August 17, New York: This post will launch a new theme: Constructing an identity through media. (Note: The last theme is not complete, but I’ve got two big honkers to finish and that will take some time.) Where A Long Waltz Through Nerddom was about quiet, private identity, this one is about consciously building a public face and doing it through the music, books, and movies I consumed. I was typical for my age in this way. In my teens, you were judged by guests in your bedroom on the CD rack you displayed. In my twenties, that same collection became the cornerstone for digital identity: your favorite books, movies, albums were crucial fields of Friendster, Myspace, Facebook.
As best as I can remember, the albums of Jimi Hendrix were the first instance of this in my life. For a lengthy period in middle school I became a MASSIVE Jimi Hendrix fan. It was my differentiator. I had Jimi t-shirts, I bought as many Jimi albums as I could, I listened to Jimi constantly. I knew the music was great and it was indisputably not nerdy. My Dad was thrilled; better to hear “All Along the Watchtower” blaring from my room than more of that ‘rap crap’. It was also, importantly to me, not what everyone else was into at the time. I had my own thing.
If I’d ever had a talent (or more than passing interest) for guitar, this would have been a life-defining period. And my Hendrix phase would have lasted a lot longer. As it was, it was just a phase. I never got past the strum. I’ve not really listened to a ton of Hendrix since middle school; I’d really burned through that library.
For this project, I focused on six albums: the three canonical Jimi Hendrix Experience LPs, the live Woodstock album, the Band of Gypsies album, and a compilation Blues album that I loved. This music really is incredible. It makes me inordinately proud of middle school Andrew to have been a big Hendrix fan. The songs are loud and dense and varied and so full of sound. There were just three guys in the Jimi Hendrix Experience! Making so much noise! And it is fun that I still know many of these songs note by note, like “The Wind Cries Mary”. Or “Voodoo Child”. My lord, that song. It was fun too, in this listen, to track his career through these albums and his soaring arc toward deep blues. Electric Ladyland is my favorite of the Experience albums, and it’s really thanks to “Voodoo Child”. That song should be in everyone’s canon. It’s like Jimi Hendrix was the Christ-figure messiah of the blues, he took it from Old Testament to New. Introduced a new epoch.
Much of this theme will not be as satisfying as listening to six Jimi Hendrix albums. The next few posts are going to move solidly away from distinctive identity and start to flow right on into the sometimes-lamentable mainstream of my youth. But this should be a fun one nonetheless.
Of all of these Jimi Hendrix albums, I would most recommend you pick up the Blues album. It’s really something special.