Is a black man who sells millions of records to white kids an Uncle Tom? The absurd riddles of race—and their impact on Hendrix—offer the primary revelations in Room Full of Mirrors.
Cross, whose other books include a Kurt Cobain bio, portrays the music scene of Hendrix’s youth in Seattle as rich and diverse, a place where a young man could see Elvis rock and Little Richard preach. The multicultural blessings of Seattle are soon blown away, however, by the realities of segregation as Hendrix tours the South (playing guitar in Little Richard’s band), then New York, in a frustrating search for an audience he can call his own. Spurned by crowds in Harlem, who found his playing too flashy and his interest in Dylan lyrics and LSD too white, he finally discovers his loyal fan base—counterculture Caucasians at the Cafe Wha—in Greenwich Village. From New York, Cross follows Hendrix’s story into the Room Full of Celebrity Bio Clichés: the struggle for the record deal, the sudden rise to superstardom, the cruel price of fame … blah blah blah. We all know how that story ends. Thankfully, Cross’s new book offers insight into how it began.