September 18 marks the anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death.
In my last few columns, I’ve been appealing to the mystic side of the guitar-playing community, and I feel it's safe to say that between the unending variations of deified imagery of Jimi Hendrix—and that even his self-proclaimed "mistakes" have become standard licks passed down through the new generations of guitarists—we all acknowledge him as high priest of the Muse.
His ferocity, humor, virtuosity and genius have stood the test of time and continue to incite bliss and reverence in his innumerable fans.
In this column, we’ll explore other facets of Jimi’s influence through some his lesser-known quotes on how he viewed himself and his world.
"I just hate to be in one corner. I hate to be put as only a guitar player, or either only as a songwriter, or only as a tap dancer. I like to move around."
To pigeonhole Jimi as just an entertainer would be to ignore his very public and disruptive role as an anti-war activist. One of his most famous performances was to a relatively empty field at the end of the Woodstock festival on a rainy Monday morning. His improvised performance [read: sonic flag burning] of "The Star Spangled Banner" reinvented the anthem forever and expressed his distinct voice apart from "sheeple" blindly following the establishment and legitimacy of the Vietnam War.
In "If 6 was 9," he pushes back against "white-collar conservatives pointing their plastic fingers at [him]" by acknowledging the fact that everyone must meet their death alone, and so should be respected as an individual while they are alive. I still get chills when I hear him say, "I’m the one who’s got to die when it's time for me to die. So let me live my life, the way I want to."
"In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first ..."
As a warrior poet, Hendrix acknowledges the necessity of discipline and training to reach artistic and individual freedom, and that no one else can do this work for us. Heart by heart, minute by minute, we practice until we can trust ourselves to completely let go of the work of discipline, like atmospheric pressure slowly building up until lighting strikes.
His prowess as a poet is as developed as his mastery of twisting the feedback from his Marshall into music. On "Bold as Love," Jimi’s dedication to his inner-struggle for peace is laid bare in his lyrics:
Anger he smiles tow'ring shiny metallic purple armor
Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him
Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground
Blue are the life giving waters taking for granted
They quietly understand
Once happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready
But wonder why the fight is on.
But they're all, bold as love.
"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."
Finally, his gentleness as a person and wildness as a performer were in no way a contradiction. Jimi was able to lay bare for his audiences the two-sided coin of being humble and ferocious at the same time: "You have to go on and be crazy. Craziness is like heaven."
"Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens."
Michael Hewett is a composer, producer, guitarist and recording artist who has released four full-length albums and numerous singles. He played lead guitar in the hit Broadway musical “Wicked” (2004 to 2009), is a video instructor and blogger at Guitar World magazine and tours internationally with his own project. Preview his catalog of music on iTunes (opens in new tab).