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JIMI HENDRIX STARTING AT ZERO BOOK REVIEW 2013

 

JIMI HENDRIX

STARTING AT ZERO

BLOOMSBURY

2014

 

This is a great book and a great idea to boot – the life of Jimi Hendrix culled from his own words. For a man who has had so much written and spoken about him over the years this book; put together in the manner of a biopic by film-maker Peter Neal and producer Alan Douglas; is a refreshing take on the man and the myth.


Hendrix of course has always been an easy subject, a genius guitarist, with a legacy of fine music and a handy line in great visual images: cue the burning guitars. That of course is how many will still like to remember him even after reading this, but Neal and Douglas do a great job in revealing the inner Hendrix – and what better way to do that than via his own words.


Putting together a book like this, which draws on Hendrix’ own notes, diaries, interviews, letters and spoken word must have been a challenge; and there is of course the easy trap to fall into of only drawing on the positive or that which at least supports the myth. There are of course some topics that Hendrix was rarely drawn on - notably drugs and decadent living which you can pick up on or speculate on elsewhere and which after reading this would have seemed rather trite and out of place.


This story wisely focuses on both the man and the music rather than the lifestyle which would have been a rather short-sighted and sadly very ‘current’ take in a world obsessed with celebrity whores where talent just seems to get in the way.


Mainly though this book is about shattering the image of Hendrix as the wild man of Rock. This is a man who seems to have preferred listening to music at home rather than living at night with Morrison and Joplin. We learn of Hendrix’s military sign up to avoid possible jail and the way that shaped his feelings towards war. We glimpse his spiritual leanings shaped by his life experiences of discrimination and abuse. Most interestingly it’s his take on the race issue that transcends what was largely seen as a colour struggle at the time:  "There is no such thing as the colour problem: it's a weapon for the negative forces trying to destroy the country. They make black and white fight each other so they can take over at each end. That is what the establishment is waiting for."


Where the book is even more revealing is in the passages on his craft, writing and his influences and Hendrix seems both self-effacingly modest and also rather perturbed by labels and accolades. You get the real sense of a musician trying to reach out for what is just out of reach, and that of course is always what made his music so exciting.


As you might expect it’s the final part of the book that seeks to both contextualise Hendrix and elevate him.  It’s also clear that he was so full of life – talking about how frustrating ‘playing the hits’ had become and how much he was looking forward to creating new music.  He even describes the new sound he wants to capture: "something else, like with Handel and Bach and Muddy Waters and flamenco". This new music, similarly related by others would have begun after Hendrix returned from the Isle of Wight Festival. Before he could return to New York Jimi was dead.


The best things about the book are the fact that Hendrix did have some powerful things to say and not just about the music. Collecting those words in this way is a wonderful re-evaluation of a man who made some very wonderful music.  It’s the closest we'll get to a Hendrix autobiography and ends with Jimi’s own words: "When I die, just keep on playing the records".

 

 

Mark Diggins

 

 

JIMI HENDRIX STARTING AT ZERO BOOK REVIEW 2013