Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Review: 'Hendrix: The Illustrated Story'


Jimi Hendrix is the nearly unanimously acknowledged master of the electric guitar and one of the key Rock & Roll artists in general, so volumes have naturally been written on his life, work, and artistry. For casual fans who don’t have to patience to sift through all that stuff and want to get an eye-load of the man in all his wizard finery, a book such as Gillian G. Gaar’s Hendrix: The Illustrated Story gets the job done.

There’s not much depth to plumb in 200 pages, and the reliance on previously published sources means that new revelations are absent, but that’s not really the point of a book like this. Gaar delivers the essentials of Hendrix’s story, gratefully not pretending that the hideous moments in it didn’t exist (his relationship with an underage prostitute; his battery of a woman in his entourage; etc.), and buffers the text with lots of fabulous photos. Yet for such a short biography, there’s too much day-to-day data about the places he toured and the TV shows on which he appeared. Also, the writing lacks pizzazz considering her flamboyant subject matter. Gaar is at her liveliest when discussing Hendrix’s music in a supplemental essay on Are You Experienced?, but she leaves additional LP surveys to guest writers. In her discussion of Electric Ladyland, Jaan Uhelszki does a much flashier job of reflecting Hendrix’s vividness and made me wish that the rest of the book were as punchy. Gaars narrative is most compulsively readable when events are dramatic enough to carry the story, as it is when she discusses Hendrix’s tumultuous final days.

Of course, a lot of readers will check out Hendrix: The Illustrated Story less for the story and more for the illustrations, and groovy shots of Hendrix getting his hair done while perusing MAD or dolled up as a psychedelic Santa are major selling points. The faux velvet black light poster-style cover is a gas too.
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