This is a blog devoted to music on the edge - experimental, underground, alternative, subversive, or just plain weird - new music that tries new things, or old music that broke old rules. It's a place to discuss ideas, share discoveries, to think about what makes music interesting and challenging but still good to listen to. Join in and have your say!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In tribute to the old and the new - Hendrix

A couple of weeks ago, the only child of my only sibling became a father for the first time and they named their son Hendrix.

It'd be pretty nice, I think, to be named in tribute to someone great; but, when it's someone whose very name is as recognisable as Hendrix, a name that everyone knows and in some way or other respects, it'd be hard not to grow up feeling at least a tiny bit cool.

But this is not a blog about names - it's a blog about music, and it's the music of Jimi Hendrix that I wanted to talk about today.

Jimi Hendrix is arguably the Luciano Pavarotti of the three big Js of the 27 club - Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, who all died at the tragically, obscenely young age of 27 - all of them great, but Hendrix the one who, from where many people see things, still towers above the others. He was the one who, more than anyone else, seemed to take music in his blood-stained, sweat-stained grip, and twist and turn it into bits of barbed wire, into shapes that can slice your skin to shreds, yet leave you asking for more. He was the one who did things with music that anyone else could only have done with knives and shards of glass, and yet still made it sound like music.

The Hendrix guitar is unmistakably his. The way he slides to notes that seem to be aching, screaming, crying, to go one step further, leaving you on the edge, unresolved: sexual music that holds back its orgasm, music that makes you writhe with grief but then denies you closure.

There's not much that can be said about Hendrix that someone hasn't already said, but when someone can make an instrument speak with the passion and guts that bleeds out of the Hendrix guitar, it's worth saying things more than once.

And yet, despite the instant recognisability of Hendrix's music, there's enormous diversity there too, and you are left in that unique place where you can hear the screeching pychedelic rock of something like 'Purple Haze' or the Rhythm and Blues of his music with the Band of Gypsys, where at times he almost turns his guitar into an electric banjo, or the rock blues of his compilation album Blues or of his posthumous First Rays of the New Rising Sun; you can hear any of that, and still know it's Hendrix.

Perhaps that has something to do with the actual sound he gets out of the guitar, his attack on the notes, and the way he drips them in acid and emotion with the wah-wah pedal; perhaps it has something to do with the way he phrases things, with long lines of music that somehow manage to sound airy and breathless at once, music that hyperventilates on itself; or maybe it's because of the way he finds notes in places where you wouldn't expect them to be, and puts them exactly where they should always have gone, those flattened blues notes, those notes that seem to be contemplating something, hesitating, then rushing into a wild, harsh frenzy, rugged and ragged.

But like all great artists, Hendrix is so much more than the sum of his parts and, ultimately, it's his soul, his tattered, tortured, troubled, triumphant soul that we latch onto most of all when we hear his music. Hendrix is one of those unique and extraordinary musicians with whom you have the best communication, the best conversations, and maybe even the best sex, when you listen to his music. He's one of those artists who is never more himself, never more honest, never more passionate, eloquent or erotic, than in his music. It's not just that he talks to you through his music, but rather that he is his music.

That, I guess, is why Hendrix will always sound like Hendrix, no matter what you hear him doing - it's because he will always be there; because whatever colour he shades his music with, it's still him.

Insatiable honesty and musical brilliance is a pretty awesome union to have and, whatever tragedy may have befallen Jimi Hendrix's personal life, we can, thanks to that union, continue to have him live and love and lust amongst us even today, forty years after his death.

And to have a new life named in tribute to that honesty and brilliance is a pretty nice message, even to those who have not gone deliriously ga-ga at the birth of my grand nephew, that good things really do keep on keeping on.

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