Saturday, February 16, 2013


(December 1973, U.S.)

Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing right on into the '70s, the "rockumentary" (documentary on music and musicians) were well known in movie theaters. By the 1980s, they'd become part of the assortment of midnight shows at theaters in New York City or perhaps in college towns, which is how I got to see them for the first time. The great Jimi Hendrix hadn't been dead just over three years before this film on his career and music was released to those who'd loved and worshipped the man and his talents. Before the videotape, the DVD and before VH-1 ever broadcasted a single episode of "Behind the Music", films like JIMI HENDRIX, GIMMIE SHELTER (The Rolling Stones), PINK FLOYD AT POMPEII, WOODSTOCK and THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (The Who) were the only format in which you'd get a behind the scenese look at your favorite rock stars. Still, even after all these decades, films as these hold up well, in my opinion, for those who just love their classic rock stars!

The film about JIMI HENDRIX contains concert footage from 1967 to 1970, including the Monterey Pop Festival, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, Woodstock and the Berkeley concert in which he famously set his guitar on fire. The film also includes frank, relaxed interviews with Hendrix' contemporaries, family, friends and fellow musicians as Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Little Richard, Lou Reed and Pete Townshend. For its time, the film is a fine visual example of how a biography can be done. For the Hendrix fan (as I am obviously!), it's an exciting way to see some of his best performances and spectacular guitar artistry. Jimi, as any fan would tell, didn't merely play the guitar: he had a relationship with it, he stroked it, he even fucked it, and when he was finished with it, he'd smash it and he'd sacrificed it. Sure, it was very easy to accuse Jimi of completely ripping off the insance stage gimmicks of Pete Townshend, but Jimi undenyably had his own style of gimmicks, though he himself seemed to dispise the use of the word "gimmick". The whole world, as far as he was concered, was one big gimmick to Jimi.

Despite the time period for rock and psychedelic music, the film concentrates solely on who Jimi Hendrix was and his incredible guitar playing rather than get bogged down and distracted with stories of drug use, mismanagement and the circumstances concerning his untimely death in 1970. Instead, you get a brief sense of the person and the passion behind him and his music. Jimi was apparently very self-conscious about his appearance, his looks and his personality. You'd never guess that such insecurities existed in a man who could take such perfect command of tracks like "Rock Me Baby", "Purple Haze", "Like a Rolling Stone" and his own version of "The Star Spangled Banner".

Twice Rolling Stone magazine conducted and published a poll of the top 100 greatest guitarists of all time. Both times Jimi Hendriz was voted number one! That's quite an honor for a man who only got to shine in the spotlight for about three years of his life, especially when stacked up against other guitar legends as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, David Gilmour (my personal guitar favorite) and Eddie Van Halen. Did he deserve that honor? Watch Jimi play, listen to the music and decide for yourself. I must confess, though, as much of a guitar legend and master that he was, I don't particulary think that Jimi Hendrix could SING worth a damn. Perhaps it didn't even matter, not when you watch what he could do with a guitar!

By the way, just to share a little something that's always been on my mind; you've likely heard or seen Jimi's above-mentioned guitar version of "The Star Spangled Banner" that he performed at Woodstock in 1969. It was raw, it was twisted and it was angry, which inevitably drew much controversy from those who didn't appreciate a distorted verson of our country's national anthem. Anyway, cut to 32 years later when Madison Square Garden hosted the big Concert for New York following the terrible events of September 11, 2001. I always thought that it would have been a perfectly poetic moment if, just before David Bowie opened the show, they had shown Jimi's famous Woodstock performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" on a huge screen for all to see. It would have perfectly raw, twisted and angry, which is what many Americans were undoubtly feeling at the time following the attack. Can't you just picture the entire audience at the Garden losing their minds in a bizarre moment of American patriotism with that one? Anyway, that's my thought on the subject.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Pete Townshend: "I think in many respects he's, he changed the sound of rock far more than the Beatles, you know. You know, they brought song writing to rock and roll, but Jimi changed the sound of the guitar. He turned it into an instrument, which, alright, people like Buddy Guy and T-Bone Walker and Chuck Berry had done previous to that, but none had ever brought it out and sold it to the public, and sold it to people like me, you know, who now believe in it as an instrument. People like Eric Clapton were too ethnic. You know, they kept themselves to themselves and they had fixed groups. But Jimi was unashamedly outward, you know, and wanted to reach as many people as possible."

Favorite song performed in the film: "Rock Me Baby".

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