Contemporary Wagner: An Essay on Jimi Hendrix

“Work hard in your mind / So you can come alive / You better prove to the man / You’re as strong as him / Cause in the eyes of God / you’re both children to him.” This is a small excerpt from the Hendrix composition “A Message to Love”. This piece was written an amazing poet who expressed his art with such precise and economic word choice that it can  sometimes border on the indecipherable. Johnny Allen Hendrix or more aptly, Jimi Hendrix very capably expressed his personal sentiment alongside what he was seeing happen in the people and places  around him. I am a large fan of this composition in particular for both its aesthetic beauty and the message he was trying to convey at a personal turning point in his life. For me, this poem is highly significant because it speaks for a purpose larger than personal or popular entertainment. It is a rare happening that any artist in our contemporary times composes a work that can have residual significance twenty, thirty, or even forty years after it was recited. To this end the “message” the writer was trying to imbue on the listener has never become passé.

At first listen, the song which the poem is encased within can seem to be a daunting endeavor to separate from some of the more ambiguous verbiage. But within the beautifully crafted framework which houses the poem you begin to see a usage of his medium as a platform for social issues. It is true that this has been done before by many artists to quite an indelible extent but no other attempt was quite made the same way Hendrix approached his craft. Hendrix emanated a certain charisma; this is an important aspect to mention because it is the basis of his whole philosophy and also the reason his work is discounted as a mere “spacey attempt” at coolness by so many. His refusal to do as everyone else for the sole reason of normality probably contributed to why he was viewed as eccentric by most or merely just an oddity or aberration of circumstance. But more importantly this separation allowed him to venture free from the restraints of stereotypical archetypes and explore and amalgamate new and foreign ideas with  his own ideas of creative expression.

His appearance at the height of the cultural revolution in the 1960’s was fortuitous to a great and many people. His influence was revolutionary and a much needed fresh point of view for music and how it was synthesized by its listeners at that time. He used his offsetting place as an African American playing predominately white rock and roll with such a nonchalant level of virtuosity. He tried to bridge cultural gaps with his music and create a unity that he believed could exist without the barriers of race or conventional mores of the day.

As a reward for his efforts he was often subject to ridicule from both races for being not like one or the other and this definitely had an impact in his music and writings. His compositions reflect a more personal tone and make no attempt to  excuse  his views as evidenced in his composition “If 6 were 9”. But in these toils there is still a genuineness and lithe sense of artistry in his wording and musical framing (which held its own independent auditory content that further impresses the words under it. Think: “Machine Gun” or “Star Spangled Banner”)

It is a sad truth that for all the greatness that he aspired to embody there were is personal shortcomings that constantly interfered with his success and eventually led to his untimely death. The events and times which he wrote about and were later disclosed have all been key to deciphering one of the most gifted minds in contemporary music today. I believe that it could be said that if it weren’t for the events and stressors he had to endure in his life then he wouldn’t have been Jimi Hendrix at all. And this would have been an unfortunate loss or void for anyone who looks to open a creative conduit and express themselves in a more striking light.

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