Jimi Hendrix & Pythagoras the Cave Painter

Crawdaddy Features Jimi Hendrix

This article originally appeared in Issue 11 of Crawdaddy in September/October, 1967

New questions. New questions? Really? Old philosophers, played out even then, novel even now. But just hear, hear, and listen to the beginning before you conceptualize the possibilities for the question “Now that you know who you are, what do you want to be?” actually to be a question as opposed to an even-though-you-know-what-you-know-l-know-that-I’m-ready-to-leave. Gargle with mercury, but if you don’t know what’s coming off, you’ll never realize that “Third Stone from the Sun” is the D.C. version of the Silver Surfer on an asphalt trip: that is, you sure as hell have to be arrogant even if you don’t particularly groove on ego trips.

Many are the means of allegorically expanding it all and summing it all up. Remember Plato’s myth of the cave bit? SEE THE SUN FREE! And Nietzsche: groove on murkiness and Dostoyevski’s vaginal pit extensions thereof. And more or at least a few, to name a few. But what happens when everybody has seen the sun and wallowed in the shit? That doesn’t mean hey Time and Newsweek have written up the hippies even though John Cannaday still doesn’t understand Rembrandt or Andrew Wyeth. Or Genet is welcome in Family Circle and Family Circle is welcome in your own home so what do you do now, now that Janis Ian has taken STP and avoids Clearasil? But: Well you just gotta be better in your all-encompassing bit and think and know that better is worth something and worthiness isn’t a drag and that infinite regresses are okay. Enter: Jimi Hendrix, standing on his head, and knowing what that means, too.

Afterthought is a different slightly different story. Inches can be miles if you want them to be, and the ground between the Beatles and the Stones is far greater than that between Jan van Eyck and Hoagy Carmichael, the development from “Dandy” to “Que Vida” is awesomely greater than that bridging the gap between Hans Memling and Marcel Duchamp. Irony is ironically important, and ironically these proportions hold ground anyway. The Byrds sing “Eight Miles High”; the Beatles, Stones, Doors, and Jimi Hendrix are far more than eight miles high, and, with the way up and way down being one and the same, they cover a lot of space, traversing it without moving. Still one place to go. Lastly through a hogshead of real fire. But come up the years, too, perhaps. Perhaps.

Okay, let’s work on a logic of ascent/descent that’s more fun and less fun than Fitch proofs or Nelson Goodman or even the famous Aristotle. Man like we can be so high that the high is irrelevant and so systematic that system crumbles, so we might as well be structurally ready and readily structural so we can guarantee a good time for all total awareness freaks. Of course A and not-A. Of course, of course. Although she feels as though she’s in a play, she is anyway. I can pick your face out from the front or behind. It really doesn’t matter, if I’m wrong I’m right. And some people like to talk anyway, like Paul McCartney in The True Story of the Beatles: “John propositioned me. He told me that he thought the group could do nicely and anyway it was a lot of fun. He didn’t talk about the possibility of turning professional. It was me, I think, who realized that skiffle could easily lead to some useful pocket money so that we’d be able to date the girls and maybe get a few clothes for ourselves. Remember, though, we were very young …” (a peculiar quotation for a paragraph on logic). Enter: Jimi Hendrix, pre-literate, post-articulate, proto-logical, bi-lingual (at least English and American), plurisignative. His major logical connective: [here a drawing by Meltzer of a pubic hair wandering between points A and B]

All you’ve got to work with at any time is your bank of memories and the state of the world as it is under all sorts of internal and external interactions and things like that. “I Don’t Live Today.” Okay. Right. Present progressive time sense goes out, future-oriented past and past progressive come in. Jump from speaker to speaker, alternate sounds and silences, you’re finally conscious of all the implications of musical spatio-temporality. Fine. Spade rock was three years ago or now or the year of the iron sheep? So? It’s also in “Fire.”

Law of identity fanaticism? Marvel Comics too hung up on the avoidability of the identity of indiscernibles; D.C. knows that if you live on the planet Xzgronl#m, you can tell your kid at the ninth meal of the 67.3-hour Xzgronl#mian day that here on our planet Xzgronl#m we eat purple potatoes and groove on bizarre tautologies. Jimi Hendrix grooves on the Earth’s “strange beautiful crescent green” with its “majestic silver seas” and “mysterious mountains,” which he wishes to “see close.” And somewhere guitars hum like bumblebees.

All this and déjà vu transcendence too.

Double-standard science-fiction rock too. Byrds have to be uninsulatedly “open,” but not if they really knew that openness means inevitable openness to insulation. Paul McCartney suggests merely fixing a hole in Dave Crosby’s jewel forest closet, and Jimi Hendrix wonders if maybe this chick’s made of gold or something and asks her quite politely, man there are still some standard preciousness metaphors man.

Cage and Stockhausen might not really wanna play tennis with Rauschenberg, but Jimi Hendrix wouldn’t mind eating Marianne Faithfull.

Are unknown tongues (units of change, awe, mere awe, taxonomic urgency) still possible? Sure, but they might just be about as significant as bottle caps. Bottle caps might be significant however too. The world is music but what is music but what is the world too. And monism pluralism monism pluralism too too. One of the all-time great traditional unknown tongues occurs early in “Third Stone from the Sun” at the first eruption of the theme played at a random speed which just might be 45 or 33 rpm I guess. But that’s not the point about the Hendrix tongue relevance board of directors (get your mind together, there are a whole bunch of you) that should be made to relate to post-Beach Boys ethnomusicology in general. For, along with Schopenhauer, we know that music is the metaphysical equivalent of all the nitty gritty power of nature, but along with Johnny and Brian and Jimi we know that music is also like the World Book Encyclopedia article on Brazil. Obviously Heraclitus contains Anaxagoras, but crystallization out of flux in music or in subway-car stability assertions might also be a different scene too. “Waterfall, don’t ever change your ways” in “May This Be Love” is not only perfect Anaxagoreanism in a nutshell but even the perpendicularization of Heraclitus’ river. The anti-tongue fadeout of “Foxy Lady” is the death of a guitar string. Best quotation tongue on the album: the Who—like beginning of “Love or Confusion.” But how ‘bout the beginning of “Hey Joe,” a quasi-transitional passage which would be an awesome internal musical thingamajig in any Airplane context? That’s nice too. And the first “Are You Experienced?” is without doubt the definitive jack-in-the-box tongue. Morrison says, “Everybody loves my baby,” right there in the middle of “Break on Through,” right there conspicuously out of place. Lennon tells you in his book at the movies that he’d love to turn you on, right there where grass smells like World War II English newscasts. But Jimi Hendrix puts the question in the question slot, oh but where did the question slot come from and how did it get there?

“And the wind cries Mary” and “The Wind Cries Mary’ sounds old, in a manner which peculiarly makes the whole album sound old for a while, not old in archaic or old like good-time music but old like a few years old. But just for a while, whatever a while is. And it’s essentially appropriate that this actual real world introspective psychological time thing has the ring of “Queen Jane” by that groovy old temporally aware Dylan guy. Oh yeah, but on the other hand “May This Be Love” is reminiscent of great American Indian hits of the past as performed by the Crests. It could easily have been a hit as a direct follow-up to Johnny Preston’s “Running Bear’ or as a release within six months before or after the Beach Boys’ “Ten Little Indians” or as the track before “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Anyway, a grandiose speci?c past-oriented temporal tidbit. Open your mouth and you are referential, play a guitar and you are trans-referentially a reference guitar scientist too. Fall asleep and you are lying on an archetype. Hear “move over Rover and let Jimi take over” (in “Fire”) and you might just believe you’ve heard a brand new big dog-little dog variation. “Manic Depression” is a post-label salvation song. “Manic depression is frustratin’ mess”: labeled content already old hat and no longer solution; neat tension between former label as subject and latter as enunciated experiential predicate. Byrds vs. Yardbirds in “Purple
Haze” shows you that any polarity is usable, any dualism is okay for two minutes or so. And “not stoned, but beautiful” is an excellent spur-of-the-moment neo-eternal l-don’t-want-to-tell-you-this-so-I’ll-tell-you-that readymade dualism. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about, now dig this” (in “Fire”) was ironically written on the same soil as all that Russell-Moore constipation!

Music-noise pleasure/displeasure conditioning is a funny thing. By changing my seat at a Jefferson Airplane performance in Boston a few months ago I discovered that all guitar sounds, down to the merest of guitar sounds, sounded okay from behind the guitar, on the same side of it as the musician. Now l can listen to Jorma on record as if I were in his guitar position. Jimi Hendrix presents a multifaceted problem with his guitar pluckin’, one so vast that it ceases to be a problem as such on the same plane as mere irritations like the sociology of knowledge or medium-message stuff and it merits whole new conceptual schemata replete with matching jargon shoelaces. Like Roland Kirk. Like Jasper Johns. Hendrix’s spatial relationship to his guitar transcends any standard finite batch of prepositions. It even requires a few new sexual position-process metaphors, like synchronized cunnilinguo-copulation, since he’s obviously capable of playing notes with his teeth while outdoing the whole Bo Diddley-John Lee Hooker mild-mannered exhibitionism with his crotch.

In the case of listening to a standard guitarist on record, the actual audience-artist spatial relationship is epistemologically irrelevant, and aesthetically relevant only in a rather limited setup. Required is a mental picture of the guy facing you and occasionally moving around; in conjunction with this you visually change the situation and sit behind him or turn the stage around, or you put yourself right in his shoes. This requires a tunnel view of space with enlargement-contraction due to imagined distance and 180-degree reversals. Or you can give yourself an a priori behind-while-in-front-of sort of compressed tunnel space. But the ambiguity of the actual spatial relationship between you as a person positioned all over the place in the world and such items as the guitar cat at the moment of recording and the hi-fi speakers as apparently flat in front of (as the case just as well might be) you while you’re listening x hours later is never much of a concern, simply because it is never much of a concern. Most people, even psychotics obsessed with 180-degree guitar reversals, simply couldn’t care less about getting additionally hung up with the problem of determining (or being gripped by the impossibility of ever, ever determining) their actual spatial relationship to this guy far over the mountains years and years ago who happened to have recorded the original raunchy version of the tune they happen to be humming while they’re facing east, right now (or is it north by northwest and some time other than now, since the en soi and pour soi just can’t get together). Just think about this: Jimi Hendrix makes this new realm of aesthetic psychosis tenable, not only tenable but groovy. You can care about it because his space is not tunnel space but PAISLEY SPACE. Not just a cylinder of relevance or a cone of relevances extended to a sphere of relevance, but a paisley, metaphorically wondrous and elusive enough to be even more all-encompassing without the “of relevance” attached. Implicitly, the record-listening experience has always been far more complex than the in-person experience. The Beatles always knew that. Reversed fadeouts and multi-tracking even scared some San Franciscans into a preference for live performances. Now Jimi Hendrix has thrown it all into everybody’s faces, even the faces of those who have not heard him live or on record and those who never will and those who are frogs.

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