Book Review: Jimi Hendrix LondonPosted by Alexander Hay
A sturdy work with lots of useful information, this book reminds us that Hendrix and London were intrinsically linked.
The big problem with Jimi Hendrix is that his image gets in the way of the music. We are already so conditioned by the official life story and previous reception to his work that it's hard to have an original opinion of his musical legacy, a true appreciation free from what everyone else has been saying since his premature death.
“Are you experienced?” he once sang – too much so, as it happens. To the extent that it's hard to realise how much of a sea change in music that Hendrix represented during those four years of 1966 to 1970.
So “Jimi Hendrix London”, by music journalist William Saunders, is rather welcome, mainly because it puts Hendrix back in the context of the London scene where he made his name and, indeed, helped make him what he was when he was still alive.
The book is split into chapters that are in turn split into self contained 'gobbet' sections, each with its own headline in bold, alongside photos and maps. This lets you get to the facts quickly (and indeed is how journalism articles are structured), but means it's not exactly a book in the conventional sense.
As befits music journalism, it also has nerdy flourishes like: "The basic function of an Octavia is to play a note from an electric guitar one octave higher than it would naturally sound" If you're like me, that's manna from heaven. Others may be put off, but in doing so would be dismissing a book that is both detailed and informative, but accessible and readable at the same time.
It's also not afraid to make its point, arguing at one point that Hendrix's death wasn't just bad news for his lifestyle - he could no longer have any say over his image, his back catalogue or the torrent of material released after he went. He was never meant to be as overexposed or mythologised, though that was certainly what happened. Which is odd as Hendrix's death was in actuality more cock-up than drugged out Ragnarök or suicide. ("I can't sleep. I know! I'll take a load of sleeping pills!!! What could possibly go wrong???")
The book therefore makes the case that Hendrix was worth missing as a person as well as a muso, in part because he genuinely liked people and wanted to find out about new things, and rather enjoyed life without all the emotional baggage his successors cultivate these days. He was certainly a bit druggy but no more than other rock musos and bohemians of the time.
And as Saunders points out, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a British band in terms of its location, half of its lineup, but also how the UK moulded Hendrix and allowed him to find his own voice. As it turns out, THAT Woodstock performance wasn't half as important as the rather grotty hotel
where Hendrix first made his home.
And yet, while London made Hendrix, it has in turn been remade, as it always has and will always continue to be. This is most brilliantly evoked with a modern photo of what was once the Ricky Tick Club in Hounslow, where Hendrix played an early gig, but is now yet another branch of Nando's, reduced to being just one more bland building on Britain's increasingly plastic, desolate high streets.
This raises a question - would today's over-priced, blandly monied London with its ever more monoglot media have received him in the same way? The time when Britain lead the world in music is as long gone as the Ricky Tick.
It was a more promising, freer time then, as the book shows, detailing Hendrix's run-ins with Clapton and The Beatles and his meeting of minds with one Paul McCartney (pre-Frog Song), and hosting a gloriously weird shot of Hendrix next to Jeremy Thorpe, the latter eagerly posing with Jimi's flying V while wearing evening dress. It's bizarre - the sort of thing that happens in strange Freudian dreams where your mother turns into a tree. Or a day in the life of Hendrix.
All in all, it's very informative, a sort of ready-made Hendrix primer for beginners and casual fans, even comes with maps so you can visit these places, including - err - the coroner's court where his inquest took place. For the more devoted fan and amateur music historian, however, it may simply repeat what's already known. It's an excellent package nonetheless.
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