Standing next to a Mountain – TMR 6: JIMI HENDRIX

January 14th, 2010

19.30, 12 January Twenny-Ten – Sagittarius Moon – and The Three Blind Mice in Shoreditch was crowded out for Volume 6 of Talking Musical Revolutions:  Standing Next to a Mountain – Jimi Hendrix the man of honour.  We were all jacked up with anticipation, watchin a pre-show performance art piece by Gemma Ray who was conducting a Keseyan soundcheck b4 our very eyes. 

Gemma Ray - TMR starlet

Gemma Ray - TMR starlet

Ooweee, what a warmup!!  Planned or no, she would open the show and close it too.  There was  a Stevie Wonderwoman collage poster behind her.  Coulda sworn it was undulating, & I hadn’t even hustled a drink yet.

Gavin Martin, host & curator, brought us back to the earthly realm by reading about Hendrix care of  Keith Altham, Jimi Hendrix Monterey 1967.  As GM qualified, Altham sent his apologies, but we were treated to a fab exposition of Hendrix, including a glorious story about him haggling with The Who, over who’d go 1st at the Monterey Pop Fest in ’67.  I mean who could follow Jimi – or not – and who could blame them?   

He then handed the floor to Harry Shapiro, Jimi’s 60s, Sex and Psychedelia.  Communications Director of Drugscope, Shapiro gently introduced us to the idea that Jimi wasn’t so much about love & peace as sex & drugs – ie acid & DMT otherwise known as STP, but that he did find his limits ie not actually a “chosen one” who could do as much acid, and as often, as he would have liked.  He summed up by pointing out that the true survivor of the 60s’ Summer of Love, was Rock-n-Roll – only one third of the old adage (Sex, Drugs &….)  saving best for last.

Dave Stubbs was up next,  reciting his Jimi’s Roomful of Mirrors  over a sublimated soundscape of his fave Hendrix fare.   Explored a feminised and diffused Jimi who’d supported the war in Vietnam (for their own protection, due to Chinese Communist threat? – No way, that’s too American!) and drugged himself to oblivion; but finally tuned in to his greatness as a musician and visionary at 24, thus ritualising a Blake-ian transition from songs of innocence to experience:  Thee Experience.  He listed bands who’ve borrowed from him – Afro Futurists, like Asian Dub Foundation & A Guy Called Gerald.   I was the most touched by a story involving KKK-style louts cheering news of MLK’s death in Jimi’s presence, because his response was to back away & sing out 4 the great Rev Dr – ‘House Burning Down’, Electric Ladyland.   I mean, is that a passive or weak choice?  It’s certainly a peaceful choice.  I’d assert that the man was behaving according to laws of serenity.

Anna Le, Poetic Tribute – She came on joking about possibly being racially profiled, as the only black female on the bill, and confessed that she knew very little of Hendrix when she was 1st approached by Gavin Martin to perform.  Her poem was a seamless flow from intro to prose to verse, from incidental to declamatory to exclamatory which would reveal her amazing rite of passage.   It began like a fairytale.  An old man with no left hand appears, requesting her words on Jimi Hendrix, to which she replies, “Who?”.  “Forget The Who!” he clamours (HA! Abbot & Costello – one old man deserves two more)….  Midpiece she addresses her introductory racial profile joke , asking why her, and realises she has been chosen for the challenge itself, then launching into a winding, whirling, rocky labyrinth of revelation toward Hendrix’s significance.  Her lovely low Uribbean voice crescendoed, flexed and chopped, accelerating toward  serene denouement:  gradually the old man disappears and she claims ownership of Hendrix, whose legacy belongs to us all.  Voodoo Child, Baby!  I was struck – a slap that felt like a kiss – when she spoke out – pardon my paraphrase – “He was like Ike, his guitar like Tina, nearly worked her to death, but by doing so, he brought out her best”.  I wanted to protest, but then was reminded of the older Tina (another Sag, or am I wrong?)  singing ‘Simply the Best’ compared to say, ‘River Deep, Mountain Wide’ – and realised she was damn right ON!  I can’t wait to see how this chick develops into herself.  2010, Year of the poet, natch!

Neil Spencer, Jimi’s Star Sign –  affirmed Hendrix’s claim to have arrived on earth from another planet – Jupiter – astrologically placing him in the pantheon of other Sagittarii like Jim Morrison & Joseph Conrad.  Spencer found Sag(e)ly wisdom in his lyrical mastery, influenced by Mercurial conjunct of water moved by sky in his Cancerian moon – “…sunrise from the bottom of the sea”.  He quoted another famous Sag to descibe the essence of Hendrix – name escapes me – claiming that the characterised equine bottom of a Sag gave him rights to shit upon the Earth?  His Mars in Scorpio made JH a jealous Sag swinger – behold Jimi & Marianne vs Mick & Devon Dolly:  ‘Dolly Dagger’.  Spencer’s presentation was also superb poetry, and he transcended a sceptical, cynical BabyBusterBrown-out ‘tude toward Astology into an aura of laughing children returned to innocence.  I suppose he was enabled by the revelation that Jimi himself was a keen follower of the Zodiac.

Charles Shaar Murray, Crosstown Traffic, also emphasised the softer, weaker, more feminised side of Jimi Hendrix – so twice already this evening I’d been confronted with notions of “feminised” and weakness in the same breath.  (Any of  you silly bastards ever heard of the Donner party?  You can think it through as climate refugees over the next coupla years.)  We also learned that Jimi was a member of the Liberal Party – woo hoo.  CSM made an excellent point though that Hendrix did not exist in a vacuum, that there was black rock before he came along, which would imply there was something more to his legacy.  No mention of his Native American, Cherokee roots, mind.  Murray just had to sabotage himself next, as he read a fantasy passage from his book, in which he would have interviewed the man, the myth, the legend, the survivor Jimi Hendrix, alive today.  Not only did his rendition of Hendrix alternate b/w clicheed deep southern Uncle Tom and Urbbean, but his Hendrix also read stupid like Spinaltap Goes Britpop, AND he had to stop to answer his mobile TWICE!  I knew I was in the presence of greatness when an uber-matriarch in the crowd heckled, “Ooooh, it’s Alistair Campbell”.  My bitchiness aside, it was quality entertainment. 

Both DS & CSM steered to Jimi’s early death as a blessing somehow – that he’d reached his limit as a creative, and was on a spiral to self annihilation etc ad infinitum.  Then, as if to my rescue, came Jeff Dexter, with his High and Low Times with Hendrix, who proclaimed  the tragedy of Jimi’s creatively premature end, having actually communed with the man, and he was nearly the only performer off-book.  The Stevie Wonderwoman poster began to undulate again as Dexter summoned La Loba into the room.  She laid down beneath his feet morphing into a burning Strat – his features transmogrified from the flames below, vestments animated, transporting us to the company of an artist who was becoming himself – freed from his rabid bond to an evil empire back home & on the scene in London.  JD wove in real stories of backstage antics at the Isle of Wight fest – how he’d used his skills as a tailor to sew up some trousers Jimi’d ripped up, before going onstage to introduce him; described how the fest made bedsheet bags full o cash, contrary to claims of financial loss .  Touchingly, he recounted Jimi’s reconciliation and reunion that v night with an old friend – Howard Parker, aka H – havin forgiven him for a loud, public racial slur he’d made a coupla years back.  I was beginning to get a feeling for a time of uncomfortable change and an air of forgiveness to help it along.  Apparently H and his mother were looking after Jimi, who was in the UK without a visa.  JD’s account of JH’s pre-celebrity cult years, here, revealed a portrait of a very vulnerable man – subject to many dangerous people including pushers and middlemen, who arguably robbed him blind whilst he was surviving on tomato sauce sandwiches.  Dexter revivified the old Roundhouse vibe w stories of the  ‘Million Volt Light & Sound Show’.  He remembered how some freak ran onstage during a Hendrix gig,  grabbed his White Strat right off the ground  and tore off into the audience, never to be seen again.   Jimi was pioneering his closing gimmick of leaving the guitar onstage playing feedback to the vibe of the house, allowing the guitar its own curtain call perhaps.   Jeff emphasised just how devastating such a gesture was for Jimi – broke & beneath the radar – and it ruined any potential curtain call.  It was hard to imagine how someone so legendary, now, might have been so unprotected then, but Dexter gave us a good hard glimpse.  I really felt I was there with Jeff, when he recalled how he & Jimi were shunted away from a table @ ye olde  Bag O Nails for not being the “kind” that would buy enough drinks, and Jimi boasted that someday he’d come back and buy that table.  He then got up on stage to jam with the band, and blew the room away.  Impossibly young and innocent seemed my Jimi Hendrix, the rock god. 

As promised, Gemma Ray closed the evening.  Styled in 50s-esque black chignon,  hot red flower to contain a cascade down one side, she sang Hendrix like an angel and played like the devil in a polka dotted A-line skirt and thights – ha-cha!   Very much a ‘Crimson & Clover’ style swirly guitar with a twist of sonic purple haze that was nothing short of pure contact high.

Something loosed itself in me.  In fact it was La Loba on the loose, having peeled herself off Jeff Dexter like the eternal groupie she is, grabbing me by the neck because it was time to dance.  She put her claws into my head and spun my brain like a globe, stopping it with a tap of their bloodstained tips.  There was Jimi Hendrix supporting the Vietnam War, the room began to spin as she fast forwarded to him fanning the flames on his burning Strat, for the truest, red-white-&-bluest Amerikan national anthem ever heard at Monterey… TAP….. SPIN….. there was Jimi the womanizer gnashing his teeth over his Devon Dolly …  TAP there was Jimi biting the naked harem centerfold of Electric Ladyland because of its sleight on womanhood.  SPIN…. TAP…… SPIN …… TAP….. TAP….SCRAAAAYPE….As she restored my balance and disintegrated into a StevieWonderwoman, I gained focus on a man who was trying to deconstruct his world and invited us along on the journey:  A Shapeshifter, sports fans.   Once a refugee from criminalised entrapment, his masters had fatigued and booted him into the meatgrinder as colour-coded, collateral damage; but Jimi foiled them again, shedding the patriotism that got him through that long night’s journey into the heart of darkness within a brutally unforgiving world.  He emerged from that world kinder, gentler, empathetic, peaceful – STRONGER. 

Some have asserted – Bell Hooks, Naomi Wolf – that olde worlde, post-Suffragette/pre-post-feminist Feminism was a saviour to men, because it allowed them to let down their pre-supposed guard and embrace a more dynamic, honest side of themselves – ie “Hell no, we won’t go!” vs pressure to be tough, rough and ready enough to fight someone else’s war.  Feminism allowed men space to refuse violence without suffering the  stigma of cowardice.  When stalwarts of alternative culture begin to associate female values with weakness I start to scream, “ATAVISM!”.  Do they truly understand Jimi, do they? and is their cynicism part of the problem or the solution? 

“We’re a long way from being created in God’s image …. but let’s don’t hang back with the brutes”  – Blanche Dubois, Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams

“Et tu, Brute?” – Caesar, Julius Caesar,  William Shakespeare

Next Talking Musical Revolutions – No 7 – 9th Feb, 10 – Three Blind Mice, Shoreditch  EC2A

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