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
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.