3-Jimi Hendrix- There is a scene in the movie "White Men Can't Jump" Where the white guy is espousing to the black guy how much he likes Jimi, and the black guy retorts with "You can't even hear Jimi". Although this was used for comedic reasons, it does point up one of the problems with being a fan of Jimi's music. I believe that in that context, the word "hear" was used as a euphemism for the word "understand", and in that context, very, very few people actually "hear" Jimi, black or white or any other color. To use the word "genius" for Jimi, is too small. This guy's thinking, his very state of mind, was something far beyond normal human standards. As was once said of Jimi "this guy could take twice as many drugs as anyone else, and it only worked to make him seem "normal", to put him on a level with ordinary people" Making it seem like, where other people took drugs to reach a more spiritual state, Jimi had to take them, to bring him back to Earth. He said in more than one interview, that he didn't hear music as sounds, but in colors, and wrote more than a few songs around this very concept. That in itself, once you really "see" what he is saying, I find truly amazing. (I am in no way condoning his or anyone's drug use. I just understand it in his context).
I have spent a huge amount of my life trying to "hear" Jimi, and although, I can get glimpses of what is there, I think true "understanding" of what is there, is beyond the limits of mere mortals. I will come back to this statement and try to explain that sentiment in a few minutes.
It was a long road for me to really get into Jimi in the first place. While I was running around with my Kiss records, Those that had turned me onto them in the first place, had moved on to other planes in their musical journeys, discovering things like Pink Floyd, and Jimi Hendrix. And while it took me forever, (actually, just the last few years to come to "appreciate" Pink Floyd) I saw their moving on to Jimi as a betrayal, he was far beyond Kiss or the Beatles, therefore beyond my understanding, and I never "do" change well. It wasn't until later that I even learned that he had been around when the Beatles were, and was gone before they were. So, anyway, I would hear things like "Purple Haze" and "Foxey Lady" on the radio, and around my friends, but once they tried to play me anything beyond the 3 minute POP format, my listening stopped, I couldn't even begin to "hear" it, you know?
Then, in my 20's, while serving in the Navy, we would have a movie shown every night in the mess hall at 8 pm. One night they show Prince's "Purple Rain", and someone brought up how Prince was trying to do the "Jimi Hendrix" thing, actually got in an argument with the guy who gets the films, who was saying that Prince couldn't be Jimi, if he tried. And to prove the point, the next time he got films, he made sure to get the "Monterey Pop Festival" film. I sat there (as so many before and after me) mesmerized as Jimi burned the guitar at the end of "Wild Thing", it wasn't a destructive thing, it was a primal sexual thing, I could see it, I could "hear" it for the first time. He was "sacrificing" something he loved as a sexual overture to his audience, it was mindblowing, to say the least. And so began my journey in trying to discover this enigma that was Jimi Hendrix. The more I heard, the more I wanted to "hear", to understand, to finally "get it". I have made it my life's mission in one respect to find every recording, every bootleg (and I have many that out and out suck, that I payed way too much money for) anything that would add another kernel of understanding, another piece to the puzzle that was/is James Marshall Hendrix. I have found things of his that I couldn't listen to again, if a gun were held to my head. I've found things that I like, and I've found things that have become a part of my soul.
Which brings us back to the "spiritual" statement that I made earlier. My theory, crazy as it sounds, is this. At times, Jimi was just a man who played guitar very, very good, wrote great songs with deep lyrics, sometimes dumb sexual lyrics, sometimes "social issue" lyrics, but in the end was just a man, a human, even if out of the ordinary. But there are times in Jimi's playing, that you can "feel" almost as if another essence has taken over his body, mind, and fingers, and is using him as a conduit to "speak" in the earthly realm. Yes, crazy, I know, but I can give examples. One, on the Live Band of Gypsies album, on every song on there, Jimi is the consumate "showman", the "guitar player supreme" and a mere mortal man every where except one, "Machine Gun". Just a couple moments into this opus, and Jimi enters a new plane of existence, if you listen close you can hear the change, and he is NO LONGER a mere mortal, something higher than him, than us, has taken over, and the trip begins. Remember this is a song about the killing fields of Viet Nam, and just in the guitar, you can hear, actually "HEAR" the bombs, the guns, the screaming of the dying, the shredding of skin from bones, and all this just from a mere man playing a guitar?!?!? I think not. And this has been re-enforced to my mind by the release of the other two shows that were recorded those nights "Band of Gypsies at the Filmore" , there are two other performances of "Machine Gun" on there, and they are nowhere near the rendition on the original album, they are sadly "Just Jimi"..
Another example, on the "Woodstock" soundtrack, all through Jimi's early morning set on that Monday, it is just "Jimi" up there, even through the great rendition of the anthem, through "Purple Haze" that immediatly follows it, it is Just "Jimi" being "Jimi", BUT when he goes off into that lone guitar piece that was offhandedly dubbed "Villanova Junction", THAT most decidedly, to me, is NOT just JIMI!!! That essence has taken over, and is playing for, "speaking" to the multitudes through Jimi's fingers. Things were played there, that Jimi had never played before, or played after, it was at the very least an "out of body" experience for him and all in attendance. And having recently gotten the "Jimi at Woodstock" Dvd, in all it's remastered clarity, actually being able to "see" him in that moment, just re enforced this whole theory for me, that is not "just Jimi" up there, not by a long shot!
One of the best stories I have ever heard about Jimi, I heard from a friend of mine, who was a medic on chopper missions in 'Nam (he was shot down twice). He reported late to ship out to 'Nam, because he was NOT going to miss Woodstock (even then, people knew that it was going to be a BIG thing in our culture forever), and when he got there the first day, he indulged a little too much in the chemical recreation going around and tripped for the next two days , not really being aware of anything around him. He "came to" on that Monday morning, when everything was supposed to be over with, to what he described as the most "God awful" noise he had ever heard, holding his aching head in his hands, the sounds started to make sense as being the "Star Spangled Banner". He looked up at the stage, and there was Jimi, playing with the sun not too far up yet , putting Jimi mostly in silhouette to the audience, playing this piece at extreme volume. He said all he could do was set there and watch, and wonder. I met him in his 50's and he said to this day, no other thing meant as much to him. He said that seeing Jimi that day, playing that song, made every minute of the 20 days he spent in the brig for being AWOL worth it.
I keep trying to "hear" Jimi, but I don't believe anyone really can.
And sadly the world has still not "evolved" to his level.
And for what is worth, I now am almost 50 (52 now), and I haven't touched a drug since I was 15, and only pot at that.