Friday, 17 August 2007

Room Full of Mirrors, a biography of Jimi Hendrix, by Charles R Cross

When Jimi Hendrix arrived in London in 1966 he carried just his guitar, a change of clothes, his pink plastic hair curlers and a jar of Valderma face cream for his acne.

Materially he travelled light, yet his psychological baggage was weighty.

It included a childhood of extreme poverty; a mother whose death when he was 16 haunted him throughout his life; and an alcoholic, often jobless father who beat him mercilessly.

Yet he also carried a counterweight to all this: a prodigious talent that would amaze all who came into contact with it.

In America he had been an ignored unknown who would be mistaken for a bellhop in smart hotels. In London he was feted by Eric Clapton, The Beatles and the rest of the pop aristocracy. He was embraced as a dazzling, exotic creature who blended perfectly with the Swinging Sixties scene.

Yet, in many ways, Hendrix was a desperate figure: desperate to escape the horrors of his childhood; to come to terms with the loss of his mother; to become rich and famous.
Not least, for a man starved of food, money and love, he wanted to consume. And he did, embarking on an orgy of alcohol, drugs and sex

As Charles R Cross says: “Drugs, religion and women were just a few of the many things Jimi grasped at, searching for a foundation in a life that was ever more out of control.”

Cross explores his drugs and his women in meticulous detail, yet religion is left woefully neglected in what, at 384 pages, is in many ways a thoroughly comprehensive and illuminating account of an enigmatic figure.

It is a lost opportunity.

We get only hints at Hendrix’s spiritual life; lines of enquiry are introduced only to be left tantalisingly unexplored.

On an early draft of the lyrics of Purple Haze, Cross tells us, Hendrix wrote “Jesus Saves” beneath the title. Cross comments that it was “perhaps something he was considering as a chorus”, but investigates no further.

There are other hints at a spiritual drive which is at times overtly Christian.

Hendrix called the sound he created Electric Church Music. By which he seems to have meant that the musicians were a congregation, playing in a spirit of selflessness and love which parallels prayer and comes close to worship. But worship of what god? Cross is silent.

Towards the end of his life Hendrix would often mention Christ at gigs when introducing songs. His interest in the Bible grew. We learn that, in 1969, when he was only months from death, Jimi: “kept [the Bible] open in his house, and he was reading it closely, probably for the first time in his life.” Yet he also read The Book of Urantia, “an alternative bible for UFO believers that mixed tales of Jesus with stories of alien visitations.”

Ironically, perhaps tragically, Hendrix wrote his most overtly Christian lyric on the night he died, during the early hours of September 18 1970. He had taken a probably accidental overdose of sleeping pills, vomited and choked. He was 27.

In The Story of Life he writes of Jesus, the crucifixion, heaven...and flying saucers. “At the moment that we die” one line reads, “all we know is God is by our side.” It was the last song he wrote.

It is clear from Cross’s book that money, fame, drugs and women were not going to bring Jimi Hendrix fulfilment. What is left frustratingly blank is whether Hendrix believed God might fill the void in his life.

Published by Sceptre, £18.99 384pp

1 comment:

KY said...

Great Review , I Have To Compare Jimi To Bob Marley . And I Really Have Enjoyed Reading This To Grasp A Better Understnding Of The Book ,