Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix –
The Stories Behind The Songs
By David Stubbs
Welbeck Publishing – £20.00

This next song is dedicated to all the troops fighting in Harlem, Chicago and, oh yes, Vietnam. A little thing called ‘Machine Gun.’
(‘Band Of Gypsys’)

When Jimi Hendrix entered New York’s Record Plant in mid-April 1968 to work on the third and, as it turned out, final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, he did so in truly turbulent times. Personally, professionally, musically and historically, things were working to a head.
(‘Electric Ladyland’)

To cut straight to the chase, Jeff Beck – a very gifted and terrific guitar player himself – turns seventy-eight today; and in this book’s Introduction, he, along with Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend, is already mentioned by way of the following: ‘’When Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton arrived late at an early Hendrix show at Blaises club to check the new American guy out, they met Jeff Beck coming out, who simply rolled his eyes. Townshend asked him if Hendrix was that bad. Beck replied, ‘’No, he’s that bloody good!’’

Fifty years later, Jimi Hendrix still remains ‘’that bloody good!’’
Still, no one has come close.
And to be honest, no one probably ever will.

So it’s quite nice and rather invigorating to be able to write about Jimi Hendrix -The Stories Behind The Songs.

A book of eleven chapters and 185 pages (excluding Chronology, Discography and Index) that contains an assortment of terrific, never before seen black and white/colour photographs of not only Hendrix, but also his band The Experience and various others whom surely substantiate the era. For instance, a photo of Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., whose assassination, ‘’would prompt a devastating live instrumental tribute from Hendrix, sadly un-bootlegged.’’

As David Stubbs ever so clearly states ‘’More than any other figure, Jimi is the magnificent embodiment of all of rock music’s ambitions. His early, and not inevitable death at the age of 27 is appallingly convenient in that it freezes him at his peak, preserves his iconic status. Age shall not wither, fatten or embarrass him, nor make him resort to a bad hair weave. He remains, then as now, rock’s alpha male, the man. He cut the shape and set the tone by which all subsequent ‘’guitar heroes’’ were measured and generally found wanting, until finally a newer generation decided it might be wiser not to attempt guitar heroism at all but busy themselves in other musical ways entirely.’’ (Introduction).

Moreover, as the book’s title suggests, its fundamental subject matter remains the songs themselves.

Songs, which apart from being w-a-y ahead of their time, were simultaneously simple yet complex, devastating yet profoundly resonant of the world in which Hendrix lived, as the following clearly illustrates: ‘’A showcase for Hendrix’s developing skills as a lyrical storyteller, ‘Castles Made of Sand’ is a psychedelia-tinted parable, featuring three scenarios. The first features a drunken man thrown out of the house by his wife, their once-happy marriage now a broken shambles, a pitiful spectacle for the neighbours to ‘’gossip and drool’’ over. The second features a young Indian brave, who since the age of ten has dreamt of becoming a warrior chief. He grows up and here he is on the eve of battle, looking forward to his initiation and ‘’singing his first war song […]. Finally, a young girl, mute, disabled and thoroughly miserable with her lot, decides to take her own life by drowning herself in the sea. However, just as she draws up to the shore, the sight of a ‘’passing golden wing ship’’ miraculously restores her ability to walk and talk’’ (‘Axis: Bold As Love’).

The likes of Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran don’t even come close.
In fact, I’m already repenting at having mentioned their ghastly names in the same article as Jimi Hendrix…

‘’Henry Rollins said Hendrix was probably rock’s only genius and he was probably right. To paraphrase the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold, who knelt in verse before Shakespeare, ‘’others abide our question; thou, Astro Man, art free’’ (‘Epilogue’).

David Marx

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