In 1947, Morrison, then four years old, allegedly witnessed a car accident in the desert, where a family of Native Americans were injured and possibly killed. He referred to this incident in a spoken word performance on the song "Dawn's Highway" from the album An American Prayer, and again in the songs "Peace Frog" and "Ghost Song".
Morrison believed the incident to be the most formative event in his life and made repeated references to it in the imagery in his songs, poems, and interviews. Interestingly, his family does not recall this incident happening in the way he told it. According to the Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, Morrison's family did drive past a car accident on an Indian reservation when he was a child, and he was very upset by it. However, the book The Doors written by the remaining members of The Doors, explains how different Morrison's account of the incident was from the account of his father. This book quotes his father as saying, "We went by several Indians. It did make an impression on him [the young James]. He always thought about that crying Indian." This is contrasted sharply with Morrison's tale of "Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding to death".
In the same book, his sister is quoted as saying, "He enjoyed telling that story and exaggerating it. He said he saw a dead Indian by the side of the road, and I don't even know if that's true."
With his father in the United States Navy, Morrison's family moved often. He spent part of his childhood in San Diego, California. In 1958, Morrison attended Alameda High School in Alameda, California. However, he graduated from George Washington High School (now George Washington Middle School) in Alexandria, Virginia in June 1961. His father was also stationed at Mayport Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.
Morrison went to live with his paternal grandparents in Clearwater, Florida where he attended classes at St. Petersburg Junior College. In 1962, he transferred to Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee where he appeared in a school recruitment film. While attending FSU Morrison was arrested for a prank, following a home football game.
In January 1964, Morrison moved to Los Angeles, California to attend UCLA. Morrison attended Jack Hirschman's class on Antonin Artaud in the Comparative Literature program within the UCLA English Department. The Surrealist Theater of Artaud had a profound impact on Morrison's dark poetic sensibility of cinematic theatricality. Hirschman was then an Assistant Professor of English at UCLA, an author, published poet and collegial contemporary of Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Philip Lamantia, Bob Kaufman, among others. Jim Morrison was later to meet Michael McClure and together to envisage the Poetic Dream.
In 1965 the Artaud Anthology, which Hirschman edited and assigned to Morrison's class at UCLA, was published by City Lights Books in San Francisco. Hirschman's work on the volume includes selecting material and organizing translations from the French, including some of his own translations. He was assisted by others, including David Rattray. Hirchman's students at UCLA included Gary Gach, Steven Kessler, Max Schwartz and Morrison himself, among others.
He completed his undergraduate degree at UCLA's film school, and the Theater Arts department of the College of Fine Arts in 1965. He made two films while attending UCLA. First Love, the first of these films, made with Morrison's classmate and roommate Max Schwartz, was released to the public when it appeared in a documentary about the film Obscura. During these years, while living in Venice Beach, he became friends with writers at the Los Angeles Free Press. Morrison was an advocate of the underground newspaper until his death in 1971.
He was best known as the lead singer and lyricist of The Doors and is widely considered to be one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock music history. He was also the author of several books of poetry and the director of a documentary and short film. Although Morrison was known for his baritone vocals, many fans, scholars, and journalists have discussed his theatrical stage persona, his self-destructiveness, and his work as a poet. He was ranked number 47 on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Singers of All Time".
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