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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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3 comments

(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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The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (V) – “Axis: Bold as Love” March 26, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Axis Bold as Love, Jimi Hendrix, music commentary, poetry, rock music, Uncategorized.
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(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.)

Colors-First Verse

“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.

Colors-Second Verse

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. 

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Axis: Bold as Love

Axis: Bold as Love

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (IV) – “Up from the Skies” February 26, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Jimi Hendrix, lyrics, music commentary, rock music, Uncategorized.
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(This is the fourth 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.)

In his jazzy, bluesy “Up From the Skies,” the song’s singer approaches us—he just wants to talk to us. He seems to be familiar with us, but has been separated from us for awhile, maybe for eons, maybe returning from another world. (This is also implied by the juxtaposition of “Up From the Skies” just after the opening album-cut of “Axis: Bold as Love”—“EXP,” which refers to UFOs.) The singer is puzzled by what he finds as he encounters us. Through his questions, he comments on contemporary humanity:
• Why are we living on a “people farm,” in “cages, tall and cold?” With this inquiry, the traveler implies that the world we have designed for ourselves lacks a sense of free spirit.
• What happened to the “rooms behind your minds?” It looks to him like they’re empty, like a “vacuum,” though he considers he could be missing something. He asks if it is “just remains from vibrations of echoes long ago,” things like loving the world and letting “fancy”/enjoyment flow, which he implies are now missing Have we given up joy and embraced some form of dull, stifling rigidity? He keeps asking— “Is this true?” He wants to engage us to find out.
• He acknowledges he was here before—“the days of ice.” He could mean the Ice Age, eons ago, or just a cooler period.
• He has returned, and now finds “the stars misplaced, and “the smell of a world that has burned.” These are wonderfully poetic images that could mean many things. “The stars misplaced” could mean the world has changed locations. It could also be an astrological comment, that the future we should be enjoying has not arrived, that our path has been changed, not for the better, maybe irrevocably.
• “The smell of a world that has burned” could also have various meanings. In the late 1960s, nuclear annihilation was a persistent fear. Has this narrator returned after a nuclear holocaust? In “House Burning Down,” (a song I will discuss in a later post), he offers some similar images. The “burning” could refer to the casual violence some people appear willing to inflict on others. I do not believe this is an early reference to global warming, even though we have “days of ice” followed by a “the smell of a world that is burned.” This song came out about a decade before fears of a new Ice Age, and well before global warming became an environmental concern. I do suspect the references to “the world that has burned,” refer to some sort of human violence.
• Though puzzled, the singer is utterly fascinated with the changes he has seen, “the new Mother Earth,” and he wants to “hear and see everything.”

The bouncy to tone of the song implies that the singer is not agitated by these developments, though they seem to be dark, disturbing developments—“people farms,” “living in cages,” “smell of a world that has burned,” “the stars misplaced.” The song’s singer’s attitude of whimsical curiosity also suggests a detachment—he does not consider himself part of this world he is observing. The simple chords and driving beat combine with the music to create the glib flippant tone of the strong: IV7-I7 (with a few added 9ths thrown in), one key change up to step to another set of IV7-I7 moves, with a bridge that is just the V to the IV, cadencing back to I after a brief instrumental. It’s a simple musical backdrop for deceptively provocative lyrics, creating a wonderfully intriguing internal contradiction.

Complete lyrics of “Up From the Skies”:

I just want to talk to you
I won’t do you no harm
I just want to know about your diff’rent lives
On this here people farm
I heard some of you got your families
Living in cages tall and cold
And some just stay there and dust away
Past the age of old.
Is this true?
Let me talk to you.

I just wanna know about
The rooms behind your minds
Do I see a vacuum there
Or am I going blind?
Or is it just uh, remains of vibrations
And echoes long ago?
Things like “love the world” and
“Let your fancy flow”
Is this true?
Let me talk to you
Let me talk to you.

I have lived here before
The days of ice
And of course this is why
I’m so concerned
And I come back to find
The stars misplaced
And the smell of a world
That has burned
A smell of a world
That has burned.

Yeah well, maybe it’s just a… change of climate
Well I can dig it
I can dig it baby
I just want to see.

So where do I purchase my ticket?
I’d just like to have a ringside seat
I want to know about the new Mother Earth
I want to hear and see everything
I want to hear and see everything
I want to hear and see everything 

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Axis: Bold as Love

Axis: Bold as Love

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.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

(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.

Electric Ladyland

Electric Ladyland

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (II) – “The Wind Cries Mary” December 8, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in Jimi Hendrix, lyrics, music commentary, rock music, The Wind Cries Mary, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , ,
9 comments

(This is the second 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.)

I will admit; unlike “Castles Made of Sand,” I have no real clue what these lyrics mean. And, I think it could be a mistake to bollix them up with some sort of forced meaning. Poetry can simply be the music in the words or phrases, the way they combine, the sound they make as they glide from line to line. “The Wind Cries Mary” offers us those types of lyrics.

Of course, please comment if you have discovered a meaning you think is present. I will gladly add other perspectives to the commentary I am offering in this post.

My favorite phrase highlights;

“You can hear happiness staggering down the street”

  • I’m not sure what this means, but somehow I can picture it without explaining it, especially the way Jimi Hednrix delivers the lyrics.

 “A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife”

  • This is the one verse that does seem to crystalize with a specific meaning. The king and queen have somehow lost each other, or something special to them. And the rhyme of “wife” and “life” would seen forced in most circumstances. But here, the flow of the lyrics causes us to conclude there is other no rhyme possible here.

“The traffic lights turn blue tomorrow”

  • Hendrix was a bluesman—the traffic lights, the flow of traffic, of life, are caught up in the blues.

 “The tiny island sags downstream
’Cos the life they lived is dead”

  • I can picture a little island dragged by a river current out of its position—displaced. Whatever life that island, those people, that reality had—is gone.

“Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past
With this crutch, its old age and its wisdom
It whispers, ‘No, this will be the last.’”

  • Again, I hate to try to pin this down to a precise meaning. But the verse feels like a final verse, somehow nostalgic, bittersweet, with a wise old man making his way through a breeze, slowly, with little time left but with all the time in the world, listening to the wind answering the question at the beginning of the verse.

 “The Wind whispers/Cries/screams Mary”

  • I have no idea how to put the feeling of this into words. It means something felt more than understood, like the song. The song lopes along through the verses, but the chorus halts punctuated with ♭VII-♮VII-I chords gliding up, an easy move on the guitar. It’s that hesitation before getting back to I that gives the chorus its halting quality. The verses ooze along with V-IV-I, finishing with II to V, but then won’t settle on I right away, slipping back to ♭VII-♮VII-I before getting there. “Mary” starts on the ♭VII, as if it can’t start out settled.

I invite comments on these posts about Jimi Hendrix, and look forward to other ideas about this unique, wonderful artist, whom we wish had lived long enough to create much lyrics and music for us to experience.

_______

The complete lyrics for“The Wind Cries Mary”:

After all the jacks are in their boxes,
And the clowns have all gone to bed,
You can hear happiness staggering on down the street,
Footprints dress in red.

And the wind whispers Mary.

A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life.
Somewhere a Queen is weeping,
Somewhere a King has no wife.

And the Wind cries Mary.

The traffic lights turn blue tomorrow
Shine their emptiness down on my bed
The tiny island sags downstream
‘Cos the life that they lived is dead.

And the wind screams Mary.

Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past
With this crutch, its old age and its wisdom
It whispers, “No, this will be the last.”

And the Wind cries Mary.

© 1967 Jimi Hendrix

 Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Are You Experienced - Jimi Hendrix Experience

Are You Experienced - Jimi Hendrix Experience

 

Previous “Poetry of Jimi Hendrix” post:

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (I) – “Castles Made of Sand”