Jimi Hendrix was a leftie. But rather than use a left-handed guitar, he simply used a right-handed one upside down. Perhaps this is an appropriate figure for his approach to music: Hendrix took matters in hand and twisted them to meet... [more]
Jimi Hendrix was a leftie. But rather than use a left-handed guitar, he simply used a right-handed one upside down. Perhaps this is an appropriate figure for his approach to music: Hendrix took matters in hand and twisted them to meet his very personal vision of the world. When he revisits a blues classic, sounds buzz and whirl, notes soar and change shape; a collapse into noise is always imminent, but never arrives. Hendrix's compositions may flirt with chaos but they achieve an odd kind of grace -- an overwhelmed grace, if you will. There's too much going on, songs always bleed past their limits, at times erupting into flames because there's nowhere else to go, nothing else to become but pure combustion.
This visceral force, these seething sounds, were not part of a grunge aesthetic (although Hendrix was born in Seattle, where grunge would later flourish), but reflect the experimental and avant-garde inclinations of the true autodidact. Having taught himself to play by listening to records, he explored feedback and distortion, inventing new ways to make his instrument summon sound. (In fact, avowed experimentalists such as The Kronos String Quartet and flautist Robert Dick have made tribute albums to Hendrix). His style was too unconventional to be fully appreciated in the U.S. until the late 1960s -- it was the London pop scene that adopted and adored him earlier in the decade. His first return engagement at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 left a scorching impression. Hendrix introduced his patented wall of psychedelic sound and his flair for theatrical stuntsmanship: his act culminated with him lighting his guitar on fire as if it were a sacrificial offering to the turmoil of the times. In 1968 Hendrix decided to leave stage antics behind and return to the studio and to small clubs where he could concentrate on his music; as a result his New York Electric Lady Studio was born.
Hendrix's surplus of sound was linked by his lyrics to an anti-war, pro-love politics that ultimately celebrated the individual and the possibility of attaining cosmic 'experience." His fashion sensibility (combining camouflage with souped-up, braided British naval jackets and tie-dye) posed him as the leader of a paramilitary love brigade, and his off-stage indulgences gave credence to the image. Yet, while best known for his extravagances, Hendrix always enjoyed a taste for the interesting, the delicate, and the beautiful: the guitar of "Little Wing" is exquisite, tasteful, each note absolutely necessary. A sense of control amidst the frenzy is what made his music perfect for the "Apocalypse Now" soundtrack. Inevitably, Hendrix's pursuit of borderline experiences could, for all its Dionysiac glory, be self-destructive: he was found dead of a presumed overdose in 1970, his fire having spent itself intensely and briefly. [show less]