Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jimi Hendrix died 40 years ago today.

Jimi Hendrix -- widely considered the greatest guitarist in rock history -- died on September 18, 1970 at the age of 27.

Here he is on the Dick Cavett Show:

Hendrix's statement about politics reminds me of my blog post about why art is more important than politics. Back when I posted that, I found it interesting how the comments (on my blog and elsewhere in the blogosphere) had a very consistent reaction. Almost everyone responded by defending politics as something worth caring about. Well, of course politics and government policy matter. Everyone knows that. Why do they matter? Because, as many people explained in the comments, these things can profoundly affect people's lives. But music also affects people's lives, and often in more profound ways.

Hendrix is remembered as the greatest rock guitarist of all time not because he was more adept than anyone else at moving his fingers along a fretboard (countless guitarists have surpassed him at this), but because he had the most profound effect on how we make and hear music.

Here he is playing "Little Wing":

The Kronos Quartet playing "Purple Haze":

Hendrix playing "The Wind Cries Mary" at the Monterey Pop Festival:


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I hope you clicked from the Kronos Quartet to the Teletubbies playing "Purple Hazel" at the bottom banner of the video. Possibly the most psychedelic thing I've seen since 1972.

Great clips -- thank you!

John Althouse Cohen said...

I won't ask what happened in 1972.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

The Grateful Dead started going downhill, with Pigpen sitting out almost completely (he'd be dead a year later) and all those Deadheads crowding the scene.

Anonymous said...

I wish I understood the line: "because he had the most profound effect on how we make and hear music." But I don't, really. I loved Jimi's music a lot and yes there are tons of guitarists who can do what he did and more, but Jimi to me created the "photograph" or "illusion" of the music with his interpretation better than anyone I know - check out his take on "All Along The Watchtower" to see what I mean.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what "how we make and hear music" means either. (Nor do I understand what 'the illusion" of music means-and how that leads to interpretation of Dylan). Hendrix was capable of communicating the most intense feelings through his playing and his unique approach (lefty with righty stringing), electronic innovations (he employed a brilliant tech/engineer to create novel one-off components) set him apart from his peers. Most of all, he was open to diverse inluences, incorporating jazz, folk, blues and even country into his music. He collaborated with everyone-from 15 year old guitar prodigy Randy Wolfe (whom he renamed 'California') to Miles Davis. This openess, curiosity and generosity served him well. He created something new by fusing diverse influences into a reframing of soul music. The tired, plastic and sterile tropes of Motown received a complete makeover as Hendrix added psychedlia, folk and blues, with a nod to jazz pioneers, to the equation...and best of all, translated it into a winning and approachable commercial-pop form.

chickelit said...

Nice tribute!

El Presidente said...

Thanks for the Little Wing link. I love to compare it to Stevie Ray Vaughan's interpretation. I believe the two of them are neck and neck for greatest rock guitarist.

And thanks for reminding me what a tool Dick Cavett was.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what some of those sentences mean either, but to me, Hendrix is Hendrix because of the unique and extraordinary passion and invention that he brought to his art. The fact that we were robbed of four decades of his creativity by such an avoidable and, frankly, stupid death, is heartbreaking.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Anonymouses: I wish I could explain it better, but it's hard to put music into words. Even if you can do the job somewhat eloquently (which was my goal in this post, though I might not have succeeded), you inevitably leave so much out.

I do think that Hendrix's influence has been so thoroughly incorporated into the music of the past 40 years that it can be hard to appreciate the magnitude of what he contributed. We're so used to his impact.

Notice that I said, "Hendrix is remembered as the greatest rock guitarist of all time . . . because he had the most profound effect on how we make and hear music." I meant "the most profound effect among guitarists." Which other rock guitarist has exerted a Hendrix-like level of influence through playing (and composing for) guitar?

He used innovative guitar effects -- distortion, feedback, and others. He broke free of the traditional guitarist-in-a-rock-band formula (playing through the chord progression or perhaps repeating a riff during the singing, and taking a predictably timed solo) by spreading his melodies and flourishes throughout the song. He pioneered the use a monster guitar riff as the driving force of a song, but he could also be tasteful and restrained when this was appropriate. He didn't invent the idea of a guitar riff driving a rock song, but "Purple Haze," "Foxy Lady," and "Voodoo Chile" were dramatic advances over "Satisfaction," "Day Tripper," and "You Really Got Me."

JZ said...

Two comments about Hendrix: his hands were huge and he sure did like his drugs.

hiscross said...

Politics is designed to control and shrink the mind and soul. Music is just the opposite,

Blair said...

This is the first time I have heard Hendrix talk, and I am surprised by his accent. A lot of British inflections?

Penny said...

"Politics is designed to control and shrink the mind and soul. Music is just the opposite."

Two of my favorite things, music and politics, which is why I couldn't just give your statement a "pass", Jim.

Here's another view...

Music and politics are mirror images in different ponds. Jimi Hendrix and JFK didn't start their careers being successful, but they both sure ended their lives being ICONS, and larger than the human beings they were .

Were they larger than life because they died too soon? Maybe so. If any of us hang around too long...well...we start to take on the "taint" that comes with living. It's the "taint" of the masses passing their judgment.

None of us knew or cared about the EARLY days of either of these gentlemen. None of us were there when they "stepped out" to separate themselves from all those other talented people in politics and in music. Those OTHERS...ALL those others who pleased the masses by delivering precisely what they expected, and exactly what they wanted.

But Jimi didn't do that, and nor did JFK. They chose the path "less traveled", and in so doing, and against all odds... they eventually forged highways that continue to meet the needs of the masses to this day.

So here's my parting thought. When you meet someone with passion, courage and a whole heck of a lot of talent, but otherwise... they seem "at odds" with the current zeitgeist? Give them a "pass". No telling how far they might take us all.

Think about it. You just might be able to say that you knew that person "back when"! Makes for a lovely story. ;)

RIP Jimi.

Richard K said...

Thanks for the reminder. Hendrix was amazing. They don't make them like him anymore. Now I have to listen to Electric Ladyland!

Penny said...

Oh, and Jim?

*hands off a pass, not previously given*

We might not agree on everything, but surely we agree on enough.

Music moves our collective, yet very singular soul.

Great start! THANKS!

James said...

To do what has never been done is much harder than to surpass it. To us, his contemporaries, he and his music were so different as to have been from another planet.

Thurman said...