Saturday, October 16, 2010

Purple Haze

There's an interesting story here. I'm not a journalist so the first three sentences don't tell the story.

The October 17th NYT book review section has a review of "Becoming Jimi Hendrix" a just published book about the guitar player icon's early life. I have only read the review. From this perspective, what Miles Davis and Charlie Parker were to jazz in the 50's, Hendrix and Dylan were to rock music history.

Bias presented, the review seemed to have the similar thoughts and the book looks interesting if one is obsessed with the subject. Two thoughts came to mind after, no matter how totally personal.

The NYT reviewer reports his first astounding "experience" with Hendrix live in 1968 which is great. Hendrix's Woodstock blowout was in '69 and he had become a touring phenom before that. His first real U.S. exposure was the Monterey Festival in late June of '07 which really became well known much later after the Pennebaker documentary of '69. While Hendrix became a minor cult personality in Europe in the mid-60's and his first album was released there in May '67 and then in the U.S. in the mid-summer of that year, his advent here was slower than might be expected today.

Arriving at college in fall 1967 there were the mostly a musically ambivalent pop crowd and some from the northeast and philly who were a Doors and Airplane sub-group. There was one blues guy from Cleveland who taught me a lot and maybe I introduced him just a little to Hendrix who had caught me almost immediately. We bonded. Remember that was early fall 1967.

We, D.C. Jimmy and I, found that Hendrix was scheduled to play in D.C. at the Sheraton Ballroom on Embassy Row. Easy tickets that fall, student financial ability accessible. We bought tickets, took a few bus transfers and were there.

The ballroom was set up like a business conference. Big curtained stage, big round tables with nice white table cloths and settings, and black jacketed waiters looking for your orders. Nice place. They were looking for new star lounge act, the Sinatra of the next generation.

We sat a table and it was apparent that the wait staff already knew that this was not the usual crowd. Hendrix and his bandmates Redding and Mitchell came on. The generational era gap and ear splitting sound began, tables turned over, tablesclothes hurled, turned into capes covering girls with little else under, no order prevailed, and Hendrix not only soared but challenged like Morrison as he played his guitar mastabatory style between his legs for extended periods. The performance and music was something that I can never recreate, wish I could.

So much for a lounge act. The music was new. The cultural event and the music was mind bending for a small town guy, even for the big city guy with me.

Postscript - part of the NYT book review mentions Hendrix's stint in the Air Force and his training at paratrouper training, cut short by his honorary discharge due to some unnamed behavioral issue. Maybe this is old news, to me of course, but a recent aquaintance of mine who is a Vietnam vet told me that purple flares were sent to signal paratroupers of their landing spot. "Scuse me while I kiss the sky."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I never heard that. Makes the image even more powerful.

1:12 PM  

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