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The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (VI) – “House Burning Down” May 26, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in House Burning Down, Jimi Hendrix, music commentary, poetry, rock music.
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(This is the sixth 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 everything 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.)

For me, “House Burning Down” has some connection to “Up from the Skies” (recently discussed at this blog). In “Up from the Skies,” the narrator of the song returns from somewhere, maybe from space, to “the smell of a world that has burned.” This song seems to me like a prequel to “Up from the Skies”—consciously or unconsciously.

Again, we have the narrator of the song arriving at the scene and asking what is going on.  And no one seems to know! There is smoke, there is hell-fire red, flames creating a ghostly whine—and no one knows what is going on! In addition to that, this ignorance is casual. The narrator does eventually tell us “the truth is straight ahead so don’t burn yourself instead—try to learn instead of burn…” This comes after someone emerge “from the crowd nineteen miles high” and adds to the mess. I have to say, I’m not sure why the narrator says “we paint red through the sky.” It may be he is admitting getting momentarily caught up in the “burning” before offering his message of “learning.”

At the end, “a giant boat from space” comes in and takes “all the dead away.” Is this the arrival of the narrator from “Up from the Skies,” coming to “the smell of a world that has burned?”

It appears to me the song expresses the preference for refraining from “burning” anger which leads to destruction. He calls for mutual understanding—“learning instead of burning.” He wrote his songs at the time of the specter of nuclear war hovering over the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, and phrases in the song allude to nuclear bomb type destruction. But “learning instead of burning” is a great phrase for our time, or any time, as well.

Musically, Hendrix again perfectly joins sounds to words. The “Look at the sky turn a hell fire red” chorus starts the song as nearly shouted over pounding attention-getting rhythms and the I chord, with an added flat 7 flat 11 (a common blues chord allowing both the major and minor third of the key to be sounded at once, creating a bluesy dissonance). It’s the less reflective, more emotional part of the song, a call for immediate consideration. To get to the more reflective portion of the song, there is a sudden move down in major seconds and an abrupt shift of key to a major second lower than the original key. Now the background chords and rhythms are more subtle, with more room for tasty licks as the narrator processes the events around him and comments. This is a simple minor key progression—i-i-i-i/iv-iv-iv-iv/i-i-iv-v/i-iv-i—. He then jolts us with a sudden move back to the chorus. There is no transition. He jolts us right back to the hell fire red because it is a jolting image!

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Electric Ladyland - Jimi Hendrix (CD)

Electric Ladyland - Jimi Hendrix (CD)

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Comments»

1. mickey funk - March 7, 2012

the trumpet blew and the voice said “get up”
he, who is 1 step off the ground is none other than jesus christ who came back for the dead but could not touch the earth on the mount until after the world has burned and he returns to set up his kingdom

Lee - May 1, 2014

Ok guys, here’s the truth of this song. I don’t have words in front of me to dissect but I will give you the gist of this tune. Hendrix was affiliated with the Panthers at this time ((1968 when MLK was shot & killed) song discribed the aftermath of the burning and lootin that was in major cities across America which depicts black folk feelings and attitudes (painting red to the sky) of anger and expressing themselves with arson, lootin and rage. Hendrix message tells them try Learnin instead of burning. If you looked at the skies across N.Y., CHGO, Detroit and other major cities or even on the newsreels you’d be Looking At The Sky Burn A Hell Fire Red y’all. Check it out read the lyrics now. It was happening right at that time. My family was involved in all this mess I regretfully remember. And the grace of the (ML)King at the same time/same album. Now, what do you really think Machine Gun was all about (written fresh after Fred Hampton and Mark Clark was cut down with machine guns 12/04/69) that’s why he played that song with so much passion and anger.
Hendrix was serious during these times don’t get it twisted with Up From The Skies! Now this was even more serious.about Jesus coming back here to this here people’s farm (earth).
.

mickey funk - May 13, 2014

ok, lee
i agree with you
and with all the drama, maybe it was time for “a giant boat from space landed with erie grace had come and taken all the dead away”
mickey funk


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