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Are you experienced?


Show host Nancy Alden was riffing on Sirius-XM yesterday about the “27 Club”—the long list of musicians who died at that age. As she went through the names, I waited for her to mention a certain one. Just as I decided she had forgotten it, she ended the list by saying Jimi Hendrix had died at 27 exactly 45 years ago.

When she said that, my world paused, and not because I had forgotten the date. Rather, the moment reminded me—again—that Jimi hasn’t really died. If his music were being released by a contemporary artist, it still would be considered stunning. He lives through it.

Given Hendrix's status as a rock god, it's worth remembering that he recorded just four albums in his lifetime: Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold as Love, Electric Ladyland, and Band of Gypsies. They were released in three short years, 1967-70. With that short time span in mind, some people might call Hendrix a shooting star. No—he was a fireball.

Since his death, countless people have tried to make money from the fireball by releasing an uncountable number of albums of Hendrix outtakes, demos, live recordings and the like. None of it meets the impeccable standards Jimi insisted on in the studio and during the production of his albums. If it had met those standards, it would have been released during his life.

Even so, a handful of these projects are worth owning. Hendrix in the West is at the top of the list. When I started switching my music collection from vinyl to CDs, Hendrix in the West was unavailable. I spent years trying to find a CD version before tracking down a bootleg made in Russia. It was well worth it, because his two solos on the song “Red House” are the best electric guitar blues solos ever recorded.

The first one finds Jimi working a standard blues riff, but he quickly turns it into his own with string-bending notes swooping like dive bombers, then shooting skyward like staccato rockets. Just when you think he’s finished, he finds another gear. Then another. Then another. With each level, he takes the blues into a new, previously unheard giant world of screaming torment, the sound of a cosmic heart being shredded and a soul being torn apart by love. This is a world only Jimi had the skill and imagination to reach. Then, after an interlude where Hendrix steps into the background for a muted Billy Cox bass solo, he takes a briefer but more incendiary solo. As I type this, the hair on my arms is standing up, even though I first heard these solos in 1972.

I just looked for some quotations about Hendrix by his guitar-playing peers. During this search, I found this article from The Guardian that was written five years ago:
(Eric Clapton: "You never told me he was that fucking good.")

As for quotations about Hendrix, one is all we need. It's from the greatest rock guitarist living, Jeff Beck, who was already famous when Hendrix hit England in 1966 and began blazing his way into immortality:

“He came along and reset all of the rules in one evening.”


Latest Month

March 2017

Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”


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