“It’s funny how most people love the dead. Once you’re dead, you’re made for life.” – Jimi Hendrix
Today is an important day in rock music history .
On this day in 1967, Jimi Hendrix burst upon the consciousness of American rock audiences with a blistering set of psychedelic blues rock at the Monterey Pop festival, at the climax of which he threw his guitar to the stage, squirted it with lighter fluid, and set it ablaze. That image of Hendrix – who would tragically be labeled “a sex machine/witch doctor” because of his action (a stage stunt meant to rival the hyper-destructive Who’s earlier instrument bashing at the end of their set) – burning his instrument would become the definitive moment of the first great rock festival – and an iconic moment in a decade full of iconic moments. Thankfully, it was captured for posterity.
None of us knew then that this “trans-cendiary” act would be the apex of Jimi’s career – and that from that magic moment he would enter the slow downward spiral that – despite the brilliant music he created while falling from the sky he’d kissed so passionately – would end in a London flat just over three years later – deeply in debt, lonely, confused, feeling abandoned by friends and business associates – dead by choking on his own vomit, his drug addled girlfriend too confused or scared to save him….He was 27….
“I am alive and well and unconcerned about the rumors of my death. But if I were dead, I would be the last to know.” – Sir Paul McCartney
Today is an important day in rock music history.
On this day 65 years ago James Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool, England. As half of arguably the greatest composing team in popular music, writing songs for arguably the greatest rock band in history, he established a legacy that no other rock musicians have been able to surpass.
The Beatles, the band referenced above, broke up in 1970, a few months before Jimi Hendrix met his sad, ignominious end. McCartney was 27….
All four Beatles went on to solo careers of greater or lesser success. McCartney had great financial success as a solo artist, then formed a new band called Wings that had great financial success, then returned to working as a solo artist. His audience aging and ever diminishing, the music business moving further and further from the culture and conditions that allowed him to rise to stardom, he’s gone from being the biggest selling artist in history to being an irrelevancy. Despite that, McCartney can have few complaints with his life. He’s been feted, knighted, and enriched to a level that far surpasses embarrassing.
“It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” – Neil Young
Two important anniversaries in the history of rock music. Two very different career arcs. What should we make of them?
The Hendrix story is perhaps best explained by lyrics from the Joe Allison country music classic “…live fast, love hard, die young….” Like other rock stars of his generation – Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison – his fire burned brightly but all too briefly, fanned, yet eventually snuffed while experiencing what one of those all too mortal immortals described this way:
“Let’s just say I was testing the bounds of reality. I was curious to see what would happen.” – Jim Morrison
Jimi’s premature death haunts us in the way lost promise always haunts us – it crosses generations and serves both as romantic inspiration and somber object lesson….
McCartney, on the other hand, has had a long career post-Beatles that has seen him become increasingly undervalued by the world he helped create – which has led him to make decision after decision that has given his strongest supporters, his Boomer fan base, reason to mourn and disenfranchised him with Xer and Millenial audiences.
Here’s how it feels: when I’m in the mall and I see a Hendrix poster or t-shirt in one of those stores that cater to people a hell of a lot younger than I – I smile, a little sadly, and find myself thinking of Thomas Wolfe:
O Lost, and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again….
When I stop by Starbucks and see Sir Paul’s picture plastered on every wall hawking his latest album (which I like), I can’t help thinking of Oscar Wilde:
Morality, like art, has to draw a line someplace.