Woodstock

Oh! Sweet Nuthin’

back in October or July…I forget…I said I was going to go check out the Velvet Underground Experience. Then in the last post I said I totally didn’t do that…and I didn’t. I heard things locally and then…I read some reviews. The mainstream reviews were all predictably glowing, but I don’t trust that stuff because hahaha, so I proceeded to Google reviews. Angry, disgruntled people who want their money back is what I wanna read! Like:

“Don’t waste your money on this. We left disappointed- most of the exhibit was just pictures that I’ve seen before and plaques lacking enough information. An entire wall is dedicated to the 60’s in general (the exhibit isn’t big enough to justify this). I expected SOMETHING interesting- maybe memorabilia or immersive areas, but there’s very little…Wish we could get our money back :(“

I think most people would expect something interesting. Or why pay $25 to show up to an empty loft on Broadway? Of course there was also the matter of all the accompanying promotional material that promised “rare” stuff:

Velvet Underground Exhibition Coming To New York City
The exhibition debuted in Paris two years ago and features rare photographs, portraits, films, live concerts and musical workshops.

Perhaps there is some confusion over definitions. RARE: 1: seldom occurring or found: UNCOMMON 2a: marked by unusual quality, merit, or appeal : DISTINCTIVE b: superlative or extreme of its kind 3: marked by wide separation of component particles: THIN rare air. Yet:

“This lack of memorabilia is made painfully evident both by the large wall of “establishing” photos featuring 1960s New York and notable personalities of the time like James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay and Marlon Brando – none of whom have any direct link to the VU – and the near-equal billing given to people in the Velvets/Warhol orbit like Edie Sedgwick, LaMonte Young, and Candy Darling…there are a startling number of spelling and grammar errors in the accompanying texts…the gift shop is so bereft of items bearing the band’s iconic imagery (no album covers, not even a banana on those $29 iPhone cases) that one wonders how much cooperation the show got from the living band members and the estates of the deceased including Reed and Warhol.

Wow. A pattern emerges. These people sound disappointed for sure. Lest you think that I’m the type of person who would deprive himself of an experience based solely on anonymous internet “cranks” I suggest that you Peruse this Perfectly Passionate Post on Pitchfork from a very woke author: How Can You Have “The Velvet Underground Experience” Without the Music? She did the Experience so I didn’t have to! As she makes her way through the exhibition she encounters the following….let’s listen in:

“By the time I reach a display of Velvets posters mixed in with covers of LIFE and, no kidding, images of the moon landing and Woodstock, the bummer retail feeling gives rise to genuine blood boil. Can future makers of biopics and bio-exhibits please agree the world has collectively seen the same stock ’60s newsreel? (Moe Tucker in Please Kill Me, on the band’s reception in San Francisco: “I didn’t like that love-peace shit.”)

I get the anger. I’m not old enough to have participated in all of the fun and important moments of the swinging 60s, but am old enough to have had to endure 40 years of revisiting same. When will the Boomer hagiography end? Will it ever end? Has any decade or event been repackaged and re-praised, reappraised, remembered and recycled as many times as the 1960s? Probably not. However, the Velvet Underground are as Boomer as the rest of that newsreel and the fact that they hated the hippies really doesn’t matter. This was a concern of mine before the show opened because, as I’ve come to recognize in other documentaries or retrospectives of this era, quite often the music, musician, or artist must always be contextualized within the larger whole of very familiar cultural themes (Woodstock, Vietnam, Civil Rights). The music itself, outside of how it may serve these various narratives, is sometimes treated almost as an afterthought. This would be a shame if it wasn’t so infuriating:

What you cannot buy is the music. Apart from a mysterious handful of vintage albums (only a couple by the band) displayed on an upstairs mezzanine, there is no music for sale at “The Velvet Underground Experience.” No vinyl reissues of the albums that are displayed under glass and which in retrospect seem even more fossil-like. There are none of the books by or about the band members—how easy it would have been to unlock that universe, too. If you’re going to commodify a band or scene, at the very least, sell the music, sell the books, do full diligence in perpetuating the actual work that the exhibition celebrates. Instead, a familiar murmur bleeds over from the start of the exhibit nearby. As I let the reality of the existence of Kiss the Boot laptop cases sink in, the reading of Ginsberg’s America hangs in the air like a too-pointed metaphor: America, I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.”

Since the music (and not even all of the music) is the only interesting aspect of the Velvet Underground to me, the fact that the Experience couldn’t be bothered to take it seriously (while charging $25/$50) sealed the deal on my attendance (or lack thereof). I didn’t need a background to take a selfie at anyhow! The truth is, out of all the potential interesting media I’ve seen over the past few years, only two: Long Strange Trip and Astral Weeks: The Secret History of 1968 were really good. So much worthless retrospective crap is produced and I’m not sure what that says about our society or how one could explain without sounding like a complete dystopian crank. At this point in my life, considerations and discussions of this nature must be avoided at all costs.

Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 1)

JHE_2

Over the years I have amassed plenty of Jimi Hendrix reading and listening material and I have decided to share it. (I also wanted to use this shade of blue in one more post) Jimi is easily one of the most important guitarists to have ever picked up an axe, and, like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Eddie Van Halen — there was pre-Jimi and then there was everything after. His influence lit up the music world, no doubt about that! So I’m gonna use a couple of posts to show some of the cool photography and say a little bit about the paraphernalia I have. (All of the pics that follow come from the following books: ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky by David Henderson, Jimi Hendrix • Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro and Caeser Glebeek, Black Gold by Steven Roby and Mitch Mitchell’s, The Hendrix Experience). While it is true that Prince, the recently departed (and may he rest in peace) Paisley Park hero was a great guitar player, Jimi was the original king of purple style and sound.

JHE_9

Before the books though, let’s talk music …briefly. Here is how I would rate the Jimi Henrix material that I’ve heard or had or both over the years.

Are You Experienced? ***** Brilliant! My vote for his best. Never gets old even though I have probably played it well over 500 times in my life. Some albums like this one, Van Halen 1, Led Zeppelin 1, the Ramones first album, any package of Chuck Berry’s best hits, are so influential that literally a million people learn how to play guitar by listening to the brilliance contained within and with-on. There isn’t a tune on this album that isn’t a guitar-driven masterpiece and the best: Purple Haze, Manic Depression, Love or Confusion, I Don’t Live Today, Third Stone from the Sun, and the awesome title cut are still far and beyond what most people can hear, never mind play.

JHE_7

Axis: Bold As Love ****1/2 A very close second to Are You Experienced? Jimi, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bass player Noel Redding expanded on the brilliant music that made them famous and redefined rock and guitar playing. There are a couple of numbers that are derivative (Ain’t No Telling, Little Miss Lover) but the best ones (If 6 Was 9, Little Wing, Spanish Castle Magic, Up From the Skies, Castles Made of Sand and the title cut) are amazing and Jimi’s use of the studio and new pioneering effects makes this as much of a groundbreaking record as the first.

Electric Ladyland **** While many people think this is Jimi’s magnum opus, I disagree. Side 4 is brilliant, Side 2 is very good and combined with Side 4 would’ve made a great (single) third disc. Side 3 is kind of boring; the sound painting tale of Mermanism is dated and Side 1’s 15-minute blues jam Voodoo Chile is too long and has likewise very dated lyrics. Is the album ambitious? Yes. Some great tunes? Absolutely! All Along the Watchtower, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Crosstown Traffic, Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland), Gypsy Eyes, Still Raining, Still Dreaming, and House Burning Down are all classic Jimi. But it’s just not the solid double album it could’ve been, unfortunately.

Band of Gypsys *** This disc is just so-so and the band was likewise. To me, anyone but Mitch Mitchell playing with Jimi was akin to anyone but John Bohnam or Keith Moon playing with Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend, respectively. Also, some of the “songs” are really just jams that are trying to be Sly and the Family Stone or something. This era is often heralded as Jimi searching for a new sound or a change in direction, but I think in many ways he was floundering. Machine Gun and Them Changes are great and if nothing else this disc shows that Jimi’s capabilities as a live guitarist were never in doubt even if everything else was.

3rd

Everything released after Band of Gypsys is suspect because Jimi died in September of 1970. The studio product is especially crappy, except for a few bright spots. It’s important to remember that Jimi was a perfectionist in his writing, playing, and even his live sound. He would be totally bummed at some of the stuff released after 1970 that, of course, he had no control over.

The Cry of Love ***1/2 This a pretty good record and has some really great tunes: Freedom, Angel, Ezy Rider, In From the Storm, Drifting and Straight Ahead. Completed post-1970 by engineer Eddie Kramer and Mitch Mitchell it might not be exactly what Jimi would’ve done had he still been alive to complete it, but it is close. There are also no obvious acts of sabotage or douchebaggery that would appear on subsequent releases. An important thing about this disc is that it proves that Jimi didn’t lose his creative drive in 1968, but was playing some absolutely amazing guitar and bringing solid riffs and tunes into the studio up until his death.

Rainbow Bridge **1/2 A mix of studio and live stuff that sounded maybe ok in 1971. Much better stuff would emerge later. Dolly Dagger, Room Full of Mirrors, and Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) are good rips but I don’t think they were completely finished. Some great guitar, but aimless and the movie of the same name, which was seen by every Hendrix fanatic at a stoned-out midnight movie showing circa 1975-1985, was one of the dumbest things ever put to celluloid.

JHE_5

War Heroes ** A friend had this album but we didn’t play it much. More for the outtakes pile.

Hendrix in the West ** Live album. Weak set list but the performances aren’t bad. It was obviously getting to the point where anything that could be milked was. Does anyone need to hear Jimi playing Blue Suede Shoes given the wealth of live material that was obviously available and would be released later? I think not.

Crash Landing * The first of the Allan Douglas-produced albums. Totally worthless and criminal considering Douglas brought in session musicians to fill out what was already substandard material and then claimed co-writer credit on 5 songs. Without Jimi on the cover, no one would’ve bought this pile of shit.

Midnight Lightning * See above. Douglas hacks his way to another shitty Hendrix album, this time aided by Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin Tony Bongiovi. I never bought either of these albums, but a roommate had them, so I’ve heard them and then promptly never listened to them again.

JHE_12

The Essential Jimi Hendrix Volume Two *** I bought this because it had the Experience playing a cover of Them’s Gloria in the studio on an inserted 33 1/3 single with the album. It was actually pretty genius packaging. The song was a bit of a disappointment though and the rest of the album had already been released.

Jimi Hendrix: High, Live and Dirty *1/2 Also known as Bleeding Heart, or Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead or…any of the other 14 names it was released under throughout the years. Basically Jimi’s private jam tapes from The Scene in 1968 that were stolen when he died. Or not…These jams included many rumored people but one person definitely there is a very drunk Jim Morrison yelling various obscenities. Supposedly, Janis Joplin was also in the audience that night. Talk about the planets aligning. Johnny Winter was long alleged to be the second guitarist but he swore to his dying day that he never met Jim Morrison. So it might’ve been Rick Derringer. The thing is…for a boot…some of this stuff is pretty good. I had the record while I was in college. The version of Red House and Tomorrow Never Knows have a lot of great guitar goin’ on. Interesting, but ultimately exploitative.

Kiss the Sky **** A fairly good compilation. I bought it on cassette for my car. Has some of my favorite Jimi songs including Third Stone from the Sun, All Along the Watchtower, Are You Experienced?, and Purple Haze. Also contains the b-side Steppin’ Stone from the Izabella single, the live Killing Floor from Monterey and a slammin’ live version of I Don’t Live Today from San Diego 1969.

Jimi Plays Monterey ****1/2 Yes! This is what I’m talking about. Jimi and the Experience taking the US by storm at the Monterey Pop Festival. Great versions of Killing Floor, Hey Joe, Can You See Me?, Like a Rolling Stone, Wild Thing, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, and Rock Me Baby. Then and now a totally live wake-up call to anyone who plays guitar.

JHE_3

Radio One/BBC Sessions ***** Two things: The best Jimi stuff post-1970 was previously unreleased live stuff because 1) he was dead so he wasn’t making any new material and 2) it is really Jimi and the Experience (mostly) at the height of their creative powers, not a bunch of disco musicians hired by Alan Douglas to fill out Jimi’s studio sketches. Also, pretty much all of the stuff released by artists who appeared on some program associated with the BBC (The Beatles, The Stones, Zeppelin, Yardbirds) has been great and the Jimi Hendrix Experience is no exception. Fantastic versions of many songs, including never before released stuff like the supremo guitar workout, Driving South. I have both of these discs and they are phenomenal.

Live at Woodstock **** Iconic and pretty good, even though I think the band at this performance was lacking and it’s not terribly well recorded. It was a great Jimi performance, however and obviously this version of The Star Spangled Banner is one of the most defining 5 minutes of the whole 1960s decade. Other bright notes are Izabella, Spanish Castle Magic, Hear My Train A Comin’, and Villanova Junction, which I always liked for its jazzy, minor key overtones. Overall, not of the caliber of Monterey or BBC for sheer guitar awesomeness, but important nonetheless.

The Ultimate Experience **** An interesting, if slightly flawed compilation. The track listing was the result of a poll of his most popular recordings in Europe. My girlfriend has this disc and it has some of Jimi’s classics mixed in with lesser known songs like Wait Until Tomorrow, Angel, Highway Chile, Long Hot Summer Night, and Gypsy Eyes. It also includes Wild Thing from Monterey and The Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock. I think the disc flawed only because it omits some better material from all of the studio albums in favor of some of what I just listed (minus Angel and Gypsy Eyes) and also includes Burning of the Midnight Lamp, which is my absolute least favorite song Jimi recorded.

Blues ** I wanted to like this, but unfortunately I didn’t find it that enjoyable and it contains more Douglas hackery (splicing various takes together, pulling out stuff Jimi probably never would have released, etc, etc). Anyone who has spent more than a month listening to Jimi Hendrix knows he could play the f*ck out of the blues and that many of his songs were based around very bluesy motifs. Guitarists especially know this. That’s what makes all of the popular acclaim for this album stupid. It doesn’t deal with the fact that it was just another cynical ploy to extract money out of people for Hendrix material that was average at best.

JHE_10

Jimi Hendrix ***1/2 — Another Midnight Movie Treat for many years and I’ve also had it as a DVD for a long time. It’s a pretty good movie and features a compilation of performances from throughout Jimi’s career and interviews with interesting people: Jimi, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Fayne Pridgon and The Ghetto Fighters and not interesting people like Lou Reed (did he and Jimi even meet ever?). All of the time Jimi appears onscreen playing guitar is movie gold though and for many years it was all that was available.

JHE_11

Woodstock and Live at Berkeley *** — I have both of these DVDs. From a guitarist standpoint, there is something educational in watching any performance Jimi gave, of course. There is some blistering guitar work to be found but there is a spark missing from these later-year performances that was definitely there in 1967, early 1968. Jimi seemed very tired, physically and spiritually. Both movies are very instructive for how they illustrate the messy backdrop of the times that Jimi is immersed in and one can only imagine how that affected his mood and the performances. The Live at Berkeley movie especially has a lot of the political stuff that had completely overtaken any and all counterculture conversations (especially in Berkeley) by early 1970. Definitely worth viewing as an education, but not necessarily the best music Jimi ever played.

JHE_13

So that’s it for Part 1…hope you enjoyed it. There will always be new Jimi Hendrix releases and I’ve heard some here and there, but I’m not fanatic about hearing every version of Hear My Train A-Comin’ that he recorded or played. The early stuff is what I return to again and again, although I did recently get some enjoyment out of listening to Cry of Love for the first time in a long time. Part 2 in this “series” will deal with the books I have and two others I had at one time and Part 3 will be very guitar specific. Stay tuned!

Here is Part 2 and Part 3 in this series.