Nov 072013

Despite oh-so-reverential commentary by eternal rock dude-scholar David Fricke to the contrary the recent PBS American Masters documentary on Jimi Hendrix confirmed that the guitarist’s post-Experience career was pretty much a waste. Did you watch it? The trailer, above, is pretty cool in its own right, and even if you don’t care for Hendrix you will get a quick look at modern-day Steve Winwood‘s brilliant and unexpected muttonchops!

I recorded this episode a few nights ago, and started watching it around 11:30 pm the night it broadcast. I was really tired that night, but I kept pushing ahead, through way too many fond remembrances of the “sweet, shy, gentle” Jimi by a trio of ladyfriends, in hopes of striking paydirt with a performance or Eddie Kramer-led mixing board breakdown of one of my favorite songs by the man, “The Wind Cries Mary.” When it finally arrived, an excerpt of a live television performance, my tired eyes welled up with tears of joy. I recalled listening to this song on my uncle’s 8-track player as a little kid, painting Day-Glo designs on his wall and imagining what it would one day feel like when people around me start dying. Jimi Hendrix Experience-era Hendrix fascinates me. The guy exuded guitar, and the band played cool songs. Unbelievable stuff! I was really tired, so I went to sleep before the documentary got into the post-Experience years, which never appealed to me.

I knew guys in high school who couldn’t hear the difference between the Experience years and the later years with replacement bassist Billy Cox and other inExperienced musicians jamming along. I thought they were dipshits. They thought that stupid “Freedom” song had as much merit as “Purple Haze.” They were wrong, totally wrong. Late-period Hendrix just jammed. He strayed from songs. He strayed from wild studio arrangements. He started using other guitars and effects that had more presence but lost some humanity. He sounded like he was playing to an ever-expanding festival scene, like he felt obligated to project for miles and miles. That stuff bored me, and hearing teenagers badly attempt to ape that period Hendrix was a drag.

Tonight, after a really hard day at the office, I resumed watching the Hendrix doc, hoping against hope that it would avoid the pitfalls of most rock-doc denouements. Boy was I wrong. Fricke and the documentary’s other reverential suck-ups turned up the hyperbole. Fricke talked about Jimi’s terrible Woodstock performance (save the legendary version of the National Anthem) as if he’d ended the Vietnam War. I forgot that he had a second guitarist on stage for that performance, not to mention a couple of hangers-on playing congas (not bongos). It’s like giving God a sidekick. As the shitty music played, the Reverential Suck-ups went on and on about how masterful the performance was. Are you kidding me? Just a couple of nights ago I was watching clips of the Jimi Hendrix Experience tearing it up for a roomful of inExperienced English youth. That’s the Hendrix that practically ended Vietnam, not this:

It’s not that the guitar solos are “bad” or anything like that, but man, that’s a lot of music being played with few of the musicians playing anything of substance. Hendrix could have performed that set accompanied by nothing more than a lawnmower and gotten more sympathetic support. Here’s another performance of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” with the full Experience, just Jimi, Mitch, and bassist Noel Redding. Powerful stuff, even with an already slightly tired E7th chord jam format! I understand why Hendrix wanted to try something new and believe he would have gotten there, but the post-Experience year told me he needed a little more time and experimentation. In a documentary like this, can’t they get one asshole to sit in front of the camera and say, “You know, the Band of Gypsys stuff really blew chunks!” I’m available, PBS and future rock documentarians, to serve as this asshole for your next subject.

Fricke and company discussed the pressures of performing for huge crowds of adoring fans and having to actually work to make money to pay for one’s customized vanity studio. Can someone give Fricke a rock wedgie? Kramer got no time at the mixing board other than a few seconds riding the faders on Jimi’s cavalcade of  guitars on the one nearly great late-period track, “Dolly Dagger.” Billy Cox may have been a great guy and Jimi’s trusted buddy, but he added nothing. In the few seconds of Band of Gypsys’ performances, in which Cox was joined by drummer Buddy Miles (California Raisins), the music gets really bad, like the kind of pointless blooz wanking that would make Stevie Ray Vaughn beloved. When Miles leaves the band and Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell rejoins the jam-band music gets noticeably more exciting, if remaining just as pointless.

The documentary concluded that it was the “pressure” of Jimi’s boundless creativity that got to him, not burning out on his acid-soaked headband, taking speed, drinking to excess, and whatever else he did for recreation. One of his ladyfriends talks about a “premonition” that Jimi shared about dying before the age of 30. Oooh…spooky! You’re telling me no one saw this coming? It’s like people being shocked that James Gandolfini suddenly died of heart troubles as he lugged around 300 pounds. Some things are simply a damn shame, but a premonition of one’s early death is disqualified when the subject is constantly putting his health at risk.

Hendrix’s death is simply explained by his having trouble sleeping and taking his girlfriend’s “sleeping pills,” as if he was some innocent ’60s housewife who didn’t know better or a troubled, young person in a fairly tale. He did die after taking his girlfriend’s sleeping pills, but his autopsy reported that he took 9 of these sleeping pills after drinking a bottle of wine with dinner: 9 sleeping pills. Come on, no one should be that wired over the pressures of paying for the construction of Electric Lady Studio. Let’s give our hero a little bit of responsibility for robbing the world of more amazing music and colorful threads.

We are adults, even those of us who love rock ‘n roll. That Doors documentary from a few years ago, the one directed by Tom DeCillo, was one of the only rock docs in which the band members and other intimates called a spade a spade. In that film’s final act, the surviving Doors, even Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison’s personal Paul the Apostle, took their leader to task for being a fat, drunk fuck-up who derailed their gravy train of creativity, gold records, and free love. Couldn’t anyone sit in front of a camera for this Hendrix doc and be a little pissed off that he pissed away his gifts in so short a time?


  13 Responses to “American Masters Documentary on Jimi Hendrix Confirms That Post-Experience Career Was Pretty Much a Waste”

  1. BigSteve

    I love Hendrix’s last recordings. I don’t feel like they were just jamming. I think Freedom and Drifting and Nite Bird Flying and tracks like that show that he was working on a way of orchestrating with the guitar that would have been amazing if he had pursued it. Of course, I like things like Band of Gypsys too that were more jam based. Machine Gun is one of his greatest achievements in my opinion.

    I recorded the documentary when it ran, and I’m looking forward to watching it.

  2. Mmm, this pokes a hole in my Dipshit Theory.

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    You need to watch “Rainbow Bridge” and report back, for two reasons: one, the late-era Hendrix performance in Hawaii the film captures is truly epic, Billy Cox and all — and two, I think you’d be doing the world a favor by sharing your thoughts on the movie itself.

    Come to think of it, you and I need to find a way to tag-team a “Rainbow Bridge” review of some sort. It really is an incredible film — and I mean that literally.

    Now, to bust your balls for a second: I don’t understand how you can give your beloved James “Blood” Ulmer, and Sun Ra, and John Coltrane, and (insert experimental/free jam artist here) a pass, and bust on Hendrix because he stopped writing “songs.” Come on, man!

  4. I saw Rainbow Bridge in high school and found it mostly boring.

    The free jazz guys you don’t get are doing something else, when they do it well. They are not beating a funky E7 to death, and they never displayed the ability to write a great rock ‘n roll song. The dropoff for any of those artists has a less steep trajectory.

  5. I like your tag-team idea. Let’s find a night to watch it in conjunction and open the doors to LIVE BLOGGING.

  6. hrrundivbakshi

    Oh, it’s not just boring. It’s *incredibly* boring. Again, I mean that literally. It is both boring and hard-to-believe — as in, it’s hard to believe such a movie exists.

  7. All is right in the world. I feared you caught too many whiffs of dirty diaper and began identifying too closely with that smell.

  8. hrrundivbakshi

    Wow — the Rainbow Bridge story gets weirder and weirder!

  9. misterioso

    1. I found the documentary disappointing. Not a lot of insights. I would have welcomed, for example, some kind of discussion of Hendrix as a songwriter–I mean, the guy wrote songs. A lot of what he did was rooted in blues traditions, but he also was obviously influenced by the language of Dylan’s songwriting, for example. At any rate, he wasn’t just a guy standing there with a guitar. But unless it came during the parts I dozed through, I didn’t get anything on this aspect of Hendrix as an artist. The best thing I can say about the documentary is that we were spared hearing, for the umpteenth time, Pete Townsend jabbering about not wanting to go on before Hendrix at Monterey, or after him, or whatever it was.

    2. I’m not quite as down on post-Experience Hendrix as Mod, but, then again, I don’t listen to it much, either. I know Mod is an orderly guy, and one problem may be the complete chaos of his post-Experience studio recordings. Anyway, it’s a problem for me.

    3. David Fricke, and his hair, need to be put in mothballs, stat.

  10. There was some discussion of Hendrix as a songwriter. I think it was Eddie Kramer that discussed how Hendrix would bring scraps of paper with lyrical snippets and assemble them in the studio into the final lyrics.

  11. Kramer should speak through 75% of any Hendrix doc. He is one of the only cats capable of talking about Hendrix as a true collaborator. Kramer is the less-annoying Manzarek to Jimi’s mystical Morrison.

  12. You make a great point about the focus on The Blues, which seems more like a code for Jimi’s case of The Blacks. Along with Dylan there’s the whole soul influence, particularly the Impressions. It’s one thing if Dick Cavett couldn’t hear that in 1969, but today’s experts could have broadened the discussion.

  13. misterioso

    Yes, I forgot about that. That is a sliver of information about his methodology, at least.

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