I’ve just been watching an excellent BBC documentary on Jimi Hendrix, part of the “Imagine” cultural series. As ever, when you watch anything about Hendrix, you are reminded what an extraordinary guitarist he was. No, not just extraordinary… revolutionary. He was rooted in the blues, but played with a wildness and imagination, and a oneness with self, that I don’t think anyone else has ever matched. Not even Jimmy Page, or Eric Clapton, or Neil Young, or Brian May, or Jeff Beck, or Robin Trower, or Bill Nelson (those last two, two of my favourites from the seventies who modelled themselves on Hendrix) or Prince, to name a few.
He died in 1970, at age 27. Drugs of some sort. What a tragedy and waste. You wonder where he would have headed musically had he stayed alive. I can’t believe he would have just gone around playing greatest hits. I have a feeling he would have found his way into some radical jazz thing, teaming up with the likes of Miles Davis. In a musical place where improvisation, pushing the boundaries, was the essence. And by now he’d have been exploring the outer reaches of electronic music, fusing it with guitar.
Wow, what would have it sounded like?
Well, what he did to the American national anthem at the Woodstock festival in 1969 gives a hint. This is a truly extraordinary and daring performance. Can you imagine the reaction? Some would have loved it, others would have regarded as an affront to the nation. To me, when I first saw it, I just thought, what an amazing, visceral performance. The tune ripped apart, reconstructed, the music a howl of despair, anger, love. Vietnam surely there in the background. A ball of confusion made real. Like an abstract, or Cubist painting. The thing called reality stripped down and reassembled.
A magnificent noise.
Here’s a video, courtesy of YouTube. In a way, it works best when you just listen to a recording. That way your imagination flows, unimpeded. But watching does allow you to appreciate the guitar genius too.