ROOM FULL OF MIRRORS, by Charles R Cross:
A truly tragic life had Mr. Hendrix – his childhood was as disrupted as could possibly be. What is most astounding is how he channeled all his hopes and energy into the guitar and through that transformed the world’s perception of the instrument. This against a backdrop of extreme poverty and dysfunctional hopelessness.
When I saw Hendrix (semi-accidentally) at age 16 at The 5th Dimension in Ann Arbor, MI (a club the size of the Rat in Boston), I had only heard Purple Haze once. He was just a rumor on the way to becoming a star and there were only about 100 people in the audience. I was informed many years later that the audience was almost entirely musicians (I was a bass player at the time). As I was describing this concert in an interview recently, I said something like “it was a terrifying experience, and I was never the same afterwards.” The interviewer said, “but it was GOOD, right?” as if I hadn’t made that clear. I said “Of course it was good!” But I thought about it later, and the words I’d use to describe my (and probably everyone else’s in the room) emotions were terror, awe, and relief. Terror because we were all just babies compared to him; awe because he was such a master; and relief because “a way out of the box” was made open to us all. Upon reflection, those words “Terror, awe, and relief” are often used in the literature regarding coming face to face with “god”. I am not in any way pro-religion, especially the organized kind. But in my life what I refer to as “the creative force” may amount be the same as “god” for others. And Hendrix brought that into the world to me in a way that no one else did. From such an astoundingly troubled soul that truth was brought forth.
The book starts w/his grandparents shortly after the civil war, and it puts the post-slavery African-American reality in perspective. And more amazingly, how he grew up helps explain why he himself wasn’t concerned so much with race.
Actually, while often stunning, the book is almost unbearable to read. Curiously, his death was so expected (and historically known to me), that that part was easy. It was everything before and after his death that broke my heart.
Humans. Sometimes I wish I was a different species.
BEGIN AGAIN: A JOHN CAGE BIOGRAPHY, by Kenneth Silverman:
Compared to the Hendrix biography, Cage’s biography is relatively tragedy free. But it is in many ways it’s just as great.
He basically totally nailed it:
He was 100% Outside, yet he forced the world to ADAPT to HIM;
He died a millionaire though he was perpetually broke at age 50 (there’s still hope!);
He received the highest possible praises for an artist, yet was heckled at performances to the very end of his life.
He promoted ego-lessness while being hyper-willed.
And he was generally unperturbed by it all.
What more can one ask?
The night after he gave one of his Harvard Poetry Lectures in 1989 my son Chance was born. A few months later, after another one of his lectures in Harvard, I went backstage to meet Mr. Cage and was introduced to him as “the Father of Chance.” It doesn’t get much better than that…..
I walk in the footsteps of both of these men (with much smaller feet).