Tag Archive: Are You Experienced


Move Over, Rover

While most of Are You Experienced is very heavy and forceful, it’s a thick, plodding heaviness. It is mid-tempo, enveloping the listener in a cloud. “Fire” is the one song that breaks out of that mold and goes for the fast-paced, youthful energy that gave rise to late 70’s and late 90’s punk. One of Jimi’s great strengths is contrast over the course of an album, and again, this song’s frantic pace is made even more frantic by the comparison to more stately tracks on the record. There are even hints of rap music in the “move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over!” line. He shouts and howls interjections of “get on with it, baby!” and “aw yes, it’s Jimi talkin’, baby!” like only a black man can; if he were white and saying those things, he’d look like a moron.

“Third Stone From the Sun” is a spacey near-instrumental. The only lyrics are Jimi doing spoken-word about aliens discovering Earth, or some crap like that. The first time I heard of this song (before I actually heard it, mind you), I was watching Pop Up Video on VH1, back in the day. The video in question was Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” and I learned that the guitar solo in “I’m Too Sexy,” was lifted from “Third Stone From the Sun.” Something occurred

Right Said Fred, perfecting the one hit wonder

to me then: why don’t I check out the Jimi Hendrix song instead of this cheap knock-off? It was just a few weeks later that my dad came home with that box of LPs from the tag sale. When I looked through them and came across Are You Experienced, low and behold, one of the tracks was “Third Stone From the Sun.” Fate, I tell you!

Finally, the backwards guitar and symbol crashes open up the title track. For this last song, Jimi puts on his drug dealer hat; the first one’s free. The term “experienced” which he throws around might refer to sex (if you listen to my mother, an “experienced” girl was a girl who “slept around”), but maybe not. He follows the question “are you experienced?” with “have you ever been experienced? Well, I have.” Maybe he’s talking about another aspect of the counter-cultural lifestyle. Later, he intones, “not necessarily stoned but… beautiful…” With that, he simultaneously says he IS and ISN’T talking about drugs, which the listener must have suspected all along.

If you want my opinion (and it stands to reason you do else you wouldn’t be reading this), he’s really talking about something bigger than drugs or sex or any particular thing. “Experienced” is a state of being, a space where ordinary humans transcend their temporal nature for a second and glimpse something unknowable. I can’t describe it any more than that. It’s like an old saying about blues music: if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Jimi Hendrix was a flame that blazed brightly for 5 years, and then burned out. I had heard stories when I was little that before he went on stage he would smash a bottle of liquor on his forehead, and then cover the bleeding from the broken glass with his bandana. He died in late 1970 in what is one of the worst ways to go – choking on his own vomit. But this remains: rock and roll is forever changed (and for the better) because Jimi was part of it.

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Joe

While the origins and authorship of “Hey Joe” are in dispute and probably lost to the sands of time, Jimi Hendrix’s version is the most well-known, if not the first. The Leaves have what is considered the first recording of it, done in November of 1965. As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s a Jimi song.

There was this guy I was friendly with in college whose name was Joe. One day I saw him in the cafeteria and I said, “Hey Joe. Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?” He didn’t say hello back, but just looked at me with utter confusion, slightly disturbed. “Huh?” he said. I hung my head and sighed. “No, you’re supposed to say, ‘I’m goin’ down to shoot my old lady; I caught her messin’ around with another man.’” More confusion, and his voice rose about an octave and a half. “HUH??” But I saw him a few more times in the coming weeks, and said the same thing to him each time. Eventually he got it. Around the 4th time, he responded, “Oh wait, I know this! Umm… I’m goin’ to shoot my woman, ‘cause…” He took a few seconds with a look of deep concentration on his face. “’Cause she was cheatin’ on me!” He looked like a 7th grader that just won the spelling bee. “Close enough,” I said with a smile.

The casual violence of the lyrics is indicative of the blues, a low-class, grimy and common type of music from its origins onward. And Jimi’s version is blues all the way, with an electric twist. His voice lends itself to the material creating a unique synergy. The criminal story told is made vaguely more disturbing by Jimi’s at once lazy and intense tone. His improvisational “and that ain’t too cool…” gives me a little shiver even to this day.

As flip as Jimi is about murder in “Hey Joe,” that attitude is turned on its head on “Foxey Lady.” This is probably the heaviest and most powerful track on the entire record; how appropriate that it’s saved for the guttural, visceral sensations of physical and sexual attraction. In “Foxey Lady,” Jimi’s a roaring tiger, stalking his prey with absolute certainty that it will be his. This song is all id; the entire inflection, both lyrically and musically, is “I want you, and I will HAVE you.” Even for the blues, this is pretty startling.

“Love or Confusion” is a fairly straight-forward song about the bewilderment that overtakes a person when they embark on a romantic relationship. The real prize here is that Jimi creates a “drone” that would make Lou Reed proud. The tonic played on an electric guitar just once is sustained by the loop of feedback created by the distortion; it goes on so long that there is no end in sight. It’s commonly said that one note played for 35 minutes with feeling is better than the fastest and most technically excellent notes played in a dead and mechanical way. If you can’t understand that concept, just listen to “Love or Confusion” and you’ll get it.

Jimi’s approach, while most commonly like that of a wild animal, is not one-dimensional. There are a few moments of tenderness, made even more poignant by the sharp edges of the rest of the album. “May This Be Love” is nothing more than a love song, unabashed in its message, yet poetic enough to avoid seeming maudlin. I’m constantly taken by surprise by this song, especially wedged between “Love or Confusion” and “I Don’t Live Today,” the latter of which ends with a swirling sonic chaos over which Jimi intones “there ain’t no life nowhere…”

Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding

Right after “I Don’t Live Today,” a moment of aggressive hopelessness, we’re treated to another softer song, on which Jimi proves his mastery of this type of material as well as the hard stuff. Not many artists since him were able to shift so effortlessly between these two extremes. “The Wind Cries Mary,” apparently inspired by a Curtis Mayfield riff, reveals a poet’s heart. Something as mundane as an argument with his girlfriend about her cooking can produce this type of response; for a poet, anything can be a source of inspiration, from a sunrise to a fingernail clipping.

The 6 string electric guitar had been an icon in rock and roll for over 40 years when I got my hands on it, and I took for granted that it always was as it currently is. To a trained ear, the sound of the guitar had gone through somewhat massive metamorphoses over the decades, but that didn’t matter when I was 13. When something first enters your life at that age, it has no past. Everything about it is fresh and new, and it has all come into being just now. I soon figured out that the electric guitar is much older than I am, and my partnership with it was just one of many partnerships it had. It’s a player; it had broken the hearts of many young lads before me.

This universal aspect the guitar has to it just makes what Jimi Hendrix did that much more mind-blowing. Jimi played the player. He took the 6-string and mastered it. His was the reverse of my relationship with it; I did its bidding, but it did his.

The story of the 6 string took a major and permanent turn when Jimi got a hold of it. It took on a power, force and volume that no one had heard from it before. It was rather simple, but most genius innovations involve a simple idea. He knew that there was more potential for power to run through the guitar, so much that one amplifier couldn’t hold it. Jimi’s idea broke down into “why don’t we just use more than one amp?”

Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix

Pete Townshend of the Who told a story about when he met Jimi Hendrix for the first time. Jimi had come to a Who show and liked it very much. Their wild abandon and lack of restraint appealed to him. When Jimi introduced himself to Pete after the show, they were talking shop for a bit. Jimi asked Pete what kind of amp he used, and Pete told him about his model. Jimi nodded his head and said, “I think I’ll give it a try.” Later, Pete went to a Jimi Hendrix Experience show. He found that Jimi had taken him up on his recommendation, but he wasn’t just using one of his amps; he was using four – at the same time.

This was where the idea for the Marshall stack came from. One amp was no longer enough for those who could afford it. Marshall amps (I don’t know why it was that particular brand; I don’t think that was the brand that Pete and Jimi were discussing) were just run one into another, and the multiple amps were “stacked” one on top of the previous  ‘til they became a literal mountain of sound. It was both sonically powerful and visually intimidating.

Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced - 5/12/1967

That power and charge are present from the very first second of Are You Experienced. That’s the most remarkable thing about “Purple Haze.” It’s a splendid lead-off track because it’s an indicator to the rest of the album. It has a kind of wild abandon from the beginning. Jimi is singing lyrics that say he’s out of control, lost, blind, and in unknown territory. But he sings them with an excited and even victorious voice, and says he’s just gotta “kiss the sky.”

“Manic Depression” follows; the power is different but not lesser. It’s a nervous, tension-filled power. In harmony with that emotional tone, the lyrics are about a mental anguish that can only be relieved by music. While the lyrics speak of a man in turmoil, Jimi’s voice suggests something different. He’s laconic and breezy, like he’s not quite taking this seriously.

On Monday: Jimi’s goin’ down to shoot his ol’ lady…

Tag Sales

It was the summer of 1995; I was 14. It was a quiet, sunny afternoon. At about 3:00, my father came home and walked into the living room all aflutter, carrying a cardboard box. He said he had just come from a tag sale near us. This was a common occurrence during the summer in New England where I grew up. Once a year, most people took stock of the stuff they had acquired over the year and, being dissatisfied with their stuff, their wallets, and themselves, decided they would sell it. This only happens for a single family about twice, but there were enough families where I grew up that a plethora of tag sales happened every summer.

My dad had just returned from one with a real find. He’s an intense music enthusiast. I get my passion for music (and all things) from him; combine that with my mother’s meticulous nature and my near-OCD preoccupation with music becomes clear. Anyway, he showed me what he had acquired at the tag sale he went to, which was a stack of used LPs. Such things, especially gotten at tag sales, are usually not very exciting, but as I looked through them, I could see that they were. A lot of them I had never heard of (Spirit, Electric Flag, Mountain), but others made me catch my breath. December’s Children; Abbey Road; Band of Gypsys; and what Dad said was the first Beatles album ever. In actuality it was Meet the Beatles!, which was the 2nd album to come out in the US, and the 5th overall. To be fair, it said right on the cover that it was “The First Album by England’s Phenomenal Pop Combo.” That just ain’t true.

But the real prize was Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix, the first album from the guitar deity. This may not seem more remarkable than the other great finds I just mentioned, but for this. The sticker on one side of the vinyl listed the songs on side A; flipping the vinyl over revealed a duplicate side A sticker. A simple factory mistake, but it makes the value of the copy shoot up incredibly. As amazing as this is, it’s shot down in flames by the next thing: the previous owner penciled in on one of the stickers “Hendrix Side B.” Any value the copy may have had is completely destroyed by a bit of lead powder. It makes me weep.