The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (V) – “Axis: Bold as Love” March 26, 2011Posted by rwf1954 in Axis Bold as Love, Jimi Hendrix, music commentary, poetry, rock music, Uncategorized.
Tags: Axis Bold as Love, Jimi Hendrix, music, poetry, rock music, song lyrics as poetry
(This is the fifth 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 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.)
We could spend a lot of time looking at these lyrics, charged with wonderful ambiguity and poetic force. Overall, two features of the lyrics are striking—the use of colors, and the reference to the all-knowing Axis, “Bold as Love.” And can we assume that Jimi Hendrix felt this song was important, with his second studio album named after the song, a song that did not get as much attention as others on this album? (Or did some record company executive make this decision?—Hendrix experts, I welcome your comments.)
“Anger, he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armor.”
- Purple often means royal—is this a person of status or power who enjoys being angry, who enjoys dominating through that anger?
“Queen Jealousy, Envy waits behind him…”
- As if to galvanize that anger, this angry powerful person calls on “fiery green” Envy (capitalized in the album lyric sheet), Queen Jealousy—she “sneers at the grassy ground.”
“Once happy Turquoise armies lay opposite, a ready…”
- And so his anger is used to galvanize these armies, and the blue “life-giving waters” seem resigned to this. The armies, the troops, aren’t so sure. They are turquoise—a combination of blue and green—a combination of the life-giving waters and green envy. We feel the implication that this fight may not take place.
We shift now from a description of others to a more personal perspective. Is Hendrix referring to one of those troops, “wondering why the fight is on,” or is the singer the one “towering in shiny metallic purple armor?” The song could work either way.
“Red… confident… trophies of war and ribbons of euphoria”
“Orange… young, full of daring… unsteady for the first go-round”
- The colors start with a powerful color, red, a seeming confidence. But as the verse proceeds, doubts creep in, and that confidence fades. Red, to red/yellow (orange) to-
“My yellow in this case is not so mellow…”
- The folk-singer Donovan handed him this one, which fits right into the creeping doubts! This is generally the color of cowardice. He is not emphasizing the “unsteady for the first go-round”—that would be green, already used for envy in the first verse. So it’s cowardice. What is the singer afraid of?
“…giving my life to a rainbow like you.”
- When I first heard this, I heard it as a romantic, boy-girl type commitment, and thought the line reduced the impact of the song. But I do not believe that is what Hendrix was talking about. He may be deciding whether to join forces with that smiling anger. The “rainbow” implies that the person or entity he is going give his life to is also multi-faceted, with shades of doubt, like his.
Axis: Bold as Love
All those colors, those different elements of the singer’s make-up, those turquoise armies and blue life-giving waters—if we want to know about them, we can just ask the Axis, the all-knowing Axis. The Axis will tell us if all these elements are “Bold as Love,” and the implication is he will agree they are. So what is this “Axis?” The only conclusion I can come up with is the obvious one, that he refers to a profound spiritual force—possibly God. And God knows all these aspects, these colors, are “Bold as Love.”
So to me, the song places the affairs of humans within the purview of the spiritual force, with love as the key to understanding it. I admit, there could be other interpretations. It is another Hendrix song with a wonderful flow of lyrical images. I invite comments with other interpretations!
Again, the music with the words adds to the effect. The chord progression is simple, as well as the song’s construction. The first half of the verses are I-V-vi-IV (there’s a move down to I with the third in the bass used as the transition to the second half of the verse). This is a very tame, major-key, gentle set of cords. The second half of the verse creates a little more tension. To create this tension, Jimi Hendrix makes a very simple “blues” move. He takes the whole chord progression up a perfect fourth. That simple. Hendrix often described himself as a bluesman. This psychedelic song uses a blues move. So the second part of the verse is IV-I-ii-♭VII. The ♭VII introduces the flat 7th of the tonic scale, allowing a little edge to creep in. It also allows that signature Hendrix chromatic move up from ♭VII to ♮VII to I to transition to the chorus, which is virtually the same as the verse, but with the ♭VII chord instead of the IV chord at the end of the progression. Then the chorus has a tag: I-ii-♭VII/♭VII-♮VII-I.
Complete lyrics of “Axis: Bold as Love”:
Anger he smiles towering shiny metallic purple armour.
Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him.
Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground.
Blue are the life giving waters taken for granted,
They quietly understand.
Once happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready,
But wonder why the fight is on.
But they’re all, bold as love.
Yeah, they’re all bold as love.
Yeah, they’re all bold as love.
Just ask the Axis.
My red is so confident he flashes trophies of war
And ribbons of euphoria.
Orange is young, full of daring but very unsteady for the first go ’round.
My yellow in this case is no so mellow.
In fact I’m trying to say it’s frightened like me.
And all of these emotions of mine keep holding me
From giving my life to a rainbow like you.
But I’m bold as love…
Well, I’m bold, bold as love.
Hear me talkin’, girl.
I’m bold as love.
Just ask the Axis.
He knows everything. Yeah, yeah.