Moving right along from Elvis to Hendrix —

how much more remarkable his appearance in his time? OK, like the times were just right, the blues context was established, the UK was so firmly in love with the US whilst the US was segregated up its own ass, and continues to be so today. One could argue all night about a scene whether it's storyville or swingin london or a bunch of nerdy terrorists ganging up in the cinematheque — but Hendrix is such a rich anomaly of talent and 'show them how to do it' and intense drive and creativity. As, erm, elsewhere, I think Hendrix was the first to really extend genial talent with electric amplification and the sheer loud excitement of cutting the sound-flight envelope. I remember once seeing a compilation of you know, 'classically' psychedelic music from the 60s, the really trippy stuff with poss. some Floyd on it, and they tacked on Voodoo Chile at the end of it — as though besides cheap rights they wanted to tap into the signal importance of this guy with just one track. I mean imagine sitting out tripping in the grass with your friends, there's violence and love in the air to such a liquid extent your eyes feel like popping out (and let me post-preface that by saying how hard it is to talk about love and hippie shit in this day and age and not sound like a complete moron; let's say those times weren't ripe for irony-as-lifestyle yet. I'd suggest H.S. Thompson's take on the scene (cf Fear n Loathing, on acid and San Fran) to be a fair and honest indicator, irrespective of whether Wolf lumped him in with the other New Journalism lumpkins — which is another essay altogether, very muchly because of its failure to understand Gonzo as preemptor of the whole journalism-fiction thing, ie conscious involvement with the creation of one's story, and a generation of PoMoronics ever after — though note, New Journos just celebrate themselves, like almost any young writer in the 90s — Gonzo just takes this to the rational, original extreme); you could be drafted any minute (and what does that feel like, I mean to the conspiracy nut generation? Drafting frightens the shit out of me and I think it a failure of society, to be at John Howard's beck and call, for example, when there's already so much transparently wrong with him and this world, when everybody knows without winking irony that he serves as Dubya's bushy-eyed lap- and attack dog, as well as economic underdog when trade tariffs are decided); you know, it's a simple question of humanity, you got these really great drugs going round yer system, and some leather-faced president decides to shoot students and send them off to a body-bag conflict for an ideological threat as selfish as it is overstated, and you just say No Fucking Way (as though by instinct you're anticipating the fat grooviness of rock music like Sabbath about 3-4 years from now, and the long hair and the bong-ons and the sheer underclassness of it all — you just know it's going to be yours), you're sitting there in the grass and someone pops on a bootleg of Voodoo Chile and it feels like knives are cutting up everything you see into thin slices, and the world is screaming in pain — though you know underneath that it's good, that the world has to be destroyed so it can be created again anew, and this guy is singing about imminent death with the most brazen attitude as though he's saying goodbye to a neighbour in the morning, and it feels like he's playing with a power beyond anything you've heard before, louder than any of the fuzzboxes your friends brought home and cranked thru their puny Vox amps until their parents screamed to cut the racket, it's like an aural apocalypse of sorts, like souls in turmoil and death triumphant; you're feeling all this, right, you know that the world's still the same place and that your friends are likely to be feeling the same way about these crazy sounds even though it's just a tape ... I mean, it's almost sheer impossible to recreate the hard core impression of the arrival of Hendrix in the full context of the mid-sixties, especially for us pristine CD sound-obsessed consumers with our teen demographics and serious irony and sincerity. As a generation we look positively inhuman next to Jimi. But the UFOs, what about the flying saucers? Your man Jimi was way big into conspiracy theory man! Well, you can stick that up your X-Filed pipe and smoke it too. The only way to describe the genius and absolute talent of Jimi is to say he was an alien in the first place. Which is a statement about ourselves more than anything.

Hendrix, part the second (or third)

I guess, to put hi-falutin spin on the matter, that sonic dissonance has strong parallels with political or social dissonance. Ask any musical modernist of the Schoenbergian mould. And so all the countercultural kiddies of the 60 identified with their alternative freak-out father figure, the one with the suggestive tongue motions and 'affectionate' guitar style. But it's obviously more than that; it's not just contextual association with the kids and their parent's wars, there's almost something symbolic, something important in all that feedback, all that shuddering noise — and I'm not talking about any biographical acid-fuelled desire to crank it (though this may be the main reason, in the same way George Clinton prompted Funkadelic to let the hair down, get the big amps and play 'real loud, real emotional'). It's like Jimi just loved being in all that noise, surrounded by its aural solidity as it were — I mean his guitar technique is such that he could always control it from being just so much squealing noise — it's like he was at home in it, he wanted it. Because noise is quickly fatiguing. And of course it's a lot more fun painting sheets of noise when you're audience is chemically-keyed. All those trademark hammer-ons, says Eric Burdon, I think, synchronised with the phase-pitches of acid in your mind — hence Jimi's wild pointed yeah's to the audience when he spots the trippers synching to the sounds. (This is also so much background. I think our modern guitar pyrotechnicians are just as likely to kick out contempt for their audience as sympathetic experience, let alone guitar picks. How far we've travelled.) But then why the queasy impact of the Star Spangled Banner, the feeling that the partnered noise is all about destruction and things coming apart at the seams — and this purely sonically? Where else does this happen? Heavy metal is just rhythm. Neil Young's live outros are just rumbling drones of noise. Noise orchestras are just that. Any guitarist playing the Banner now seems like any another American. Or was Jimi way more keyed to the delicate hypocrisies and iniquities of America, its multi-racial dualities which could be played on with a dash and twist of noise? More probing, say, than a punk rocker cranked to 11 singing 'bout dole queues? Let's look at it this way. American artistic culture strongly driven by action (as you all know), by things that move (cf Hunter S.) or which ring up mobility. And in the broader sense then, the genius of action has raw physical talent which dominates his ability to explain it, he acts purely from ability and not from ideas or artistic conception, a sensibility of doing. Everything from jazz improvisers to Elvis, living in the act. With Jimi, I think, his talent was so vast, so controlled that he claimed the sonic world of noise with it — because he could. Noise was the complete antithesis of clean guitar chops and phrases, all Les Paul and Chet Atkins, and Jimi just commanded the whole expressive gamut, made it answer and act responsively. And in a clichéd nod to the loneliness of the genius, I'd say that the noise was a throwback to Jimi's massive talent hailing it's own massive equal. Finding himself in it. True, he never stayed in feedback for very long, but began using it (in solos) to abet his playing, using it as a groundswell for phrasings and segues between. That is, not just as someone who's mastered the electric guitar (and even that as though for the first time in history), but who was a complete guitarist — in the full technical sense, ability-instrument-pedals-effects-amplifier-studio — in addition to all that feedback and unpredictability. And to get really sentimental, I think the noise was actually comforting as an expressive aid in dealing reactively-musically with the idiocy and extremes of the 60s scene. It's not just the dark side of a massive talent, to get even more sentimental, but a comfort with opposites and negations, a wider ability to integrate and hence work out the hypocricies and iniquities behind the familiar melodies and niceties. Jimi's prime action was always musical first, and political secondarily. His own blues-based world, when he had to resort or escape to it, was laden with noise but then again so was the world he moved in.
Hendrix, third return

My anecdotal memory of Hendrix interviews is slight but forceful:
1. A B&W TV interview in which a remarkably juvenile-sounding Hendrix talks about his songs — actually, it may have been a press conference, which setting all the more seems a strange place to talk about songwriting abilities — and he talks about his unhappy songs, all his depressive or down songs (that's right, I think Manic Depression was the cue question) and his inability, inate-seeming, to write happy or positive numbers. Of the kind the McCartney 60s might identify with more readily. The speaking tone was on-tour fatigued & honest.
2. Again B&W, talking about the wah peddle and how it's kinda cool because it has no notes but pure sound. Burning of the Midnight Lamp was the cue — no, actually, this one was the juvenile-sounding one. I think he was being interviewed by a journo of the 'what's your fave colour' mould.
3. There's also a colour interview on the Dick Cavett Show (?) tacked with a performance of Isabella, with comments I can't quite recall at the mo but which were much more pointed and intelligent. Beyond the silken threads my memory fails. Always rely on your first impression, I say, because repetition brings everything back to the banal, especially with interviews.
Oh and there's the truckloads of interviews with Noel Redding sodding on about insecure Jimi and friends in the studio, Jimi losing masters, Jimi too spaced to play in Germany. Forget all that. Funnily enough, the only person I've heard interviewed about the interesting soul of Hendrix is Flea. Waxing like a fan in love of course, but brave enough to mention the spirit of the man and the soul of the music, its beauty.
Like Brian writing songs (see Friends liner notes), everything is keyed to the 'feel', everything comes from that. I say that Jimi wrote songs from the soul, from innate feel of ability. I must've mentioned this elsewhere. OK we can also talk of roustabout love on the road, yer foxy women and little lover misses. And your acid dreams and noisescapes. But notice, never songs of personae or ironic put-on: subjectively, Jimi is remarkably consistent. Music to caress and move into. Angels, emotional colours. Something like the feeling of pursuit mixed with constrained unhappiness, something to route all yer unfulfilled-biographic-romanticism into. Your 'what ifs' and 'could've beens' jazz. One of my electric dreams is Miles and Jimi up on stage together — that's cultural shift right before your eyes — jazz, the ultimate ability and form, and electricity, force, melodic weight in the Hendrix corner.
But back to initial impressions. There's plenty of titty later. To be honest, all I could think about when hearing Midnight Lamp for the first time on groove-worn vinyl (the track had been over-played) was the jarring difference of the song on a blues-based album. I suppose any harpsichord will do that. But at the same time it's a consummate 60s track. A song with intensities and emotive peaks and trippity sounds… and which yet is about solitude. Which, on pristine CD relistens grows beyond the initial 'drag' — the fatiguing familiarity of solitude, distance and repetitive tripping. It's not an argument or a wisened song of broken hearts and commitment spurned, no 50s schtick. But then again how many 60s songs deal so directly, in expressive terms, with solitude? Where is the hallmark unity and experience of the time? It's definitely one of the signature Hendrix tunes — with distinct and tensed forces — the extraordinarily tough drums and deeply melodic bass (I mean for a pop single, what drumming!). I've seen the doco with Chas (I believe) pushing the levels and isolating the track — but I've never heard anyone talk about the song openly, I mean, what can you say, Jimi was lonely? Solitude is very difficult to talk about, in musical terms especially — and instead of a gentle self-rocking lullaby he made this almost scathing, heavy track — the wah rhythm chops really are explosions; the wavering, spinning backing chorus; the burn. Jimi obviously dealt with the issue intensely, he makes his enemy powerful. Had solitude been expressed with anything as remotely tough; had music ever illuminated and yet fought against solitude so strongly? And all within such a simple, melodic framework.
Amidst the emphatic acid allusions & tropes & associations (ever-falling dust, someone who'll buy & sell for me), it's all still highly atypical, as though acid brings out the essential solitude, harbinger of future rooms of mirrors, and not all the love children chanting smile on yer brother. Which prompts me to say, necessarily, that at no point, no matter how intense the Yellow Sunshine or Ohms happen to be, is it ever purely acid doing the talking. Acid alone doesn't give you the nobility to deal with solitude eloquently. Like any diversion-distraction-bender, drugs are as much a conduit (and I say very bent conduit) for illuminating elements or combinations of self that previously wouldn't have raised a giggle. But it does make for peculiar word-association styles (Feel Flows eg), particular self-mirror externalisations, it does bring out flavours and intensities of loneliness otherwise dormant (Maggot Brain).

    Is a little more than enough

    It really doesn't bother me too much at all

    That same old fireplace

    And I continue, alone

    Lonely, lonely, my mind.