Listen to Jimi Hendrix play and you’ll hear him express an unparalleled rainbow of feelings through his electric guitar: rage and violence and tripped-out mysticism and sadness and confusion and turmoil and extreme horniness and beauty. These same feelings infused his existence despite the sort of benevolent space cadet persona he usually projected in interviews and on stage. In 1983, author Jerry Hopkins got behind the alluring images of an outer-space virtuoso to reveal the real man in his essential biography The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix did spend a lot of time in the cosmos because of the ridiculous amount of chemicals he regularly ingested, but there is an earthier tale here too. James Marshall Hendrix’s impoverished upbringing was as unglamorous as you can imagine. He spent his young adult years drugging and stealing cars and stumbled his way into the army where his greatest dream was to ascend to a low-pressure job as a file clerk.
The idea that Jimi Hendrix could have suffered such a humble outcome seems absurd considering how uncontainable his talent was. Hopkins is more interested in the life than the talent, though interviewee Mike Bloomfield does give a succinct yet on-the-money assessment of Hendrix’s inimitable technique. The nice thing about The Jimi Hendrix Experience is that while it is the story of a man serially exploited by businessmen, Hopkins refuses to play the same game. Though Hendrix’s life rippled with sensational circumstances, this book is not sensationalistic, which is saying a lot for one that spends so much time discussing the size of its subject’s dick. While Hopkins relays some of the glib theories swirling around—such as Eric Burdon’s assumption that Hendrix deliberately killed himself or others’ assumptions that manager Mike Jeffrey was controlling him with drugs—the author always makes sure the reader exercises his or her critical thinking skills and never indulges in such theorizing himself. He is also dedicated to exposing the many charlatans who took advantage of Hendrix’s tendency to sign any paper that was laid before him without reading it first. Just know that despite the title of this book, there is only one member of the Experience that concerns the author; there’s very little information about Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding outside of their interactions with the leader of their band.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience was originally published in 1983 and updated in 1996. It has been out of print for some time, but Arcade Publishing is now reprinting the book. Hopkins has not made any updates since ’96.
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