Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Voodoo Child or Revolutionary?

I was re-watching my Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsies DVD the other day and received a whole new insight into the creative process. New for me anyway.

The most commonly held belief, persistent for at least three millenia now, is that of The Muse. You know, some divine or unseen force inspires the artist to create something really cool. Especially when we're astonished, it's easy to view creativity as something mystical.

A second view is what I'll call The Student theory. You study what's gone on before. You pay homage. You absorb. You work at it. And eventually something new starts coming out. Think Clapton. Think Keith Richards.

How many times have you heard a major artist say, "we were just trying to sound like ..."? It's a messy process. It's about experimentation, exploration, curiosity. It aligns with Thomas Edison's famous line about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I think it applies to most artists.

But not Hendrix. He was just so out there, The Muse theory had to apply, although with him it was maybe less of a supernatural power than a portal into an alternate universe.

On the DVD, though, you get a new perspective. In the interviews, his friends and colleagues talked about a deliberate effort to create something brand new, something neither white nor black, neither rock nor soul, something unifying, something transcendent.

I guess I missed all that at the time. I mean, his music was unlike anything else. And he was one trippy cat, so in countless interviews he never made much sense to me. I put it down to The Muse (and the drugs), but maybe it was something else.

These things aren't exclusive of course. Everything overlaps. Hendrix was a student; he did his time. And he was inspired, no question.

I just have to add a third image now: that of Jimi standing on the barricades.

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