Tag Archives: Jimi Hendrix

Just Around Midnight

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Just Around Midnight –
Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination
By Jack Hamilton
Harvard University Press – £23.95

     Hendrix’s race produced a crisis in popular-music discourse. He presented a mix of stereotype and subversion, seemingly playing to racist cliches of black menace and sexuality while performing music that contradicted contemporary expectations of black sound. One of the most common accusations lobbed at Hendrix in this period was that of racial inauthenticity, or even race treachery. After Monterey a young Robert Christagau wrote a scathing appraisal of Hendrix’s performance in the pages of Esquire, describing Hendrix as ”terrible” and accusing him of being ”just an Uncle Tom” who ”had tailored a caricature to [the audience’s] mythic standards and apparently didn’t even overdo it a shade.”

    In early 1968 the Washington Post wrote that ”Jimi Hendrix is the P. T. Barnum of rock. He assesses, and fills, the needs of his crowd. His blackness is an Uncle Tom blackness.” The article also noted that ”it is entirely necessary, in fact, that Hendrix is a Negro. His music is Chuck Berry filtered through the Beatles and the West Coast electronic freak-out, back through a black man to a 99 per cent white audience,” a sentiment conveyed more caustically by Richard Goldstein, who remarked in his own review of Hendrix’s Monterey performance: ”his major asset seems to be his hue.” Rolling Stone magazine eschewed the Uncle Tom epithet but wondered if Hendrix was simply a ”psychedelic superspade.” Never one to be outdone, in a New York magazine article entitled ”SuperSpade Raises Atlantis,” Albert Goldman mused on what he saw as Hendrix’s preference of ”playing to almost exclusively white audiences” and”consorting with white women” and concluded that ”Hendrix’s blackness is only skin deep.”

                                                            (‘House Burning Down –
                                                            Race, Writing, and Jimi Hendrix’s War’)

Looking back to the time when music journalism and rock criticism in general came into its own around the mid to late sixties, it’s surprisingly shocking, if not down right disturbing, to comprehend the degree to which certain writers were both degrading and openly racist toward black American artists.

Jimi Hendrix (and Motown’s Berry Gordy) in particular, as the above opening quotes from this book’s eye-opening fifth chapter more than sadly illuminates. That the writers themselves (Robert Christgau, Richard Goldstein and Albert Goldman) are white, should come as no surprise; although what is astounding, is the fact that said publications would openly be seen to print such abominable garbage.

Who on earth was/is Christagau to talk of ‘caricature’ and WRONGLY accuse Hendrix of being ”just an Uncle Tom?” As for the appalling Albert Goldman – he who was ”never one to be outdone”- well I’m not even going to bother wasting my or your time.

That said, Just Around Midnight – Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination is an unquestionably marvellous and rather brilliant book. Apart from being exceedingly well-written, it’s audacious and courageous, not to mention racially charged.

Making it all the more important.

Important, in that it places Jack Hamilton’s work amid so much of the equally charged trajectory of the American psyche into current, questionable perspective. An altogether torrid state of affairs admittedly, but as Emily Lordi of the University of Massachusetts has since said of these 276 pages (excluding Notes, Acknowledgements and Index): ”As musically detailed as it is theoretically expansive, Just Around Midnight reveals that popular music of the 1960s was defined by more vibrant inter-racial collaborations and more violent anti-black erasures than we could have imagined. This is a beautifully written and provocatively argued work of intellect, heart, and soul.”

I couldn’t agree more.
A terrific, all round astonishing and revalatory read.

David Marx

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Uncommon People

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Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars
By David Hepworth
Bantam Press – £20.00

”That night there was a tribute on the BBC’s rock programme Whistle Test. Annie Nightingale, the presenter, said something like ‘a lot of us wouldn’t be doing what we are doing now if it hadn’t been for John Lennon.’ I sat on the edge of the bath and blubbed, which is not my habit. Her words touched me off because they related to me, not to John Lennon. I haven’t cried about the death of a famous person since. I have come to realize that if we do so what we’re crying for is ourselves, our lost youth, the days of happiness we associate with the person who has died.”

David Hepworth absolutely isn’t alone when it comes to having ‘blubbed’ upon hearing the most shocking news of John Lennon’s death. I too, was somewhat inconsolable for a number of days thereafter.

Days, which, if anything, were riddled with the utmost of dark, disbelief.

A mode of morbidity, which author, broadcaster and presenter, David Hepworth, continues to further expand upon in this most excellent book’s chapter, ‘1980 – Death by fan’: ”The Beatles created a great deal of happiness. The by-product of that process was fame. Fame on a mad, massive and eventually injurious scale. In killing a rock star, the ultimate somebody, Mark Chapman, the ultimate nobody, probably hoped he would cross over. He hoped he might obliterate the distance between his own puny life and the hero’s life that he saw Lennon leading. His action foreshadowed in a uniquely terrible way our increasing desire to put ourselves at the centre of events, when our proper role should be as a spectator or appreciative listener. It underlined just how big rock stars had become and how much some people still expected those rock stars to be able to mend their own broken lives. It wasn’t anything to do with what the rock stars said or did. It was to do with what people expected of them.”

Indeed, such expectation can and continues to be manipulated to such a (deplorable) degree, wherein any mode of correction – let alone common sense – is invariably laced with wide-open and quite often, grossly misplaced interpretation. An interpretation, which, in the case of the odious Chapman, was overtly fraught with both madness and fantasy.

To such a preposterous degree in fact, that almost all and anything was unfortunately permitted. This including the murder of a Beatle.

But what makes Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars such a compelling and concise, brilliant read, is not it’s translucency and sincerity, but the way it has been so compellingly put together.

Beginning with ‘1955 – the first rock star’ (Little Richard) and concluding with ‘1995 – Revenge of the nerds’ (Marc Andreessen), these 324 pages (excluding Foreword, Bibliography, Picture Acknowledgements and Index) traverse the entire gambit of nigh all one needs to know and embrace so far as all and any pertinent rock stars are concerned.

To be sure, the mere term ‘rock stars,’ might in many peoples’ eyes, be considered a tad naff and dated. The latter of which, in all (musical) honesty, it may well be. But, as Hepworth colourfully points out, there’s a colossal amount of romanticism entwined within the term: ”The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed. But like the cowboy, the idea of the rock star lives on in our imaginations.”

Like many things of yore, some terrific things have passed unto yesteryear; never again to be embraced with anything resembling the slightest kernel of truth.

Let alone talent.

As Hepworth immediately makes clear in the book’s Foreword: ”In the twenty-first century it seems rather inappropriate, to use a popular twenty-first-century term, to describe Kanye West, Adele or Justin Bieber as rock stars. These people are cut from a different cloth. The age of the rock star ended with the passing of physical product, the rise of automated percussion, the domination of the committee approach to hit-making, the widespread adoption of choreography and above all the advent of the mystique-destroying internet. The age of the rock star was coterminous with rock and roll, which in spite of all the promises made in some memorable songs proved to be as finite as the era of ragtime or big bands.”

Hmm, what was it David Bowie once sang: ”Watch out you rock’n’rollers.”

Having reviewed his debut, 1971 – Never A Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Moment (which too, was nigh un-put-down-able) I have to say, Uncommon People is an absolute gem of a read.

It’s fresh, it’s jam-packed with new information, and the chapters on Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana simply drip with glittering, honest revelation. Simply terrific.

David Marx

C.K. Williams on Whitman

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C.K. Williams on Whitman
Princeton University Press

But which of us isn’t a similar jerry-built motion machine? Which of us doesn’t sometimes feel that we’re weird pop-ups of impulses, ambitions, desires, and dreams? But we don’t live in poems, even those of us who are poets; unlike Whitman, we plunge into our poems, but then we emerge: we are the makers of our poems – Whitman’s poems made him; he existed in them in a way he existed nowhere else.

Whether Marc Chagall or Jimi Hendrix. Sylvia Plath or Tom Waits – ought not a similar persuasion be applied to most true artists who essentially live both inside of and with their art? It’s hard to think of any of these artists, including Walt Whitman, in any other way, which, to varying degrees, is exactly what this fine little pocket book addresses.

That C.K. Williams on Whitman is deeply entrenched within the parameters of (fine) poetry, most certainly helps it along its way; and is therefore, all the more readable for it. As Robert Pinsky has written: ”This is the exuberant, true book of a poet, of two poets: a personal, illuminating, and beautiful demonstration of the truest reading.”

That it most definitely is.

From such musicality as:

The carnival of sleighs, the clinking and
shouted jokes and pelts of snowball…

to such colourful and kaleidoscopic revelation as: ”Just reading it, the brilliance of the moments of inspiration are like raw synaptic explosions, like flashbulbs going off in the brain, in the mind: pop, pop, pop. The images, the ideas, the visions, the insights, the proclamations, the stacks of brilliant verbal conjunctions, the musical inventiveness and uniqueness: one after the other, again and again, in a form that reveals them naked, unmodulated, undimmed by any apparent resort to the traditional resources of poetic artfulness.”

Phew., as a lover of poetry and the occasional analysis thereof: what more could one ask for?

David Marx

Jimi Hendrix London

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Jimi Hendrix London

By William Saunders

Roaring Forties Press – $14.95

Jimi Hendrix London, is, as its title suggests, another throw of the dice by way of re-tracing the arrival of Jimi Hendrix in London; the city that was to propel him to gargantuous worldwide fame in a mere matter of months.

From his arrival in England’s capital in September 1966 – replete with forty dollars and a guitar supposedly stolen from The Rolling Stones – to the open verdict that was decided at the inquest into his death at 34 Westminster Coronor’s Court, 65 Horseferry Road (”a squat little building a few hundred yards from Westminster Abbey”), everything the singer/songwriter/guitarist extraordinaire did in London, is herein meticulously recorded.

As the synopsis on the back cover makes clear: ”Journalist and poet William Saunders retraces Jimi’s London odyssey, weaving the story of his public and private life around the studios and clubs, hotels and apartments, back streets and concert halls where he lived and played.”

Written in a manner that is both attractive and easy to read, most of the chapters consist of bite-size chunks of information, that traverse the dense and extremely productive period of one of the finest musicians ever to have graced the world – let alone London.

Is it any wonder that even The Beatles were mighty taken, as Suanders makes by clear with regards Hendrix’s rendition of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ a mere three days after it’s release (in the chapter ‘rise and shine’): ”It was during a Sunday evening concert at the Saville Theatre that Jimi pulled off one of his great coups de theatre. On the first Sunday of June; the Experience were top of the bill, and the 1,200-seat threatre was full […]. Paul McCartney, who was in the audience, was deeply impressed […]. ‘To think that the album meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you’d put it in, but he just opened with it. It’s a pretty major compliment in any one’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career, I’m sure he wouldn’t have thought of it as an honour, I’m sure he thought it was the other way round, but to me that was like a great boost.”

As a major fan of Hendrix, I was surprised to learn of his penchant for mimicking a variety of English accents, which ‘why can’t the english teach their children how to speak’ interestingly touches on: ”Even the orthodox usage of the BBC could take Jimi by surprise and stimulate his imagination. ”I heard big impressive words spoken on telly,” he told his friend the American journalist Sharon Lawrence. ”I’ll never forget watching the news and a reporter speaking of ‘uncharted waters.’ Ever since I have wanted to use ‘uncharted waters’ in a song. That’s life in a nutshell. Hearing English spoken in England was like opening a door.”

All nineteen chapters of Jimi Hendrix London has something of idiosyncrantic interest to offer; to such a degree in fact, that it will invariably entice even the most devout of Hendrix fans – myself included.

David Marx