Nevermind The Posers

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Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix by Charles R. Cross May 5, 2010

A review by: Alexander “Stigz” Castiglione

When you hear the name “Jimi Hendrix,” a lot of words pop into mind.

Rock Legend.  Guitar-God.  Iconic figure of the Peace & Love movement.  Poet.  Pauper.  Druggie.  Fashionista.

But after reading this book, it’s easy to see that these words and phrases only scratch the surface of the enigmatic and magnetic man that was James Hendrix.

Following a meteoric rise to fame in less than a decade, this burning star was extinguished at the young age of 27.  Ironically and tragically, the same age Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain were when they died.

Being a huge fan of Jimi since I was a kid, there are a lot of items in this book I found interesting, some parts were inspiring while other parts were abhorrent.  The first hundred pages or so are the latter, illustrating his underprivileged and unstable childhood in the Northwest.  With the volatility of alcoholic parents and poverty surrounding him, Jimi never had it easy.  Most people don’t know that Jimi escaped this by going into the Army.  Or rather, he was given a “choice:” go to jail for joyriding in a stolen car, or go into the service.  He opted for the service and soon figured a way to make it out of the Army (which I’ll let you read to find out).  Most people don’t know about his drug bust in Canada, or how exactly The Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed.  This book answers all these enigmas and then some.

A Room Full Of Mirrors is a splendid synthesis of hundreds of interviews with family and friends, clips from music journals, and even some letters he wrote to his family.  Rarely does a biography make you feel like you know the person.  Not just the where’s and when’s of a life, but the how this person really was—their quirks, fears, mannerisms and eccentricities.  In that respect, Cross is a genius, as many of his anecdotes make you feel like your right there with Jimi.  From he and bassist Noel Redding being confused for clowns in an English pub, to Jimi partying with Leonard Nemoy- Yes, Leonard Nemoy—Spock from Star Trek, we get a feel for who Jimi was as a person.  All the way from his naïve early days playing back-up guitar for Little Richard to his overnight success in England, we are with Jimi on his entire struggle for fame and recognition.  Despite his antics on stage with blazing Stratocasters and epic guitar solos, he actually was an extremely shy man-something many pieces leave out.  From his voracious sexual appetite and phone-book size list of conquests to his professions to his Aunt Delores about his disgust with fame and the limelight, every facet of his persona is fleshed out in under 400 pages.

What I really like about the book is the fact that Jimi’s prolific drug use isn’t played up and sensationalized like other pieces, but rather Cross aims to take us into Jimi’s mind.  Within this “room full of mirrors” we see how Jimi viewed himself, cared for his family and lived like every day was his last.  From his stellar performance at Woodstock (where he subsequently collapsed from exhaustion after leaving the stage, since he had been up for 3 days straight), to being booed offstage early in his career on the Chitlin’ Circuit, this book doesn’t highlight the controversial and leave out the mundane.  It covers everything, going back to his father’s father in the first few pages.  The family history part of the book is rather dull at points, but vital to understanding most of the story in the long run.  In many ways, the novel pays homage to the notion that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.

I could go on for days saying how intriguing and timeless Jimi’s life was and how tragic his death was in the end, but I figured I’d give you a few facts I walked away from the book with.  Most people don’t know this, but Jimi is probably one of the most interconnected and dynamic people to come out of the music industry.  He earned the love and respect of Eric Clapton and Cream, while literally having them scared shitless of playing a show with him for fear of being upstaged.  The same sentiment was held by Mick Jagger and the Stones.  Jimi also tried to date Keith Richards’ girlfriend, and the two legends almost had it out one night.  He even, in a monumentally ballsy move, played his own covers from The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album with Lennon and McCartney in the crowd at the Monterey Music Festival only a few days after the album was released.  McCartney came up to him and told him how solid his take on the song was.  Even the legendary Bob Dylan loved Jimi’s rendition on “All Along The Watchtower,” and it is extremely hard for musicians to give credit to another musician for playing a cover.  In a few short years, Jimi went from wearing loud, sequin suits behind Little Richard, to headlining Woodstock and being the highest paid musician in the world.  And yes, boys and girls, Jimi’s junk was cast in plaster long before any other rock star, kick-starting the rock star debauchery way before Mötley Crüe was on the scene.  And the biggest shock of all: Lemmy of Motorhead was a roadie for Hendrix at one point.  Yes, Lemmy Kilmister used to haul Jimi’s gear.

Another interesting tidbit: Janis Joplin and Jimi were rumored to have banged it out at the Fillmore.  And, even more badass, while Jim Morrison was heckling Jimi one night in the Village, Joplin smashed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s over The Doors front-man’s head.  The raging irony is that these three superstars and brilliant musicians all ended up dying within a year of each other.

For the casual Hendrix fan, this book may not be a good choice, as it really gets detailed and in-depth, even mundane at some points.  But for anyone who loves the music, culture, and times from when Jimi (and his contemporaries like Clapton, Jagger, Joplin, Lennon, McCartney and Morrison) came, you will absolutely devour this book.  Cross paints a picture so clear, so unique, so detailed, that you feel as if you knew the Voodoo Child himself.  From his rowdy early years as a child to his stint in the army to his stellar rise to the top of all things musical, this book leaves no stone unturned, no detail unmentioned, and no room for anything but awe of this brilliant man’s tragically short life.

 

The 52nd Annual Grammy Awards…Some Thoughts. February 4, 2010

By Tina Teresi

  • First off, I think the Grammy Awards should be offered as a Pay-per-View special or something.  Only the most popular awards get aired on national television while the rest are given out preceding the televised event.  I don’t think the masses even know they give out Grammys for Instrumental, New Age, Jazz, Gospel, Bluegrass, Blues, Folk, Hawaiian, Native American, Latin, Cajun, Reggae, Metal, World, Children, Musicals, Soundtracks and Classical music.  I feel that if you’re winning a Grammy, it should get aired on national television, regardless if it’s trendy or if the recipient is present.  If it was on Pay-per-View at least I’d be able to fast forward the awards/performances I have zero interest in.
  • To the voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, please consider airing these categories next year (thank you for adding Best Comedy Album this year [Colbert Christmas, The Best Gift of All], that was cool of you): Best Electronic/Dance Album (The Fame, Lady Gaga), Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance (“Working On A Dream”, Bruce Springsteen), Best Hard Rock Performance (“War Machine”, AC/DC), Best Metal Performance (“Dissident Aggressor”, Judas Priest), Best Reggae Album (Mind Control, acoustic, Stephen Marley) and Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package (Neil Young Achieves Vol. 1- 1963-1972).
  • Taylor Swift’s Fearless took home Best Country Album, I have no problems with that.  What I do have a problem with was her acceptance speech.  She thanked her record label for letting her write her own music.  Way to call attention to an ongoing problem with the major labels out there, Swift.  Hear what Dave “The Klone” has to say about it here.
  • I was not thrilled with Beyoncé’s performance, felt like I’ve seen it before.  And why would she cover ‘You Oughta Know’ by Alanis Morissette?  That was a terrible idea.  Beyoncé did not have the right attitude for the song.  If she was smart, she would have had Morissette on stage and performed it as a duet.  Morissette can kick Beyoncé’s musical ass any day of the week.  That’s right, I said it.
  • The Best New Artist award went to the Zac Brown Band this year.  I would have liked to see it go to The Ting Tings or MGMT instead.  Win some, lose some.
  • I loved that this year the Grammy Awards provided a countdown time with the ‘coming up’ announcements right before a commercial break.  There’s nothing worse than blindly waiting for your favorite artist to take the stage or accept an award.  Well done.  I also loved the commercials.  Watching the Grammys for me is like watching the Super Bowl for others.  You root for your favorite artist/team to win, some people have a party around this event, the commercials are great, you know it cost tons of money to produce it and there are performances.  It’s just a coincidence that there is only a week in-between these two events .
  • The Record of the Year award went home with Kings of Leon for Use Somebody. I’m just happy they won because I’d have some serious beef with the NARAS members if it went to Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Black Eyed Peas or Taylor Swift.  Kudos to Kings of Leon for giving a cool acceptance speech, they told it like it was: “Not going to lie, we’re all a little drunk, but happy drunk”.  They thanked the usual people- their fans, families, God, and their label.  “Whoever else I forgot, I’ll buy you shots afterward”.  I’m still waiting for my shot Nathan Followill.  😉
  • Worst performance of the evening goes to Jamie Foxx singing “Blame It” with T-Pain, Slash and Doug E. Fresh  I felt like it was a variety show, just too much going on at once.  I hate auto-tune.  It can  instantly turn anyone into a rap star, and I think it’s used too often (Jamie Foxx, did you add T-Pain’s Auto-Tune app on your i-Phone?).  If you need to use auto tone, you probably should not be on a stage.  Then Slash walks on stage and a piece of me died.  They could have used any guitar player, (a line of guitar is the only thing that can save a monstrosity of a song like this), but why Slash?  What do you think?  Did Slash take the gig because, well, a gig’s a gig or do you think he likes this song?  Or maybe Jamie Foxx just likes being surrounded by famous people.  I mean, have you seen the video for “Blame It”?  Ron Howard, Jake Gyllenhall, Samuel L. Jackson?
  • What a monstrosity Taylor Swift’s performance was!  I don’t know what the big deal about Taylor Swift is anyway.  I’ve never liked her voice nor thought she was talented enough to be the country pop star that she is today.  How embarrassing to perform with your so-called “idol” and be singing off-key.  Swift is 20 years old and with this performance, proved that she’s not talented enough or ready for the Grammys.  Never mind Jamie Foxx, Taylor Swift just took the worst performance of the evening from you.
  • It’s hard to believe that Bon Jovi has never performed at the Grammys before; it’s even harder to believe they limited his song selection to three choices so that the fans could vote.  I imagine that if I were in a band as awesome as Bon Jovi and performing at the Grammy Awards for the very first time that I would want to choose my entire set list.  They start with “We Weren’t Born to Follow” then joined by Jennifer Nettles for “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” and finish with fan’s choice of “Livin’ on a Prayer”.  I like how no one told Jennifer Nettles to get off stage after her song.  The fans voted on the song, not on her sharing the vocals.
  • Best Rock Album, what a misleading bunch of nominees.  I had no problem with Black Ice by AC/DC, Live From Madison Square Garden by Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood or the winner 21st Century Breakdown by Green Day.  My problem was with someone placing U2’s No Line On The Horizon and Dave Matthews Band’s Big Whiskey & The GrooGrux King in the Best ROCK Album category.  I’m not a fan of U2 or DMB and most certainly would not consider them in the same genre of rock as the other nominees.  Congratulations Green Day, let’s hope 21st Century Breakdown really is the Best Rock Album of the year, and you better knock on wood, find a four-leaf clover and rub a rabbit’s foot that your musical isn’t a flop.
  • Honestly, I think the rumor of Taylor Swift winning Album of the Year because of the Kanye West incident at the MTV Music Awards was true.  After her horrific performance with Stevie Nicks, how could anyone believe she deserves this award?  Granted, I’m not a fan of the other nominees this year, but anyone would have been a better choice than Swift.  Deep down, everyone knew she didn’t deserve this award, even her.