Jimi Hendrix Essay

On 3 September 1968, Allen Ginsberg appeared on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line. Buckley exposed Ginsberg’s politics as fatuous — the blarney, stoned — but Ginsberg stole the aesthetic victory by reading ‘Wales Visitation’, a homage to William Blake. ‘White fog lifting and falling on mountain brow,’ Ginsberg intones, ‘…teeming ferns/ exquisitely swayed/ along a green crag/ glimpsed through mullioned glass in valley rain.’

‘Nice,’ Buckley nods. He lets Ginsberg read the whole poem. Ginsberg opposes the artificial imagery of power and money (‘London’s symmetrical thorned tower / & network of TV pictures flashing bearded your Self’) to the vision of the unmediated, natural Self: ‘Each flower Buddha-eye.’ After six minutes, the roots of Christianity mesh with oriental religion in a vision of physical liberation and spiritual democracy: ‘Sounds of Aleph and Aum / through forest of gristle… All Albion one.’

‘I kinda like that,’ Buckley admits. Even secondhand and soiled, the visionary voice cannot be denied. Buckley believed that ‘the ideologues, having won over the intellectual class’, had now ‘simply walked in and started to run things’. Blake had stood athwart history, yelling ‘Stop’ to the rationalising, systematising civilisation that coalesced in Georgian London, then conquered the world after 1945. The further the market spread, the higher Blake’s stock rose. In 1863, Blake’s first biographer Alexander Gilchrist called his subject pictor ignotus, the unknown painter. A century later, Blake was a universal poet, the prophet of spiritual revolt in what Buckley called ‘an age of conformity’.

Blake’s belatedness encourages us to judge him not by his works, but his admirers. A century before Firing Line, Swinburne, anticipating Allen Ginsberg in Blake: A Critical Essay (1868), spotted ‘the points of contact and sides of likeness between William Blake and Walt Whitman’. But Blake, working with ‘Ages & Generations’ in mind, had hoped for the Blake revival. Before Joni Mitchell called her spoilt and selfish peers ‘stardust’, Blake wrote that ‘Energy is the only life’, and got back to the garden, naked in Lambeth, not Woodstock.

He even named the age when, as in the era of the French Revolution, ‘Fury! rage! madness! In a wind swept through America.’ ‘Rouze up O Young Men of the New Age! Set your foreheads against the ignorant hirelings!’ Blake wrote in the preface to his epic poem ‘Milton’ (1810). ‘Suffer not the fashionable Fools to depress your powers by the prizes they pretend to give for contemptible works or the expensive advertising boasts they make of such works.’

Accompanying an exhibition at Northwestern University in Illinois, William Blake and the Age of Aquarius is the most intriguing book on Blake since Marsha Keith Schuchard’s exposé of him as a swinger, Why Mrs Blake Cried (2006). America’s postwar Blakeans rebelled against expensive advertising and contemptible comfort. However misplaced the fury, and despite a preponderance of ‘fashionable Fools’, the results were not all contemptible. The political inspirations are well known; Blake, in Ginsberg’s words, warned Thomas Paine to ‘get out of London before the fuzz came to arrest him’. But many other Blakean echoes are surprising.

I knew that Blake supplied the chorus lyric to the Doors’s ‘End of the Night’. But I didn’t know that Jimi Hendrix, while living around the corner from the blue plaque marking Blake’s residence in South Molton Street, drew on Blake’s ‘Mary’ for ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, and on ‘Jerusalem’ for the ‘arrows made of desire’ in ‘Voodoo Chile’. Nor did I know that Kris Kristofferson discovered Blake at Merton College, Oxford, where he played rugby and won a boxing Blue.

Another highlight is Jacob Henry Leveton’s essay on Blake’s Abstract Expressionist connections. Blake’s innovations in colour printing influenced Sam Francis’s adoption of ‘vibrant color kineticism’. Clyfford Still quoted Blake’s individualist Christianity against the impersonality and fear of the Cold War. In Fearful Symmetry (1947), Northrop Frye described the vortex as Blake’s ‘image of infinity’; in the same year, Jackson Pollock painted ‘Vortex’.

‘One law for the Ox & Lion is oppression,’ Blake wrote in his age of conformity. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before Blake’s defence of religious conscience and free speech leads modern conservatives to concur with Kris Kristofferson: ‘William Blake is my man… Hell, yeah!’

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On November 27, 1942, Jimi Hendrix was born as John Allen Hendrix in Washington at Seattle General Hospital. His childhood was not a privileged one, however, he did indulge himself in one particular way: Jimi loved to play the guitar. At first he played an old acoustic, and later a cheap Silvertone electric, which were both strung for a lefty on a right-handed guitar, one of the defining Hendrix traits (Murray 34 - 5). As a teenager, young Jimi listened to the music which affected his music so greatly later: everyone from Buddy Holly to Muddy Waters and through Chuck Berry way back to Eddie Cochrane (Wilmer 38). He played in a few bands in high school, but then dropped out before his senior year. After working as a laborer for a few months, Jimi decided that he was not destined for that line of work, so in 1959, he enlisted into the 101 st Airborne (Murray 36).

Jimi's parents were of mixed descent, with Jimi's family tree had whites, blacks, and Cherokee Indians. Jimi never denied his ethnic diversity, but rather accepted his diversity and publicly allowed it to show through in his music. Jimi said it best in If 6 was 9 on Axis: Bold As Love when he said Im gonna wave my freak flag high. Hendrix first forays into professional music came after he received his honorable discharge from service in the summer of 1962 (Murray 36). His background in R&B, a type of music dominated by black artists at that time, led him to play with many R&B singers from the time, such as Little Richard, King Curtis, Joey Dee and the Starliters, the Isley Brothers, and many others (Murray 38 - 42). The development of his own style of music, which would later be displayed at various stages of its evolution in his four completed studio albums, came from an amalgamation of his intimate familiarity with the blues, ethnic background, the years he spent as an R&B sideman, and his exposure to new musical styles and scenes.

The development of Hendrix music to our modern perception of it occurred after his move to New York City and the formation of Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, where a young producer named Chas Chandler discovered his act, which by then included Hendrix famous playing with his teeth and behind his back. Chandler brought Jimi to London, where blues-based bands such as John Mayalls Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, and Chandlers old group, The Animals were immensely popular and on the cutting edge. Hendrix and Chandler auditioned a number of musicians to be in the new band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and decided upon a trio with Hendrix on guitar and vocals, Mitch Mitchell on drums, and Noel Redding on bass (Fairchild, Are You Experienced 3). The first album was recorded and released as Are You Experienced? on May 12, 1967 in England and after its initial success there, it was released on August 26, 1967 in the United States (Fairchild, Are You Experienced? 5 - 6).

On Are You Experienced? , Hendrix shows for the first time in a studio album the heavy bluesy-rock and extraordinary guitar playing that Chandler observed an embryonic form of in Greenwich Village. However, the album definitely has a commercial feel to it, probably necessitated by Chandlers desire to collect on his investment and Jimi's lack of experience in being the leader of a band. Of the single Hey Joe, which was the first song recorded for Are You Experienced? , Hendrix said: Its a commercial record, ... but everyone found that better for the first time. Its just a phase, its only a very small part of us (Fairchild, Are You Experienced? 7). On the other hand, another track on the album, Red House, represented something else entirely.

Red House is a more traditional blues number, written by Jimi Hendrix, which is a perfect example of what Jimi began his musical experimentation with. Jimi showcases his blues guitar playing and singing on Red House. The lyrics tell the story of a man who loses his woman but who manages to keep his guitar, and if his woman wont love him any more, he says I know her sister will. With Red House, Jimi extended his identity in relation to pop culture to include not only rock star status, but great musician -- both blues and otherwise -- as well. In a 1967 Rolling Stone article titled Hendrix and Clapton, Jon Landau states: He [Jimi Hendrix] is...

a great guitarist and a brilliant arranger. On Red House, the only straight blues he recorded, ... he establishes himself as an absolute master of that musical form (18). Another Hendrix tune from Are You Experienced?

was Purple Haze, that Jas Obrecht described as the bands break-through single in America (Obrecht 29). Beyond the surface interpretation of the song referring to drugs (the lines Purple haze, all in my brain and Got no money, dont know why are brought to mind), Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek in Electric Gypsy suggest that the inspiration may have come from Hendrix Native American background and more specifically reading The Book of the Hopi (Fairchild, Axis: Bold As Love 7). The Indian interpretation of Purple Haze and the traditional blues Red House are the two best examples of Hendrix paying homage to his ancestry on Are You Experienced? The structure and lyrics on most of the songs on Are You Experienced? form the basis upon which it is possible to measure the change in the style of Hendrix, both lyrically and musically, that were to occur until his untimely death in 1970. The commercial success of the album and the confidence that Jimi must have gained from reviews which called him things like an absolute master allowed Jimi to make smooth transitions to whatever he felt like experimenting with or changing.

The importance in Are You Experienced? lies in the fact that it was successful, and that the Jimi Hendrix that everyone heard on that album would be acceptable whether he was playing straight-forward blues, playing Stone Free or covering Hey Joe. Are You Experienced? represents the starting point from which Jimi Hendrix would take his new style of music and make himself into one of the most influential musical figures of his time. The true arrival of Jimi Hendrix occurred with the release of The Jimi Hendrix Experiences second studio effort, Axis: Bold As Love. With this album, production costs were estimated at ten thousand pounds, allowing Jimi the valuable studio time he needed in order to more completely master his craft.

Approximately three thousand of those pounds were spent production costs of the album sleeve, which picture Jimi and his bandmates in and surrounded by Indian imagery, to which Jimi responded: The three of us had nothing to do with that Axis cover. When I first saw the that design I thought, Its great, they have an Indian painting about us, but maybe we should have an American Indian (Fairchild, Axis: Bold As Love 5). Axis: Bold As Love marks a more obvious return to Hendrix Native American heritage. Where Are You Experienced? was more intent on reaching the mass market, Axis purpose was as much for Hendrix himself as it was for his audiences. When asked about the difference between the two albums, Hendrix said: The changes in music between the two records are for you to decide.

Were just playing the way we feel (Wenner and Wolman 13). As for the meaning of the title, Axis: Bold As Love, Hendrix said: The Axis of the earth turns around and changes the face of the world and completely different civilizations come about or another age comes about... Well, the same with love; if a cat falls in love or a girl falls in love, it might change his whole complete scene: Axis, Bold as Love... (Werner and Wolman 13). The presence of Native American imagery is dually noted in the tracks Little Wing and Castles Made Of Sand. Little Wing was based on a very, very simple American Indian style and Hendrix added one of the most memorable introduction s ever (Fairchild, Axis: Bold As Love 13). Little Wings best attribute is its pleasing incorporation of Native American belief with guitar playing which could in no way be considered abrasive.

The writing and production of Little Wing seems to mark the development of Hendrix confidence in both his lyrical and compositional skills. As for Castles Made Of Sand, Michael Fairchild states that rock music reached its sensitive fragile depths when Jimi's Indian lullaby e whispered Castles Made Of Sand (Fairchild, Axis: Bold As Love 17). On the track If 6 Was 9, Hendrix sings White-collared conservative flashing down the street/Pointing their plastic finger at me... /Im gonna wave my freak flag high. If 6 Was 9 is Hendrix statement for musical and social freedom. About If 6 Was 9, Hendrix states How could If 6 Was 9 be anger? I dont say nothin bad about nobody, it just says, man, let them go on and screw up theirs, just as long as they dont mess with me (Fairchild, Axis: Bold As Love 16).

Jimi's change of confidence in himself between Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold As Love did not go unnoticed by critics of the time. Hendrix had clearly stated himself as an individual musician, not just a man defined by his group or by his producer and record label. In Jim Millers April 6, 1968 review of Axis: Bold As Love for Rolling Stone, he said: Axis: Bold As Love is the refinement of white noise into psychedelia, and (like Cream) it is not a timid happening; in the vortex of this apocalyptic transcendence stands Hendrix, beating off on his guitar and defiantly proclaiming if the mountains fell in the sea, let it be, it aint me.

Such cocky pop philosophy shall not go unrewarded (21). Axis: Bold As Love represented the change of Hendrix from not just Top 40 hit-maker, but also complete acceptance by those who judge most harshly, the critics. Miller also called Axis: Bold As Love the finest Voodoo album that any rock group has produced to date (13). The term Voodoo, as applied to Hendrix music, brings to mind Hendrix mixture of African and Native American influences.

Axis: Bold As Love was Are You Experienced? minus t...


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