Jim Morrison

It might have been in pieces, but I gave you the best of me.

In the biography form he filled out for Elektra Records, Jim Morrison told the truth, mostly. He was born, he said, on December 8, 1943 in Melbourne, Florida. He attended St. Petersburg Junior College in Clearwater, Florida, Florida State University in Tallahassee, and UCLA. His ambitions included making films, and his favorite actor and actress were Jack Palance and Sarah Miles. Favorite musical artists included Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, the Kinks, and a fellow act on Elektra, Love. He was single, he said, and his family members were dead.
Hey, I did say mostly true.

Read More

Adm. George (Steve) Morrison: I’d never heard that. I had the feeling that he felt we’d just as soon not be associated with his career, and stay in the background. He knew I didn’t think rock music was the best goal for him. Maybe he was trying to protect us.

Jim: I don’t want to involve anyone unless they want it. When we’re born we’re all footprinted and so on. I guess I said my parents were dead as some kind of joke. I have a brother, too, but I haven’t seen him in about a year. I don’t see any of them. (RS Int)

Besides the brother Morrison mentioned (Andy, who was six years younger), Jim had a sister, three years his junior. Her name is Anne Chewning.

Anne: I thought he was doing that to separate himself from my parents. My dad was in the Navy, he had his own life, and I don’t think Jim wanted to involve them at all. He was a real gentleman. He knew he was going to be doing things that would not have been approved by the family. I don’t think he wanted the responsibility of his behavior reflecting on anybody else, and he separated himself completely. He liked mystique, too. He didn’t want to be from somewhere.

Robby Krieger: He wanted there to be an aura of mystery about the band. He didn’t want people to know about his background or where he came from. He told people his parents were dead not because he hated them; I think it was more because he wanted people to think he came from outer space or something.

Adm. Morrison: My career was fairly typical of a flight aviator. When I graduated from the Naval Academy, it was February of 1941, and most of us went to ships in the Pacific. Mine was tied up in Pearl Harbor. We had a nice year there, I had a chance to meet my future wife (Clara Clarke), and there were a lot of social activities.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, I wanted to get into the war, so I applied for flight training and for submarine training; I got my orders to Pensacola first, so I went to flight training there. I went to finish my training in Melbourne, Florida. And that’s where Jim was born.

Andy Morrison: Dad was a straight shooter from a small town in Leesburg, Florida. My grandmother taught him to play the piano. She was semi-professional; she played the organ in silent movie houses.

Anne: We had other rebels and musicians in the family, besides Jim. My mother’s father was a Socialist, and they lived in a Socialist camp in Louisiana. And my grandmother on father’s side had perfect pitch and played piano. And my aunt played piano.

Andy: All through growing up, the aviators had a lot of parties and a lot of drinking, there was always a big crowd around the piano with my dad playing popular songs that he could pick up by ear. I remember some of the parties got pretty loose – but not my dad. My dad was always a southern gentleman. After about two or three gin and tonics, he’d start drinking straight tonic water.

Anne: My father was quite a showman himself. My parents had so much fun. They had wonderful parties; put on acts. We’d watch them from upstairs. Singing & playing honky tonk stuff, the hits of the day.

Andy: And you know when we were in Claremont, Jim was class president at Long Fellow. If I was kindergarten, he was fifth or sixth grade, I think it might have been sixth grade because he was the boy scout, he’d go out with my dad to Miramar and get his merit badges, so he was into that kind of stuff.

But more than anything, Jim was into reading, writing, and drawing.

Jim: I think around the fifth or sixth grade I wrote a poem called “The Pony Express.” That was the first I can remember. It was one of those ballad-type poems. I never could get it together, though. I always wanted to write, but I figured it’d be no good unless somehow the hand just took the pen and started moving without me really having anything to do with it. Like, automatic writing. But it just never happened. I wrote a few poems, of course.

Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding.
Ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind.

Jim: The first time I discovered death – me and my mother and father, and my grandmother and grandfather were driving through the desert at dawn. A truckload of Indian workers had either hit another car or something & there were Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding to death. I was just a kid, so I had to stay in the car while my father and grandfather went to check it out. I didn’t see nothin’ -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, 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 – and I do think, at that moment, the souls of those dead Indians – maybe one or two of ‘em – were just running around, freaking out, and just landed in my soul, and I was like a sponge, ready to sit there and absorb it.

Adm. Morrison: He was older than four. It was a bright sunny day in New Mexico. We were driving in Albuquerque, towards Taos. We went by several Indians. One of them was crying. It did make an impression on him. He always thought about that crying Indian.

Anne: We lived in Albuquerque, and we would go out to reservations or the mountains on occasion. The Navy did things for the Navajos, and we’d go out there for the day. We lived there when I was two, and he was six. And then again when I was eight, so he was eleven or twelve. He enjoyed telling that story, and exaggerating it. He says we saw a dead Indian on the side of the road, and I don’t even know if that’s true. He enjoyed having the spirit of the Indian in him as part of his persona. He liked the Shaman concept.

Jim: And it’s not a ghost story, man. It’s something that really means something to me.

Young Jim was a precocious kid. He liked to pull pranks in school; he enjoyed reading Mad magazine and drew cartoons of his own, usually adding a sadistic edge, with an emphasis on bodily functions and sex. And he liked messing with his siblings, teasing Anne, and doing much more to Andy.

Andy: Jim just liked to have a lot of fun; he had a good sense of humor. He used to pick up some rocks and give you the count of ten, and you’d better start running. And he would throw some rocks – but not to do a lot of damage. Or, in the swimming pool, he’d grab you and say, ‘Let’s see if you can hold your breath for a minute.’ And then hold you under water. Well, he might hold you down there for ten or fifteen seconds. One time when I was in junior high, he stopped some kid walking down the street the other way and said, ‘Hey, my brother wants to fight you.’ He wanted to see a reaction. He thought it was funny. And he also thought it was funny, when you were on the couch watching TV, to come over and sit on your face and fart. I don’t think that’s too unusual for an older brother.

Because of his father’s career, Jim and the family were constantly on the move; between grammar school and high school, Jim lived in six different cities, from California to Virginia.

Anne: I think my brothers and I were pretty close because we moved a lot. Whenever we moved, we were the only ones we knew, so we were kind of good friends for a long time, until we got to know other people.

Adm. Morrison: He was independent-minded; he had his own ideas and thoughts. I had no arguments with that. We didn’t have any quarrels. I knew he didn’t agree with some of the things I did, but he didn’t try and make an issue of it, and I tried to give him the same consideration.

Andy: Until he got to be in high school, he wasn’t that rebellious, but my dad’s right; he did give him a lot of leeway. My dad was gone about half the time. In those days they had about nine-month cruises, and I think my brother and my mother had a relationship that Jim was the little man around the house.

But was he a good little man who did his share of chores?

Andy: Most of the time, up until in high school, like in Alameda (California), he started to get a little more independent. I remember one thing; I don’t remember what the argument was, my mother was pissed and they were starting to get into a fight in the living room and I was kind of stood back and didn’t know what side to take, but Jim was not as serious as my mother. My mother had a hard streak; she could be pretty ornery. She was slapping at Jim and he started laughing and got out his ball point pen and started drawing on her arm and this just infuriated her and he was just laughing. I remember her screaming, ‘You don’t fight fair! You don’t fight fair!’ And he’s taking the ballpoint pen up and down her arm.

Anne: We did not argue. That’s the way we were raised. When we were in high school, Jim was becoming more unusual, compared to the rest of people in families. He used to go buy clothes at the Goodwill. That was a clash, the clothes he would like to wear. He’d come home with some very strange things. Pointy shoes and things no one else’s children would wear. And when he was coming home from college, he would come home with long hair, and that wasn’t acceptable in our house.

In Alameda, a city connected to Oakland by a tunnel, Jim Morrison was only a couple of bus rides away from San Francisco, which beckoned from across the Bay Bridge.

It was 1957, and the 14 year-old Jim began to split his loyalties between Mad magazine’s sick and satiric humor and the poetry and rebellion of the emerging beatniks scene in San Francisco’s North Beach. Jim devoured Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

After a year, the family moved again – this time to Alexandria, Virginia. By now, Jim was a mad genius, of sorts. He had an extraordinarily high IQ, of 149. He was prone to stunts and pranks at school and elsewhere. He now had girlfriends, and teased and taunted them, too.

Anne: In high school, he would just leave school sometimes to go to Washington, D.C. to go to the library. One time he told the teacher he was having a brain tumor removed and walked out of class.. The teacher called my Mom to ask how he was doing. She didn’t know what she was talking about. ‘Well, the brain tumor.’ ‘He doesn’t have a brain tumor!’

Andy: He got along with the folks and they always gave him these rooms -like in Alexandria, he was in the basement with his own exit, a stairway out the back. In Alameda, he had a whole floor to himself. My dad gave him a lot of room so if he wanted to go out and do stuff, he had easy access.

Anne: He was an avid reader, and he had a notebook in high school. He’d learn a new word and write a whole story around it. He wrote all the time. I just thought he’d be a beatnik and be poor all his life.

Jim: “Horse Latitudes” I wrote when I was in high school. I kept a lot of notebooks through high school and college, and then when I left school for some dumb reason – maybe it was wise – I threw them all away. There’s nothing I’d rather have in my possession now than those two or three lost notebooks. I was thinking of being hypnotized or taking sodium pentathol to try to remember, because I wrote in those books night after night. But maybe if I’d never thrown them away, I’d never have written anything original, because they were mainly accumulations of things that I’d read or heard, like quotes from books. I think if I’d never gotten rid of them I’d never have been free.
I was a good student; read a lot. But I was always talking when I wasn’t supposed to, so they made me sit at a special table – nothing bad enough to get expelled for. I got through school. Went to Florida State University mainly because I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

Anne: When he graduated from high school, he asked our parents for the complete works of (Friedrich) Nietzsche. I think my parents thought it was rather strange. Most kids want to go and do something fun, or get a car!

Andy: When Jim graduated, he didn’t want to go to the graduation. Also, he didn’t do anything for college, so my parents did it for him. From there, I think he saw that he was more than junior college, and he got himself into Florida State, in Tallahassee, where he got on the Dean’s list.
Once, I was having trouble with school. I was a poor reader. He would give me lists of books I should read. I was about fifteen, and he had me read Studs Lonigan by James Farrell. And it was about a fifteen year-old kid growing up in Chicago who liked to play football, and ran around, so I could relate to it. And it was good literature, so then I realized that, besides The Red Badge of Courage, there was some good reading out there. That helped me a lot.
After he got on the Dean’s List, he decided he had a plan, and he wanted to go to film school, at UCLA.

Jim: I finished up at UCLA. The only reason I did it is because I didn’t want to go in the Army, and I didn’t want to work – and that’s the damned truth. (fr. Radio ‘From the Inside’)

In virtually every biography of Morrison, it’s been said that he went to UCLA without his parents’ knowledge, approval, or assistance. His family disagrees.

Adm. Morrison: That suited me fine. I was delighted when Jim decided to go to UCLA. I thought his talents lay in that line of work, and that he’d get contacts there.

Anne: I think the decision was all his, to go and study film.

Andy: And my parents paid the tuition. Jim was supposed to write a letter once a month to get his allowance, so he did. He’d write these letters and we’d sit around, the whole family, and read them, and he’d just make up a crock of shit like being at the movies and the place caught on fire and he calmed everybody down by getting up on stage and singing a song. So we knew it was all horseshit and we’d look forward to his next monthly read.

Jim: The good thing about film is that there aren’t any experts. There’s no authority on film. Any one person can assimilate and contain the whole history of film in himself, which you can’t do in other arts. There are no experts, so, theoretically, any student knows almost as much as any professor. [note: To D. Diehl]
The only film I made (at UCLA) was a film that was questioning the film process itself, so it was a film about film. I had a lot of people watching the film in a room, and then I showed people watching television and then filled the whole screen up with things that were shot off television….A few people liked it and most people were indifferent to it.

Ray: I remember going over to Jim’s apartment and hanging out. And Jim had this big wall of books, and one of Jim’s tricks, Jim would say, ‘Take a book off the shelf, I’ll turn my back, you read me a couple of lines, a paragraph, whatever, and I’ll tell you what the book is and who the author is.’ And Jim would bet you a six-pack of some Mexican beer, and by God Jim Morrison drank free beer nineteen out of twenty times.

Andy: We got transferred to London in 1965 (Adm. Morrison was on the staff of the Commander in Chief, Naval Operations, Europe), and my dad and Jim had a falling out because Jim wanted to go into music or borrow some money. And I didn’t hear from him for two years.

Adm. Morrison: He called me and told me he was going on the road with a rock band. I told him it was ridiculous. I said, ‘You’re not a singer. You can’t sing.’ He never had. Driving across country, we all liked to sing. It was just to pass the time. I didn’t think any of us had a voice. I said, ‘You’re on the wrong track here. Get yourself a job. That’s not a job.’

In another telling of this incident, Jim is said to have informed his parents of his rock band plans in one of his letters to his family, in London. Adm. Morrison reportedly wrote back, expressing disappointment that, after paying his tuition for four years, his son was starting a band. ‘I think it’s a crock,’ he’s said to have written.

The Morrisons, father and son, never saw each other again.