On the evening of November 27th 1942, the Moon was said to have turned a fire red. A woman cried out hysterically in shock then died on the spot. A legend was born. He was set about on a journey by mountain lions, who placed the mewling infant hero on an eagle’s wing and watched as he ascended into greatness, taking a moment to stop at Jupiter’s sun to watch all of our people, one by one.
Johnny Allen Hendrix cum James Marshall Hendrix cum Jimi Hendrix is and shall ever be my hero. A black American man, laughing in the face of adversity, stands on the precipice of rock Gods and throws a flaming Fender Stratocaster into the volcano’s gaping mouth as a groovy sacrifice. And Lord knows, that man was groovy.
I was nineteen years old: drunken, full of hormones (with no means of a…feminine release) and had just taken flight on my drug honeymoon. Every weekend, pupils dilated, body sweaty, contorting through vigorous tempos and obscure arm movements in some miscellaneous club, playing the same regurgitated music over and over. To recall the amount of times I heard your “Banquets”, “Mr. Brightsides”, “Take Me Outs and “Same Jeans”, it would take a very exhaustive list.
Clubs Frequented As A “Youf”: Gurning, Money Burning and the Occasional Churning – A Retrospective
Many a shithole, and you must forgive my language, a shed-load of shitty depraved dives with equally as shitty and depraved clientele have caked my trainers in a sticky, dark and viscous substance (dubbed rave grime by a friend of mine and I due to its alleged content: sweat, tears, blood, urine, vomit, drugs and, more than likely, semen). I have no idea why I did this! Experimenting with sounds and drugs is all good, if you have tall tales to regale friends with after! As opposed to “yeah man, I was really fucked that night! Don’t remember why I woke up in that skip though.” (I have never awoken in a skip, just a bold example.) Man, all that passes my mouth when reflecting over the “good ol’ days” of being a raving teen is “overpriced and the music was rubbish.”
My daily diet consisted of Bloc Party, Jurassic 5, DJ Shadow, Green Day, Foo Fighters, The Mars Volta, Deftones, Slipknot, Incubus, Queens Of The Stone Age, LCD Soundsystem, Death From Above 1979 and Weezer, to name a few truly inspirational bits of music to my young ears. Not that there is anything wrong with these bands/artists, (modern age Green Day remain exempt from that statement, their treachery runs too deep) they simply weren’t offering anything new and/or groundbreaking, they were just good for the dancefloor and the occasional bout of enthusing.
There was something I was looking for and I believed I could find it in clubs. People coming together to celebrate modern music (idealist), to dance and sway happily, arm in arm (optimist) and meet pretty girls to make out with, under dizzying bright lights, to the sound of “I Am The Resurrection” (deluded). Nope. Not at all. Night clubs are cattle markets, packed full of kids branded in fashion tastes based on their musical preference, vying for attention. Cigarette burns, fights, money squandered on expensive pints, drunken groups of girls surrounded by hungry males, people asking you for drugs and throwing up on your leg, constantly barging into you. Clubbing isn’t the right atmosphere for a teen attempting to find his voice in the world.
Oceana, Kingston. KoKo, Camden. The Borderline, Charing Cross Road. The Underworld, Camden. Perfect examples of where it went wrong. Elaborate dives, promising the Holy Grail when in reality all you got was a lousy apple and a talking snake. I needed something more. Something that made me think and jive. Something that resonated so deep, it would shake me into picking up a guitar again, under the pretense of “if he can do it, so can I!” Something pure, natural and bulshy.
The Night The Fire Was Stoked
I swear I was born in the wrong era. Afros, big moustaches, flamboyant shirts and flares sing to me. I guess the grass is always greener.
Old London Road, Kingston upon Thames. Four friends and a dull lamp. I’m sat, propped up by a mates’ double bed, stoned out of my mind. My friend - who’s room it is - is at his desk skinning up, two others are sat on the bed playing Pro Evolution Soccer 6. One friend is talking far too much for someone who has just smoked a couple of hydroponic joints. The other gamer rarely spoke, but when he brushed back his long dark hair to regale us with jest, it was usually humorous.
My mate, who’s room we were filling with haze, was a musical guru, of sorts, for me at the time. He was mainly listening to Converge, ISIS, Dillinger Escape Plan and Cave In to name a few hardcore/post metal bands. I wasn’t so much into that style then, but I respected him for it. They all revered Tool as Gods. I really liked their song with that weird video. The one with the grey plasticine man being cut in half (poor joke). University guys playing guitar, listening to new awesome music and smoking casual drugs… I was in my element, zoning out in this room packed full of new experiences. When all of a sudden, there was an almost inaudible voice counting from inside of my mate’s speakers. “One, two, three, B-B-C#m-C#m-C#m-C#m, B-B-A-A-A-A. B-B-C#m-C#m-C#m-C#m, B-B-A-A-A-A.” I sat there, lost. Tingling sensations shooting up and down my spine, my body’s way of telling me “you’ve found it.” The room fell silent. The psychedelic shift had occurred.
“‘There must be some kind of way out of here’, said the joker to the thief.” Tell me more! From where? Where are you taking me, oh mysterious man of the home-made iTunes playlist. I closed my eyes and ventured across distant galaxies on a beam made up of beautiful colours. Vibrant yellows, reds, purples. The shimmering stars whipping past me correlating with the jangling 12 string guitar, labouring low in the back of the recording. The slide solo, doused in creamy reverb (2 minutes in) being my ascent and descent on this roller coaster ride through the past.
“Who is this?!”
“Who? The song?”
“It’s Hendrix dude, All Along The Watchtower. Have you never heard it before?”
I had never heard it before. Why had I not heard this before?! I felt both childlike and tasteless as the princes kept their view, while all the women came and went. Barefoot servants too. It spoke to me, like a bed time story or nursery rhyme. Crackled and tinny, indicative of the sixties sound; authoritative. This is daddy music. Adhere and not be heard. Modern music (the late nineties and “noughties”) had failed to pull me into a warm embrace, the heat of desire and longing, rising, ready to pop and boil over, coating me in a technicolour liquid and bursting into a million shards of a single comet and setting sail for the stars once more. Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower became seminal.
It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day. - Bob Dylan
The imagery in the soundscapes is that of an emotion which lingers deep in the distance. A lament for something. I mean, I listen to the song and I shake my head, smiling. Missing something, but I have no idea what it is! I feel it deep in my bones: the lack of love as a jacket. Love as respect. Love as chivalry. Love as being told the truth.
Tatters of love and lack of love, they loved the love forgotten. - Lisa Jarnot
Bob Dylan, Watchtower’s creator, spoke of a confusion, that could gain no relief. Was he pointing at his stardom or the state of America during the sixties? Was it an ode to the middle class man, who’s wine is the hours he puts into work? The plowmen are the shopkeepers, barmen and mechanics, keeping his little world ticking over? Or is Jesus the joker? Who’s wine was supped by his disciples and later the ground around his frail, decaying frame was worked by the plowmen? The symbolism in the lyrics astound and, naturally, will mean different things to different people. Hendrix’s intention was for his music to go “inside the soul of the person, and awaken some kind of thing inside, because there are so many sleeping people .” It worked, James! I realised it was fine to be absurd, be psychedelic. It was fine to dress how you wanted, be free. To be as bold as love, just exist and have fun.
After burning a disc of my favourite tracks from the playlist, I listened to Watchtower over and over again, becoming fully acquainted with each solo and riff (enough to attempt doing a rendition by mouth), all guitar effects employed, lyrics and drum fills. Watchtower has bound itself with my DNA. I can feel its gentle tones all over my senses. I am a fan.
Hendrix’s life, as we all know, was one of great sadness and extinguished far too soon. He was raised between different family members and friends after his father, James Allen Hendrix, was drafted into WW2 and his mother, Lucille Jeter, discovered alcohol as pacifier. Much mystery surrounded his mother during the years his father was away fighting. An incident with a pimp springs to mind. But on he rose, playing rhythm guitar for artists such as Little Richard and The Isley Brothers. Then onto his UK breakthrough with The Jimi Hendrix Experienceand latterlyGypsy Sun and Rainbows andBand Of Gypsys, up until his untimely demise on September 18th, 1970.
I had never touched upon “classic rock” or psychedelia until this moment and honestly feel a more rounded person after. To me, the music pouring out from the mainstream now is terrifying. All gloss and repetitive vowel sounds for choruses. The day Mumford & Sons can be considered folk is, indeed, a very sad day for us all. Hendrix paved a way for time spent worshiping Led Zepplin, The Beatles, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Can, The Electric Prunes, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Funkadelic, James Brown, War, Marvin Gaye, Warpaint and even Boards of Canada (don’t let me get started on Boards…)!
If Jimi Hendrix was alive, he would have fallen into musical disrepute in a fashion similar to Carlos Santana, and made washed out, middle of the road albums with Eric Clapton and Elton John. Probably would have sounded as disheveled as Gil Scott-Heron on his last l.p. I’m New Here, meaning a shade of the magic and mystery of Rock’s favourite interstellar philanderer would cease to be. His early return to the mothership canonized him, as it has the many other renowned members of the 27 club, which is in no way unfair due to these mystical powers he wielded.
From pauper to king in 27 years, Mr Hendrix you are THE man. Thank you.
Now, walk on brother. You might be a million miles away but you’re right here in my picture-frame. Well…poster.