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The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (I) – “Castles Made of Sand” October 19, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in Castles Made of Sand, Jimi Hendrix, lyrics, poetry, Uncategorized.
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(This is the first of a series of posts about the lyrics of rock super-guitarist Jimi Hendrix. This is certainly what I meant when I introduced this blog and said “So my readers should expect all kinds of digressions, everything from some musical musings to an off-the-wall comment about the world.” I am a musician as well as a writer, writing and performing. I cover nine Hendrix songs (here is a current playlist of what I perform with my drum-bass machine set-up). This series of posts is not about songs like “Foxey Lady” and “Little Miss Lover.” A handful of Hendrix songs glisten with a lyrical inventiveness, uniquely poetic and musical, words and music existing in a smooth symbiotic combination. The lyrics drip and glide through the songs the way Jimi Hendrix’s guitar notes drip and glide through auditory space. These will be the songs I will discuss in these posts. Of course, these posts represent my interpretations of these lyrics. This is not an exact science. Your comments, agreeing and disagreeing are invited.)

The song for this post is “Castles Made of Sand” from Jimi Hendrix’s “Axis: Bold as Love” album. The song presents three little stories, followed with the refrain “And so Castles Made of Sand fall/melts/slips into the sea, eventually.” The stories might seem to be unrelated—a man crying not to end a relationship with a lady, an Indian brave killed in a surprise attack the night before his first battle, and a crippled young girl wishing to die. But there is a unifying theme. All three of these people are thwarted from achieving their desires. The crying man is left sobbing at the door. The Indian brave dies in his sleep on the eve of battle after dreaming of his first battle “for many moons.” And the crippled young girl wants to die. A “golden-winged ship”—an apparent metaphor for heaven, in my opinion—passes her by.

And the song’s title, the tag line after these stories, lets us know that all ambitions/achievements/goals, thwarted or not, fade away eventually. Sure, the tone of the song is dark. (Or is the song saying that since everything fades away eventually, these disappointments don’t matter? This is not clear, and I suspect the ambiguity is deliberate, another effective aspect of this song.) But the art of it, the way the music and words slide together in unison to create that effect of falling, of melting, of slipping, of rising out of a sandy beach to stand magnificently but not permanently—all of this makes “Castles Made of Sand” a treasure of a song.

The music contributes to the drift between the angst and acceptance reflected in the lyrics. The verse starts on a VII chord, a jolting, dark harmonic move. The chords then slide up to a ii, and down to a vi, hinting at a gentler mood. But the quick cadence of VII to V to I yanks us back, saying “no, this will be dark after all.” The chorus follows the same pattern, with gentle leads sliding around the V chord, offering the hint of that gentle mood again. But the move to the IV chord with juicy suspensions using the flat 7th of the key pull us right back to that darkness again. The cadence to the tonic (I) chord at the end of the chorus still won’t rest as a quick succession of riff/chords pulse through it.

This combination of music and poetry make “Castles Made of Sand,” one of Jimi Hendrix’s greatest songs, though it is one of his less celebrated. My childhood recollections are that this is the first song from “Axis: Bold as Love” I heard on the radio. (I was at the record store as fast as I could get there to buy it. This was also my reaction when I first heard “Purple Haze” off of his first album. No one else was making music like this.) So someone back then also thought “Castles Made of Sand” was a treasure of a song. Let me know if you agree as well.

*******

The lyrics to “Castles Made of Sand”:

Down the street you can hear her scream “you’re a disgrace”
As she slams the door in his drunken face
And now he stands outside
And all the neighbors start to gossip and drool
He cries “oh girl you must be mad”
What happened to the sweet love you and me had
And against the door he leans and starts a scene
And his tears fall and burn in the garden green

And so Castles Made of Sand
Fall in the sea
Eventually

There was a young brave who before he was ten
Played war games in the woods with his Indian friends
And he built a dream that when he grew up
He would be a fearless warrior Indian chief
Many moons past before the dream grew strong
’Til tomorrow he would sing his first war song
And fight his first battle but something went wrong
Surprise attack killed him in his sleep that night

And so Castles Made of Sand
Melts into the sea
Eventually

There was a young girl whose heart was a frown
’Cause she was crippled for life and couldn’t speak a sound
So she wished and prayed she could stop living
So she decided to die
She drew her wheelchair to the edge of the shore
And to her legs she smiled you won’t hurt me no more
But then a sight she never seen made her jump and say
Look, a golden-winged ship is passing my way
And it really didn’t have to stop
It just kept on going

And so Castles Made of Sand
Slips into the sea
Eventually

© Jimi Hendrix 1967 

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Axis: Bold as Love

Axis: Bold as Love

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