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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Butterflies, Zebras, Moonbeams, and Fairy Tales: Jimi At 70

Today, the world remembers Jimi Hendrix. If he had lived, he would have celebrated his 70th birthday this November 27. He was an innovative icon to my generation. Jimi's hands unleashed the power and creativity of the electric guitar, But, to many of us, he represented much more than an incredibly gifted rock guitarist who is perhaps most well-known for smashing his guitar and lighting it ablaze at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967.

His aggressive and uniquely expressive style of playing; his rainbow-accented fashion and wardrobe; and his imaginative, thought-provoking lyrics made Hendrix seem "out of this world." I often refer to him rather jokingly as "another one of those alien beings sprinkled among us." Maybe Jimi's mixed genealogy that included African American, Irish, and Cherokee ancestors added to his charisma.

Arguments about who represents the best rock guitarist ever always lead to Jimi, but this title is neither important nor relevant to the life of Hendrix. To be known as "the best rock guitarist ever" is not what Jimi is about. Instead, he simply embodied the very freedom of music during his brief life; he does so today; and he always will. His kind spirit continues to flow through six metal strings.

This blog Rock Town Hall by Townsman Hrrundivbakshi succinctly captures some of the essence of Jimi Hendrix in this 2007 entry:

"Why do we love Jimi Hendrix so much?
"That’s not a trick question, by the way, or a snarky way of letting the universe know that I think he sucks major ass. ‘Cause I don’t. I think Jimi Hendrix was an astonishing, timeless talent — one of the few “rock” musician types that truly deserves to be placed in that awkward 'genius' category.
"For me, Hendrix is simultaneously forward-looking and free; focused and intense; hippy-dippy and sweet; brutal and bludgeoning. He was avant-garde without being precious, snide, or academic about it. His virtuosity never — and I mean that literally — never ceases to amaze me. There’s always something new and unbelievable to hear in a Hendrix song, if you’re listening with those kind of ears. And if you don’t, or can’t, listen as a player, it don’t matter, ’cause his songs are strong.
"He also had a dynamite Look — man, that (pardon me, and insert 1974 Rottun Teef Keef 'tracksssss…' voice here) “super spade” thing, combined with a stage presence that turned him and his guitar into one giant, raging rock hard-on, was just fucking unbeatable. Think of Mick Jagger or Robert Plant or any other white front man contemporary of Hendrix’s — in their rock posturing prime, on their best night — and they all seem positively tea cozy and cardigan sweaters compared to this dude."

Hendrix was among the first to write and perform rock songs that no longer pandered to immature teenage whims. Pop music was growing up, and for the first time it was finding an audience with real intellect. Jimi knew this and found himself perfectly comfortable with accommodating the masses in the recording studio and onstage. His songs could be sensual, topical, or illusory while maintaining his exclusive, seasoned approach to rhythm and blues.

Jimi, himself, said this about his music: "We don't want to be classed in any category. If it must have a tag, I'd like it to be called 'Free Feeling.' It's a mixture of rock, freak-out, blues, and rave music." Whatever it was, when we first heard the album "Are You Experienced?" we knew it was the one-of-a-kind soul of Jimi -- something new and vastly different.

Let me share a very nice tribute from Josh Stillman. It's called "Happy Birthday, Jimi Hendrix!" and was printed in Music Mix (November 27, 2012):

"Jimi Hendrix would have been 70 today. He was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on Nov. 27, 1942 in Seattle. He died in London just 27 years later. But in that short time, he established himself as one of the most important figures in rock & roll history.

"Hendrix’ legacy isn’t something that can be quantified, though he has sold more than 80 million records worldwide. His true legacy lies in the limitless influence of his guitar playing and in the enduring appeal of his music. There’s hardly a guitarist alive who doesn’t cite Hendrix as an inspiration, just as there’s hardly a college dorm in America where his songs don’t echo through the halls once in a while. He’s an artist revered by both teacher and student, one that both parents and their children can dig without a shred of irony or embarrassment. His reach extends across generations and continues to yield admirers and imitators.
"The point is that Jimi Hendrix’ music is timeless. His work is so popular that he continues to sell millions of albums every year, more than 40 years after his death. And the crazy thing is, it all still holds up. 'Voodoo Child (Slight Return)' sounds as ferocious today as it did in 1968; 'Manic Depression' remains a marvel of sonic anarchy; 'The Star-Spangled Banner' from Woodstock would make headlines tomorrow.
"Very few artists can claim to have made a forceful impact on rock music, yet Hendrix did so in just four years. There’s a reason we’re all still listening."

Toward the end of his life, Jimi Hendrix found his music and his life headed for some major changes.He was maturing as an artist and as a human being.

Concerning his image, Jimi said, "I don't want to be a clown anymore. I don't want to be a 'rock 'n' roll star.'' (Rolling Stone, November 15 1969) "As far as I'm concerned, I have no image," said Hendrix. (Miami Herald, August 8 1970)

And, soon after, Jimi also said, "I started cutting my hair and losing jewelry, ring by ring, until I had none left. The freaky thing was never a publicity hype -- that was just the way I was then. If I felt like dressing up, I did. If I felt like smashing a guitar, I worked up some anger and smashed. The anger has dissipated and I don't feel the need to dress up so much now I see others doing it." (Record Mirror, Hendrix's Final Interview, October 3 1970)

Jimi Hendrix did not achieve his own dreams. During turbulent times filled with hollow promises and experimentation, Jimi died. He left his fans too soon. The fact that he died at 27 from drug-related complications denied them of decades of his innovative music. The purity of his human expression was poisoned after a brief, star-spangled four year career and the release of a handful of monumental albums.

I saw the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The memory is sweet, a treasure of my lifelong, deep love for music. Then, I was 17 years-old and not mature enough to savor every minute of the concert. Today, I look back and wish I could jump into the time machine and relive that day. But, more than that, I wish Jimi Hendrix had lived to grace my life with more music. I have never seen anything remotely like Jimi since his demise. I'm certain I never will. Could it be that the man and his music simply remain as a significant part of me? I "got" his message. I miss him as much today as ever. 
"When the power of love overcomes the love of power,
the world will know peace.”
-Jimi Hendrix
Rest in peace, Jimi. So glad to know you.
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