Monday, September 19, 2011

JIMI HENDRIX: VOODOO CHILD IN A ROOM FULL OF MIRRORS


Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past
And with his crutch, it’s old age, and it's wisdom
It whispers no, this will be the last
And the wind cries Mary
-‘The Wind Cries Mary’ from the album ‘Are You Experienced’

In the first album of ‘Jimi Hendrix Experience’- a band built around the emerging phenomenon called, well, Jimi Hendrix, Jimi shouts ‘manic depression is a frustrating mess’ in the microphone, then picks up his guitar and shows us the howling twisted abyss of the torment. Not for nothing, often he is rated as the greatest guitarist of all times. With dizzying level of glossy showmanship daring chutzpah, it is easy to be suspicious of the label of genius. However, in Hendrix we are dealing with the real thing. His voice (as well as sounds) were original and he created a repertoire that has strands which still define popular culture. He is revered by psychedelic scene, his folksy songs have a status of a benchmark (remember ‘Little Wing’), his blues have given rise to veritable industry of cover versions (please hear ‘Voodoo Chile’). He was unsure of his singing skills but listen to any of his songs and senses his vocal dexterity competing with extremely expert guitar. Shorn of all psychedelic haze, stage antics and above all untimely mysterious death (he died at 27 supposedly suffocating on his vomit under the influence of barbiturate), Jimi Hendrix was a truly gifted artist who could realize astonishing successes in a short span of four years when he achieved stardom.
Jimi Hendrix forms part of the tragic troika of ‘Js’- Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix. All three created something that has endured and more or less epitomized the music of their time. However the tragic shortness of their creative journey (Janis died 13 days after Jimi and Jim died less than six months later all of them were 27) is also indicative of the uneasy relationship between direction of their creativity and a life sustaining way of living. Some of the fellow travellers survived (Rolling Stone, members of Beetles sans Lennon, Clapton come to mind among others). Despite the short time period when three J acquired centre-stage, their legacy survives and many tributaries of popular western music continue to echo their throbbing intensity and improvisational guts.
Jimmy (James Marshall Hendrix) was born in Seattle on November 27th, 1942. His father was serving in the army and got to see his son quite late and is responsible for ‘James’ in the name as the mother Lucille, originally named him Johnny Allen Hendrix. Hendrix got his first guitar at the age of almost sixteen (remember he was dead at twenty seven). A self taught guitarist, Jimi Hendrix was shaped by the forces of blues like B B King and Muddy Water. In fact, he played behind quite a few of them such as Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson, Ike and Tina Turner, and B.B. King. As a club musician in New York he was part of a varied lot like the Isley Brothers, King Curtis, John Paul Hammond, and Curtis Knight. Before that he played in high school bands before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1959 only to be discharged on medical grounds in 1961.

In 1965 Hendrix formed his own band, ‘Jimmy James and the Blue Flames,’ to play at Greenwich Village coffeehouses. He was noticed by Chas Chandler of the Animals who took him to London, capital of cool at that time, in 1966. London was the proverbial turning point. Within a week of landing there he jammed with Eric Clapton, created a stir for his new sounds and soon had his most productive partners in Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. ‘Jimi Hendrix Experience’ was born. Hendrix literally lit up the London music scene with his edgy rock performances. His blues that were theoretically placed in the definitional parameters of the genre rebelled silently just at the most game-changing points. Generous English pantheon (Beatles, Clapton, Pete Townshend to count few) not only accepted him but turned into ardent fan. Townshend was to write later “It was a high form of eroticism, almost spiritual in quality. There was a sense of wanting to possess him (Hendrix) and wanting to be a part of him, to know how he did what he did because he was so powerfully affecting. Johnny Rotten did it, Kurt Cobain did it...... he had a kind of alchemist's ability; when he was on the stage, he changed. ”
His return to the US in 1967 is part of folklore. A neglected side artist of yore came to rapturous applause in Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 (Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar was another artist introduced to the West by the festival). America was charmed, overwhelmed 24 year old Jimi set his guitar on fire as a gesture of gratitude, “I'm gonna sacrifice something here I really love. Don't think I'm silly doin' this, because I don't think I'm losin' my mind .... But today, I think it's the right thing .... There's nothing more I can do than this" he is believed to have said. He was dead within three years of Monterey. It is difficult to believe that he was famous and alive for less than four years and cut only three proper albums officially. His shadow looms very large and virtually every note he struck has been commercially exploited.
His early singles "Hey Joe," "Purple Haze" and "Burning of the Midnight Lamp" flowered into one of the most influential albums of all time ‘Are You Experienced?’ The music of late sixties has an appeal and the era evokes a nostalgia. Sometimes smell of self-destructive creativity masks the incredible beauty of the musical output of the period. ‘Are You Experienced?’ has the force and even naked destruction to showcase the nihilistic brutality of the period but above all it is an anthem of creativity, vitality expanded genius that flourishes at a particular epoch of history without any rational explanation. Want to experience the sixties without feeling smug about advancement in music and narration-‘Are You Experienced?’ can be a revealing as well as humbling experience. His next album –‘Axis: Bold As Love’ was low on sonic flourishes but nevertheless equally adventurous in scope and intended impact. ‘Little Wing’ is one of the most loved songs in the formidable Jimi repertoire. Fiery ‘Crosstown Traffic,’ ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ soulful ‘Rainy Day, Dream Away,’ ‘1983...(A Merman I Should Turn to Be),’ ‘Moon, Turn the Tides...gently gently away’ yes you get the picture of consolidation of a hyper ambition. The third album ‘Electric Ladyland’ was most completely his work as he had better creative control due to changed circumstances. Hendrix was a technical virtuoso who could understand and exploit the hidden potential of musical gizmos and create new sound in a most hauntingly sustainable way.
If studio liberated him to conjure uncontrollable sonic universe, stage was his natural home- he was a performer of hypnotic magnetism. His cool was totally his own and survives in the enduring rock iconography. He was a ‘Voodoo Child’ capable of creating unimaginably alluring atmosphere with his stage athleticism, antics that bordered on bizarre and tricks that endeared him to the crowd. The sexual overtones were heightened by his mannerism and lyrical eroticism of his music. His death contributed to his mystique. A lesser artist would have been swamped by the hoopla but his music survives. He said he wanted to be taken seriously as musician and did not want to clown any more. ‘Genius of doubt’, a phrase used for artist Cezanne is aptly applicable to him. Jimi’s articulation both verbal and musical was tentative in appearance as if something unruly has been let out without a proper plan. Rough texture and unfinished feel added to the wild confusion. However, the end product is almost always unalloyed beauty. In fact the hint of slight anarchy is integral to many interesting pieces of modern creativity but very few had the wherewithal to goad the torrential chaos into enduring beauty as Jimi Hendrix has done. Protean persona of the genius continues to define cool, making it hard to believe he is dead for almost four decades.
****
Contemporary Music lover should visit http://rockasteria.blogspot.com/ 

-Dhiraj SIngh

3 comments:

  1. Jimi is one my favourites artist. His music is great as is his myth!
    Thanks for your visit at my blog.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Grettings from Spain. Interesting blog. Long Life this blog.
    http://tommentonenlacuadra.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's great to see that Jimi still gets love from people all around the world. He's the kind of person who makes me proud to be an American.

    RF

    ReplyDelete