Jim Morrison’s Traumatic Childhood Memory That Informed His Career (And His Family Claimed Wasn’t True)

The Doors frontman Jim Morrison was a master of the eccentric, outlandish, and abrasive, and a traumatic childhood memory that he claimed informed his entire career (and his family claimed wasn’t actually true) is a testament to that manipulative mastery.

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Indeed, Morrison often tried to blur the lines between lore and reality, including when discussing the horrific scene he frequently referenced in his music and poetry. Regardless of whether it actually happened, it was undoubtedly real enough in Morrison’s mind to affect him.

Jim Morrison Witnessed A Car Crash As A Young Boy

Whether in interviews, biographies, or the lyrics he wrote for The Doors, Jim Morrison’s first encounter with death remained the same. According to Morrison, he was four years old when he and his family came upon a violent car crash on a rural New Mexico highway.

“My mother and father, I’m not sure if sister was there or if she was alive or not, and grandmother and grandfather were driving through the desert at dawn,” Morrison described in The Lost Interview Tapes (via YouTube). “A truckload of Indian workers had either hit another car or just, I don’t know what happened, but there were Indians scattered all over the highway bleeding to death.”

“So, they pull the car up, and they stop,” Morrison continued. “I’m just a kid. I had to stay in the car with the women, you know. My father got out to check it out. That was my first reaction to death. I don’t know whether I’m crazy or what, but I had the feeling…that possibly the soul of one of those Indians, or maybe several of them, just went over and jumped into my f***ing brain, man. And they’re still there.”

Morrison’s Family Had Varying Accounts Of The Traumatic Childhood Event

Jim Morrison’s father and sister disagreed with The Doors frontman’s recollection of that fateful dawn on a New Mexico highway. Morrison’s father suggested the story didn’t happen when his son said it did, and his sister argued that Jim’s young mind either exaggerated or misremembered the event altogether.

Of course, Morrison had a tumultuous relationship with his family. When he was a rising star on the West Coast, he claimed his parents were dead, although they were very much alive. “I just didn’t want to involve them,” Morrison explained in a 1969 Rolling Stone interview. “I guess I said my parents were dead as some kind of joke; I don’t see any of them.” So, it’s not entirely surprising that Morrison and his family might disagree on the details of his early childhood.

Nevertheless, the story—real or not—had a tremendous impact on Morrison’s writing and persona as a tortured, brooding poet. Morrison included a reference to this pivotal childhood trauma in The Doors’ 1970 track “Peace Frog,” during which he excerpts a bit of poetry: Indians scattered on dawn’s highway, bleeding, Morrison says softly in the middle of the song. Ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind.

The ominous lines were also included in a highly divisive poetry album The Doors put out following their frontman’s death. ‘An American Prayer’ also features a short track, “Dawn’s Highway,” which includes the same audio from Morrison’s Lost Interview tape. Like a child is like a flower, Morrison implores on the tape. His head is just floating in the breeze, man. And indeed, it was somewhere amid that uncontrollable breeze that Morrison said his life was changed forever.

Photo by Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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