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The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (III) – “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” January 14, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Burning of the Midnight Lamp, Jimi Hendrix, lyrics, music commentary, rock music.
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(This is the third 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.)

This is another song, like “The Wind Cries Mary,” consisting of words that sound good together, and shouldn’t be pulled apart too much with analysis. But one set of lines is one of my favorite song lyric passages in any song:

“It really doesn’t, really doesn’t bother me
Too much at all
It’s just the ever falling dust
That makes it so hard for me to see”

I have plucked these words out of the second verse, right out of context.  I just like the way these words flow together.

The song is about being alone. The title line has us picturing someone working hard on something, in the wee hours of the night, and into the next morning. The situation is overwhelming in some way, “just a little more than enough to make a man throw himself away.” But there is hope, expressed at the end of the song. The tone is gloomy, but there is some uncertainty at the end hinting that matters might improve. This is expressed with incredible poetic eloquence:

“Soon enough, time will tell
About the serpents in the wishing well”

We have wishes. Serpents lurk within those wishes. No one knows what the results will be when the serpents and wishes collide.

As it with the other Jimi Hendrix songs, the music adds to the effect. Oddly juxtaposed chords follow the simple straightforward introductory riff that sets up the tonic. The verses then follow the riff: IV-II-♭I-III, then I (but after those moves, it doesn’t feel like I anymore)-V-II-IV, then IV-#IV-V (Hendrix’s trademark two-step chromatic move up). Then, after all those wild moves, the verse sits on the V chord before going back to the opening riff in the tonic key.  The shifting chords give the dark lyrics a great musical backdrop.

“Burning of the Midnight Lamp” was not one of Hendrix’s best known songs. I believe it was on the back of the “All Along the Watchtower” 45 single. But I recall playing this song over and over, more than the Dylan cover, enjoying the souped-up psychedelic arrangement, the poetic lyrics, and the inventive chord progression that seems to verge on going out of control, but somehow shifts back to home.

Complete lyrics to “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”:

The morning is dead
And the day is too
There’s nothing here to meet me
But the velvet moon
All my loneliness
I have felt today
It’s just a little more than enough
To make a man throw himself away
And I continue to Burn the Midnight Lamp, alone

Now the smiling portrait of you
Is still hanging on my frowning wall
It really doesn’t, really doesn’t bother me
Too much at all
It’s just the ever falling dust
That makes it so hard for me to see
That forgotten earring laying on the floor
Facing coldly towards the door
And I continue to Burn the Midnight Lamp, alone

Loneliness is such a drag

So here I sit to face
That same old fireplace
Getting ready for the same old explosion
Going through my mind
And soon enough, time will tell
About the serpents in the wishing well
And someone who will buy and sell for me
Someone to toll my bell
And I continue to burn the same old lamp, alone

© 1967 Jimi Hendrix 

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

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