I am sitting in a wooden upholstered chair built in the nineteen fifties (I know because the table it came with had the original sales receipt from 1957) at my computer desk listening to Jimi Hendrix performing with the Band of Gypsies on New Years 1970 at the Filmore East almost two years before I was born.
My cat Sibyl is sleeping behind me. She is almost 13. Hard to believe. She looks five and has the most beautiful black/orange tortoise-shell fur I have ever seen. She also has an incredibly sweet and talkative disposition. (I have known many cats and by far she is the most gregarious)
I am 36. Time is spinning a web around my head. I am thinking that the chronometric parsing of our small gasps of life may be the death of us, machinelike, or at least make our oxygen scarcer and sleep consequently less pleasant, but would we know the difference? But not tonight, as the cd rips and my thoughts kick into a level of medium awareness, equanimity, this is where I like to be, lucid, but inspired.
Jimi is playing Machine Gun, this double cd is great because it actually has both versions he played on the two nights of his Filmore East shows. Non-sequitur, but Vernon Reid, guitarist for Living Color once mentioned in an interview that he had been certain Hendrix was a Vietnam vet because of the passion that infused not just the song, but every note of that specific performance of it. (The original Band of Gypsys album only had one of the two performances, I’m presuming that’s the one he meant…) But no, Jimi never went to war, though he was in the 101st Airborne and jumped out of airplanes many times, the experience no doubt influencing the scope, the spectrum, the vast sonic VISION that was core to Hendrix’s genius.
Hendrix knows how to squeeze every bit of feeling out of each note and he does it in technicolor. I am pulled into the walls of tonal smoke and chronic fire, the blaze of combating chords and screaming notes, whammy drops and pulses that he authoritatively energizes from massive fingers. When I think of my own finger-shredding struggles with the instrument over many years – I am a decent rhythm guitarist at best, comfortable with barre chords but don’t ask me to do any lightning work – and relatively small hands and fingers my own difficulties with the physicality of the rock thing make sense to me. It’s taken me almost thirty years to get a modicum of guitar technique when the Maestro was wowing them within a few years of picking up the instrument, although by all accounts even he had a learning curve. But what an apogee! how far he could take it and make it scream in ecstasy!
And here I am 38 years later grooving to the beat and the heat and the thought. The other anecdote that sticks out to me about the performance is something I think I heard from the 1972 Jimi Hendrix documentary which VHS tape I still sometimes throw in now and again. Hendrix began his New Years performance with the usual showmanship shenanigans – playing with his teeth, beyond his head, etc. – and Promoter Bill Graham, who wanted a solid recording, said something to him about it, not in the nicest way. Jimi was enraged but went back out and performed, well, standing stock still, but he put every iota of his being into the show, and that is the performance we have recorded (and the one I am listening to as I type this). One of the most incredible pieces of extended improvisation we have from a rock musician, and it speaks profoundly of the good in human beings placed there by the creator that we experience when we hear it. And as he says goodnight to everyone and the cd fades to silence I am left with more than I can even begin to know how to describe.
Tony Jones is a 36 year old poet who has been writing seriously for 21 years, and has been published in journals like Virginia Writing and Kronos. He lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and took a succession of dead-end jobs that were nonetheless very productive of creative inspiration, though generally in a negative way, before deciding to finish his Masters in Religion, which occupies him presently. He lives with a cat, Sibyl, and far too many books on history, philosophy, theology, science fiction and, well, you get the picture…
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