Back in the 60’s Venice Beach wasn’t the tourist draw it is today. Robby Krieger has been quoted as saying it was where the bums hung out. Venice was an area that attracted the bohemian element, artists, and the young because the rents were low and prices at restaurants, such as Olivia’s, were low. There were many people who were there and saw The Doors and Jim Morrison at the earliest moments of their career who haven’t had their stories told by The Doors/Jim Morrison biographers. One of those who knew Jim Morrison from those earliest Venice Beach days was Jimmy Page, a shy kid of 19 who bore a bit of a resemblance to Ricky Nelson. He met Jim Morrison on Venice Beach in June of 1964.
Jimmy Page, aged 16
Jimmy was going down to Venice, hanging out a coffee shop called Van Gogh’s Ear, hanging out and drinking coffee because he didn’t have money for much of anything else, but he liked the atmosphere so much he decided to find a job in Venice and hopefully be able to move there. One afternoon as Jimmy was walking down the street looking for a job he heard the jingling bells of an ice cream truck and decided he would get an ice cream bar. As he was standing in line, from behind him popped up Jim Morrison holding two ice cream bars, Morrison kept poking Jimmy in the back and when Jimmy turned around Morrison offered him one of the ice cream bars (one was for a girl that had split, Morrison said). Jimmy was going to refuse but it was his favorite flavor, strawberry coconut. Morrison didn’t look like the Lizard King or any of his other personas, he was Jim Morrison, his hair parted down the middle, making him look like Prince Valiant, and wearing a second hand welders jacket. As they walked down the street, eating their ice cream, Morrison asked Jimmy what he was doing there, and Jimmy told him of the need for a job and Morrison said he could get him a job as a short order cook but he would have to slip him some food when he needed it, which to Jimmy seemed “very criminal at the time but I agreed…with some fear attached.” As they talked Morrison said, “how strange people looked at dusk in the Venice alleys,” and it increased his own loneliness, and then Morrison asked Jimmy if he if he was queer? Jimmy said, “no,” but was shocked because “you didn’t talk like that in those days.” Then Morrison added that “sometimes thought he was.” Was Morrison trying to bait Jimmy to see what reaction he would get, like so many other people have reported Morrison doing? Or was it a real fear of Morrison’s? Which ever it was, it frightened Jimmy a great deal.
Shortly after that meeting in Venice, Jimmy got a job at Olivia’s, the soul food restaurant Morrison would later be inspired to write “Soul Kitchen” about.
Part II: Olivia’s
Olivia’s was a soul food restaurant in Venice made famous by The Doors song, “Soul Kitchen.” A few weeks after meeting Jim Morrison on Venice Beach, Jimmy Page got a job as a short order cook at Olivia’s. Jimmy describes the restaurant, “Olivia’s had a great view of the traffic going by on Main, and the windows had this effect somehow of the car headlights scanning inside the place at night, especially if the lights inside were off,” (the cars crawl past all stuffed with eyes/street lights share their hollow glow?).
The restaurant was often crowded and noisy with students, there for a student special of steak and vegetables for only $1.25 (“cheap even then”). Olivia herself was a large woman, who walked with a limp and had a booming voice, and if you were being lazy she would hit you on the body. As part of Jimmy’s agreement with Jim for getting him the job, Jimmy slipped Jim food by giving him “to go” orders and Jim pretended to pay, a charade of Jim handing Jimmy non-existent money.
Jimmy and Jim continued their friendship. Jim nicknamed Jimmy Ricky Nelson because of his resemblance to the Ozzie and Harriet son and singer, Jimmy even sounded like Ricky Nelson and Jim would make him sing Ricky Nelson songs and crack up laughing (Jimmy says Jim later “became the antidote to Ricky Nelson”). And they would talk. Jim said of himself, “I suffer from acute perception.” Jim would do things to “shock people, to get them off-balance and get what he called ’leverage’ in the conversation.” Jimmy also detected some despair in Jim, Jim saying he “would leave this planet soon,” and like others, Jimmy noticed a change in Jim, “there seemed to be a time when he changed from the pudgy poet to somebody completely different…almost like he experienced a walk in which a great spirit enters the body of an otherwise normal man and makes him a spiritual giant (a vision quest)”.
The site of Olivia’s today: it’s a surf and skate shop called “ZJ Boarding House” in Santa Monica.
Jimmy would see Jim sitting at a table in Olivia’s, looking out the window, and writing. At the time Jim would show people his poems if they were interested, carrying them around in a leather purse for which he would get chided, “nice purse young lady,” and Jim would respond, “I got it from your old man.” Occasionally, Jim would whip out his poems and start to read them, a favorite spot for this was under the bright streetlight outside of Van Gogh’s Ear.
Part III: The Early Doors
Jimmy was a “Doors fan before they were The Doors”. Jim was still coming to Olivia’s and when Jim and Ray were putting together The Doors, Jimmy attended some of the earliest rehearsals in a house behind the Greyhound Bus Station in Santa Monica and would see Jim out on Muscle Beach working out on the gymnastic rings, which Jimmy says is how Jim got to be “raky thin.”
When The Doors started getting gigs, Jimmy was a self-described “Doors kid,” and there was a price to be paid for that early allegiance. Jimmy would go to the Venice Beach Boardwalk (strand) and staple flyers of The Doors’ shows up and down the strand and it was kind of a battle with the police who would tear the flyers down and Jimmy would go back after they left and put up new ones. There was other crime on the beach the police ignored but they only seemed to be going after the pot smokers and Rock ‘n’ Rollers. One day the cops caught Jimmy putting up flyers and started beating him up, they had him on the ground kicking him and he was shouting, “what’s the matter with you man, I’m just a Doors kid!” At which point Jim came running down the strand from a bar where the band was playing and started shoving the cops away who had surrounded Jimmy. Afterwards, Jimmy asked Jim why they did that and Jim said “they’re just squares Jimmy, that’s why they do this, they’re just squares,” something Jimmy remembers to this day.
Jimmy also witnessed probably one of the first radio interviews with Jim in 1966, the DJ asked Jim what his definition of Rock ’n’ roll was. Jim answered “Rock ‘n’ Roll is the sound of angels telling the truth.”
Soon after, Jimmy was drafted and Jim told him he could get him out of it, but unlike getting him the job at Olivia’s Jim wasn’t able to get Jimmy out of the draft, and Jimmy served in the Marine Corps. More recently, Jimmy has become a lawyer and after suffering a bout with substance abuse is now in recovery and started Doors fun runs where he would take a jogging tour of Venice Beach and show people The Doors/Jim Morrison sites, like where Jim used to sit and tell the passing girls he loved them.
Before Jimmy left for Vietnam, Jim said to him “don’t let them forget me.” In Vietnam, Jimmy lost some friends and still expects them to come in the door, but the comrade in arms he misses the most is Jim Morrison.
Originally published September 23, 2011.