The Hendrix biography on the shelf here is an old one and an interesting part of which is mention of Hendrix` fascination with Bob Dylan. But Hendrix` is often eclipsed by his own guitar focused genius and I’d like to offer some feedback on why Jimi Hendrix is actually a man of ideas who, beginning with the simple ideas of other worldliness such as UFOLOGY, extended his sonic, lyrical and experiential palette to encompass and map a far more complex journey, beyond playing the guitar, that is both personal and political.
That Hendrix was able at points in his career, such as the Machine Gun performance on the Band of Gypsies Live film and record, to encompass the entire journey into singular moments is testament to his greatness not only as a guitarist but also as an artist per se – at points like these Hendrix is able even to dispense with vocabulary itself and really paint with sound.
What is more interesting is the broad transition from Are You Experienced ( A.Y.E. ) to Axis:Bold as Love and beyond to Electric Ladyland especially in terms of Hendrix` lyrical expression, lexical development and what appears to be efforts to develop coherent meaning and make sense of “the experience” rather than simply to detail “the experience” itself.
To illuminate; the song “Are you Experienced” Hendrix` eponymous first album opener takes Dylan`s “Like A Rolling Stone” and makes it a call to action, a call to begin “the experience”.
I know, I know
you’ll probably scream and cry
That your little world won’t let you go
But who in your measly little world are trying to prove that
You’re made out of gold and -a can’t be sold.
So-er, Are You Experienced?
Ah! Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have
The subject of Dylan`s Rolling Stone and the failure expressed therein upon so many levels, to understand, to see or gain awareness is offered here a solution directly through “experience”. The “er”`s and “-a”s have a distinctively Dylanesque time and feel no doubt.
More traditional blues lyric cliche content (Highway Chile) or simple psychedelia (Purple Haze) all but disappears on the Axis disc. “If 6 was Nine” furthermore introduces politics and social commentary into the equation, I`d suggest the Axis album represents a move away from a perspective of psychedelia towards one of entheogenic purpose.
The song “Bold As Love” most especially marks a continuing departure from the fundamentally direct, acid soaked expressionism of A.Y.E. and a move towards defining a more positive, transcendental cosmology beyond simple psychedelia, time or space and extend earlier natural metaphor and imagery as found in “Wind Cries Mary” and “Third Stone from the Sun” towards a development of meaning or perhaps a system of belief.
This finds its logical conclusion in the third and final album “Electric Ladyland”; especially side three and the song “1983”. One might argue that “1983” actually represents a defeat in the face of real world concerns, that the hope of defining such a meaning or system of belief had failed – war still raged upon the land mass – and escape into the sea to avoid holocaust the only conclusion – OR, that submersion into what is ostensibly another dimension beneath the waves represents a triumph of consciousness, belief and will over political and physical impossibilities.
On the album “Electric Ladyland” we find a song such as “Voodoo Chile” formulating a pantheistic fusion and microcosmic omniscience in an attempt to reach enlightenment – lyrically it perhaps metafictionally encapsulates the journey from “Are you Experienced” through to “Electric Ladyland”.
In “Voodoo Chile” Hendrix takes the traditional blues structure and explodes it using the tonal and expressive palette later heard in Machine Gun. Lyrically beginning with traditional hoodoo, blues and gypsy superstition, fiery moons, night time birth, and resuscitation from strange instantaneous death Hendrix fuses and describes the intervention of messengers or gods in animal form, lions and eagles, from traditional AmerIndian and European paganism, a journey through infinity, science, and space (“Venus”, “Jupiter”), love, desire, union, transcribes the transcendent microcosmic omnipresence of his mind and finally the collapse of civilisation.
The movement across Hendrix` three studio albums from psychedelic rock to entheogenic purpose, the formulation of successful meaning and understanding with a few glances in Bob Dylan`s direction, provokes some interesting questions – can “the experience” form a remedy?
(c) A. Edwards – Extract reproduced with permission