I'd really like to stay here all night
The cars crawl past all stuffed with eyes
Street lights share their hollow glow
Your brain seems bruised with numb surprise
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Still from a short film shot in 1966 by Thom Andersen called Olivia's Place, documenting it before it shut down.
Before he was the Lizard King, the new Dionysus, or Mr. Mojo Risin’, Jim Morrison was a chubby young LSD-aficionado living on people’s couches and rooftops in Venice Beach, California. Having just graduated from UCLA film school in Los Angeles, Morrison was just as broke as the hundreds of other unemployed bohemians that had been flooding into the area for decades in search of cheap living. This young provocateur, known for saying outrageous and offensive things to get a rise out of people, needed a cheap place to eat. The restaurant that he found was named Olivia’s, and it would eventually be immortalized in the “Soul Kitchen” track of the Doors’ eponymous first album.
Olivia’s looked like an “Amtrak dining car that got stranded on the beach.” (Densmore) The soul food restaurant was located on the corner of Ocean Park and Main, near the present-day location of the California Heritage Museum. On any given night it was full of college students gorging themselves on the $1.25 steak and vegetable special, while Olivia limped around orchestrating her staff with her booming voice and an occasional slap if an employee was lounging too long.
Morrison frequented the restaurant even more regularly than most. He would spend hours sitting at a table and looking out the window as cars crawled past “all stuffed with eyes,” writing poems and lyrics to the concert that he said filled his head. At the time he carried his writings around in a leather purse, which often earned him some ribbing from his friends. Occasionally he would take the poems down the street and read them out loud under the streetlight in front of a café named Van Gogh’s Ear.
Of course, while “Soul Kitchen” is inspired by a real restaurant, it becomes something quite different under the lens of Morrison’s poetic imagination. The song is held together by the continued reminder to “learn to forget.” It is a prescription that was very much in accord with the spiritual trip that Morrison was on at the time. Actively seeking reinvention, the young artist was trying to completely cut away his old life, to slough off the skin he was born in and emerge wholly reborn as the Lizard King. Morrison was never content with the idea of being a rock and roll star only; he wanted to be a shaman, leading his audience to spiritual awakening through the trance of his music.
“Learn to forget” is a reminder that before we can start a new life, we must first leave behind the old. And the new life that Morrison was looking for was not simply a change of clothes or location, it was a total revolution of his psyche. He was trying to cleanse the doors of perception, as his poetic hero William Blake had prescribed, so that he could live in a state of heightened perception. His musical performances were meant to be a kind of shamanistic trance, a shared spiritual experience between the performer and the audience. With these heavy ideas, the young man who would soon become a rock and roll legend turned Olivia’s restaurant into a different kind of soul kitchen.
The song was the second track on the Doors’ 1967 self-titled debut album. The album reached No. 2 on the pop charts. “Soul Kitchen” was not released as a single, but it can still be heard on classic rock stations to this day.
“Soul Kitchen” is an important chapter in the mythos of the Doors in two different ways. On one level, it chronicles the actual restaurant that played an important role in the life of Jim Morrison in the earliest days of his time with the band. On another level, it chronicles the spiritual and philosophical concerns of the band’s poetic front man, as he sought to leave behind the chubby son of a Navy Rear Admiral so that he could become the celebrity, shaman, and artist that he is known for being today.
~ Jeff Suwak
(credit: Riders on the Storm: My life with Jim Morrison and the Doors
by J. Densmore) Songplaces contributor Jeff Suwak is a writer and editor living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of the novella "Beyond the Tempest Gate" and various works of short fiction. He also writes for The Prague Revue. He loves being berated on Twitter @JeffSuwak and receiving visitors at jeffsuwak.com.
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