Soul Kitchen (1967)
It was a magnificent year: Surrealistic Pillow: (“Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit”); Sgt. Pepper’s; the Hendrix comet, Electric Ladlyland (“Foxey Lady” and “Purple Haze”); Big Brother And The Holding Company (“Down On Me”).
As if those weren’t enough, the catalog continues: Something Else By The Kinks (“Waterloo Sunset”); The Doors again with Strange Days (“Love Me Two Times” and “When The Music’s Over); Cream’s Disraeli Gears; Buffalo Springfield Again; Magical Mystery Tour; John Wesley Harding. There are so many others it would take an hour to pay tribute to all.
Warm your mind
“Soul Kitchen’s” late-night visions conjured up in a soul-food restaurant, Olivia’s in Venice Beach, circa 1966, are as entertaining to the ear a half century later as when originally composed by lyricist Morrison. His debt to French Symbolist writing and art is enormous and, while the words can certainly be enjoyed on a primary level, it bears sussing out what the Symbolists, and therefore Morrison, were aiming for.
They wanted to take everyday images – or surfaces, as the Symbolist theorists called them – and use them not as concrete things but as projections of meaning that could be separated from the actual word(s).
Easy enough to figure out in the song: “Soul Kitchen” is not merely a restaurant but a metaphor for sex, the afterglow of sex, a primordial drive of the male toward the female as comforting mother, or simply an escape from the forest of fractured images offered up in the verses. Part of Morrison’s talent to beguile the listener is his ambiguity. It’s best to simply put one’s own reactive meaning on the lyrics and not fuss with what they might “really” mean. He is one of the few mystical poets of Rock, after all.
There is something vaguely sinister about the collage of projected images The Doors throw on the screen. The supporting music is likewise strange, odd, and surreal. The opening organ sounds as if a private eye is tiptoeing through urban shadows, or as if a black cat is slinking through a back alley.
Other groups in 1967 would trade on surreal or imagistic lyrics. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band springs to the imagination. The blend of an urge to break out of standard forms (very important in the Symbolist movement) dosed with psychedelic drugs produced timeless songs. Here’s Morrison’s take:
Well, the clock says it’s time to close now
I guess I’d better go now
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
Still one place to go
Still one place to go
We find in the release of the chorus after each jumble of the verses’ images the beginning of power Rock. Heavy Metal practitioners of all variety from Zepplin’s Robert Plant to Robin Zander of Cheap Trick; The Who – “Won’t Get Fooled Again”; and even The Beatles’ McCartney in “Hey Jude.” Morrison and Janis Joplin led the screaming ways of the late 1960s, which of course drew on earlier screamers like Little Richard and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. You can’t have Rock without an occasional healthy, hearty scream resounding from the pit of hell to the gates of heaven.
Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen
Warm my mind near your gentle stove
Turn me out and I’ll wander baby
Stumblin’ in the neon groves
Morrison and The Doors were not the first purveyors of the notion of alienation in the rapidly modernizing world. Hard as it is to believe, only 20 years earlier in 1947, Al Jolsen – the jazz singer of the first talkie movie – had one of Billboard’s top-ten records of the year. The arc of change was steep and sudden. Bob Dylan released “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in 1965. The Beatle masterwork, “Nowhere Man,” was issued in 1965, and “Eleanor Rigby” in 1966.
But The Doors managed to draw out an otherworldliness that it took the wider Rock universe a few more years to catch up with completely. Much of what The Doors said was downright creepy. Morrison’s chanting of the line “Learn to forget” is an example of a simple sentiment turning hypnotically eerie.
“Soul Kitchen” contains one of the finest couplets in the vast poetry of Rock music. It can’t be parsed specifically, but its evocation of sense and mood is impressive and immortal:
Well, your fingers weave quick minarets
Speak in secret alphabets
In two simple lines we get Morrison’s take on the mystery of the female effect on the male psyche. The lines are the height of Symbolism renewed, an extension of a tradition that runs from Poe through Rimbaud (Morrison’s favorite French writer) through early and mid-20th century American poets like T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens directly to Morrison.
On top of all his poetry and the magical, haunting musicianship of his back up musicians, Morrison’s singing style on “Soul Kitchen” is a progressive, revolutionary fusion of Blues, crooner Pop, Rock, Jazz and Soul. (His favorite singer was Frank Sinatra!) In that, it speaks of the dozens of roots that feed Rock-N-Roll, past and present. Robby Krieger’s guitar is particularly praiseworthy on “Soul Kitchen” as it usually is on the shorter works of The Doors.
Half-humorously, Morrison called himself the “King Of Orgasmic Rock.” And if Rock-N-Roll isn’t about sex, longing for physical satisfaction and release from the ever-impinging world through orgasm, what is it about then?
- Morrison has received his fair share of tributes in America, mostly through song, poetry, film and book, but in Germany he was memorialized with a stamp in 1988. It says “For The Youth.”
- Morrison is buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris with the likes of Balzac, Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Modigliani, Rossini, Seurat, and Oscar Wilde. Talk about a soul kitchen.
Also by The Doors on SongMango.com:
- L.A. Woman“Born To Run” and “L.A. Woman” are kissing cousins, monster road songs. Although no one knew then, this was Morrison's farewell.