This Incident Haunted Jim Morrison Throughout His Life

Artists, no matter the medium, will tell you that they often draw from real life experiences when they are creating. Musicians are no exception to this. And while some musicians will absorb and reflect on the happier experiences they've encountered in their lives, many others will focus on some of the darker elements that they have been exposed to. Sad to say, but pain and suffering can lead to some great music. If you disagree, try putting on a Joy Division record sometime and see if you can defend front man Ian Curtis having a sunny disposition.

Not all of the lyrics Jim Morrison wrote for The Doors were all doom and gloom. But there seems to be a motif of dreariness throughout much of their musical catalog. With songs like "The End" and  "I Can't See Your Face in My Mind," Morrison was able to introduce some depressing elements into his lyrics, and make great music from them.

What some fans of The Doors might not know is the story of a disaster that Morrison personally witnessed as a child. The incident left such an impression upon him that it haunted him throughout the rest of his life. Morrison drew from this experience as an artist; it inspired the song "Peace Frog" and the spoken word pieces "Dawn's Highway" and "Ghost Song" (via Mental Floss).

'Funny red paint and people lying around'

According to Morrison, he was traveling with his family through the New Mexico desert early one morning in 1947. The relaxing dawn drive soon took a dark turn, however. The Morrison family came upon a truck accident, in which the overturned vehicle had spilled out its occupants onto the roadway. According to Biography, Morrison said of the event years later, "All I saw was funny red paint and people lying around, but I knew something was happening, because I could dig the vibrations of the people around me, 'cause they're my parents and all, and all of a sudden I realized that they didn't know what was happening any more than I did. That was the first time I tasted fear."

Witnessing this incident had a deep impact on young Morrison, insertin his memories of it into song lyrics and poetry. Listening to the track "Peace Frog" from The Doors album "Morrison Hotel," you'll hear a break in the music, and a change in the song's tempo. Morrison speaks, rather than sings, the lyrics "Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding/ Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind."

No doubt a horrible scene to encounter at any age. It's no wonder it stuck with Morrison as an adult. But how much of it was real?

A real event, or figment of a child's imagination?

Nearly 70 years after the tragedy on that New Mexico highway was supposed to have occurred, a documentary film was made about the actual incident that inspired Morrison. "Dawn's Highway" was released in 2016, putting together many of the pieces that Morrison missed, as well as clarifying some of the misperceptions he had about the wreck itself (via Cision PR Newswire). 

In interviews about the accident as an adult, Morrison recalled the dead bodies of several Native American workers strewn all over the highway. In reality, while there were some pretty serious injuries from the wreck, there was only one fatality. It's also worth noting that the workers Morrison thought to be Native American were actually Latino migrant workers, on their way to a farm that employed them.

 In "Dawn's Highway," the documentary filmmakers interview the truck driver (clip posted on YouTube) and an actual survivor of the real-life incident that helped to mold Morrison's career as a musician and a poet. While not as bad as Morrison recalled, it was still a tragic day for those involved. Another example of art inspired by tragedy.