I was playing this song and my wife walked in.
“Who’s this?” she asked.
“The Jimi Hendrix Experience”
“Oh. Couldn’t he have got a better singer?”
I’ve never really bothered trying to get into Hendrix. Guitar heroics don’t generally interest me, and by the time I got into music the churning vitality of his stuff had got lost under layers of rock icon varnish. For instance: at school we had three options on a Sunday morning – a solemn early morning service for the actual believers, a later standard-issue service, and a secular ‘talk’ for the agnostics. At one of these talks, the trendiest of the three chaplains delivered a lecture – nay, a meditation – on Hendrix, culminating in playing “The Star Spangled Banner” over the school’s PA system. I was excruciatingly bored and embarassed by the whole thing.
At the same time, though, I was listening to music clearly inspired by “Voodoo Chile” – ‘baggy’ music had rediscovered the wah-wah, and Stone Roses guitarist John Squire’s own personal rerun of sixties pop was taking him deeper into Hendrix territory. So this single is oddly evocative of the turn of the 90s, stabs at flares and bowl cuts and trying to reconcile a love of the Happy Mondays with a puritan horror of drink and drugs. (The horror lost.) Which might go to show that music lives better when well meaning fans try to make it than when they try to teach you about it. Even so I never wanted to dig back into the sixties source material – partly because I was sixteen and affected not to care about old stuff, and partly because Hendrix’ gruff blues mumble is quite unattractive.
I’m glad this single reminds me of something, though – it grounds my response to it, stops it sounding quite so freakish in the context of this pop procession. Freakish in a good way – the strafing solos, the grinding pulse of the drums, the way the sound drops in and out like some alien radio broadcast, the aggression. And also in a less good way – after the dramatic band entrance and first verse its five minutes meander, and I can’t get much of an emotional toe-hold on it. Maybe that’s not surprising – this is a rock album track, plucked from its parent to serve as a rushed memorial. As a pop single – something it was hardly meant to be – it works best as yet another farewell to the sixties, and a slightly awkward intrusion of the musical stories unfolding outside the singles chart.