim Morrison included gruesome lyrics, for instance, in “Rider in the Storm.” The Doors’s Ray Manzaek’s story of that song’s musical and lyrical development is fascinating.

One devoted to his or her craft does not merely rush to achieve a finished product, but revels in the process of creation and development as well. Creation and life are ongoing processes that need finding satisfaction in every moment rather than thinking of nothing but the finish line. That is the way I feel about my own life and my own work.