22 Oct

Outside in the cold distance
A wild cat did growl
Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl

Listen to the wild cat growl:

And chink and roll and jangle and wail. All you monkeys out there listen to what one particular monkey is capable of. Pay heed to the sublime undefinable we know by that somewhat blunt word: genius.

Genius? Hendrix? Do the musicologists agree? He could never read music. Miles didn’t hold it against him. He started out when his mother died, the basic beginner’s acoustic. Then he graduated to a late 50s piece of shit. Jack White probably has one.


Actually it’s not shit, it’s a straight up 50s blues guitar. The sound is thick like the neck. It’s a heavy axe “The neck/body connection seems screwy, but it works. Strap buttons work and I think it will last another 50 years.” says someone somewhere out there online. who sounds like s/he plays.

Hendrix was born in Seattle which gave birth to the (imho) over-rated grunge scene: Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Nirvana two decades after he kicked. He grew up in San Francisco, figures. He had to go to London to make it because white America was still not ready for a black guitar hero. Three parts African-American to one part Cherokee. That also figures.

Listen to him live, watch his body language:

He hardly pays attention. He delivers his technically onerous solo intact. Chats casually to Noel Redding during a bit I’ve been trying to get right for years. This live performance lacks the stunning finesse of the studio version. I wonder how many takes that took.  Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell. Jimi Hendrix’s rhythm section were white boys y’all. Check out Mitch Mitchell in the clip. He’s in a trance.

Hendrix is just working. The lyrics aren’t important. I have a feeling whatever’s important’s probably backstage wearing boots and crochet; something indigenous wrapped around her head. I don’t know if he’s on drugs but he was always out of it, if by ‘it’ you mean the rational mentality expected by modern society.  “All Along The Watchtower” is, he tells us,  a “song we did about the year of 1833 and I think it’s pretty true still today if you can dig it.” Can you dig it? The nonsense as well as the howl? The song’s by Bob Dylan of course, possibly his most profound. The lyrics evoke a scenario, a cast of characters. Something unnameable is imminent. It is coming and it will take lives. The rest will be changed forever.

It’s difficult for us in the era where space shuttle launches don’t rate a news spot to imagine the time and place that was America 1959-1971. To understand the prosperity and order that people in the modern world took for granted. To comprehend the awe as humanity escaped the bounds of their planet. For the very first time a few of us saw Earthrise. They took pictures. Now we find them kinda like ‘oh yeah.. that!‘ So?

This was the time for youth. Everywhere with the elders: war. In China the young slaughtered the old. Figures of cultural authority were not burned in effigy they were sent out to work in the rice paddies. Or beaten to death, shot, imprisoned for twenty years. In France the young threw rocks at the police and carried pictures of Chairman Mao. In Czechoslovakia they fought against Marxist-Leninist autocracy. In America against the military-industrial complex. The ideas were incoherent. The ethics were fractured.

Some preached peace and love, racial, sexual harmony: black, white, yellow, red – copulate in a king-sized bed. Some attempted honourable, civil disobedience a la Ghandi. Some organized in cells and conspired to destroy property. Some killed to fight ‘fascism’. Some killed because The Beatles told them to. In Prague, in Paris and in Washington DC the various agents of orthodoxy regrouped and struck back victorious. From that time all bets have been off, morally. The times were a changin’ alright but what force actually underpinned all this inter-generational strife?

Fast forward three decades and the ritual Hendrix helped start has become extravagant.

The Dionysian legacy of some vague spirit of global human togetherness has given birth to a phenomena that requires hundreds of technicians to manifest. See live footage of the now ‘world’s greatest band’. See various profound screenbytes projected onscreen behind them. A mass media agit-prop exercise spreading awareness. Get active it all says. Active, which I might cynically speculate, means actively donating monies to one of Bono’s favourite causes. I don’t hate U2. I kinda like watching them play this. The Edge has a good time and he’s managed a reasonable solo based on Hendrix, without the really difficult bits.

But what does the world profit when U2 uses footage of the icon of the definitively crushed Tiananman Square protests of 1989 as a performance backscreen? Bono’s vocals overwail the import of Dylan’s words. He changes a lyric, as he’s wont to do, to make some kind of point. The words: “there are many here among us, who feel that life is but a joke” come out as “there’s so many people round here that don’t even get the joke”. The tone says somehow the amendment’s significant. But finally it’s not, particularly.


There’s a spirit in our culture embodied in a guitar and a song. The mariachi-rebel is one of our deepest icons. During the 1960s youthful aspirations to play an electric guitar on stage to ecstatic and adoring crowds replaced the soldier as the heroic icon. “This machine kills fascists” said Woody Guthrie’s guitar in an era where being killed by fascists was a real ever-present possibility. Indeed there was a machine that did kill fascists. It didn’t resemble a Fender Stratocaster.

The hopeful look back on the ’60s as the era where the machine at least peeled back fascism for a short while. Those of us who grew up in the jaded Post-Punk Now scoff and write it off as another marketing ploy. Fuck it all, fuck it all, fuck it all for all twelve months. Is that how it is? This post has crashed and burned in its own pessimism. Did the dream evoked by Hendrix and the rest come thru the gates of ivory or horn? Will a true dream that enters the world be followed by many false facsimiles resembling the first only better, brighter, bigger? More neon, more brass, more glitter? Somewhere, in the realm of the unreal, I truly believe that this machine kills fascists. Sadly I know different. The war is over, the good guys lost.


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