Hurray I awake from yesterday
Alive but the war is here to stay.
So my love Catherina and me
Decide to take our last walk through the noise to the sea
Not to die but to be reborn
Away from the lands so battered and torn.
Oh say can you see it's really such a mess
Every inch of earth is a fighting nest
Giant pencil and lipstick-tube shaped things
Continue to rain and cause screaming pain
And the Arctic stains from silver blue to bloody red
As our feet find the sand and the sea
Is straight ahead. (2x)
Well, it's too bad that our friends can't be with us today.
The machine that we built would never save us (that's what they say).
(That's why they came up with this thing.)
And they also said it's impossible for a man to live and breathe underwater
Forever was a main complaint.
Yeah and they also threw this in my face--they said
Anyway you know good and well it would be beyond the will of God
And the grace of the king. (2x)
So my darling and I make love in the sand
To salute the last moment ever on dry land.
Our machine it has done its work and played its part well
Without a scratch on our body when we bid it farewell.
Starfish and giant foams greet us with a smile
Before our heads go under we take our last look at the killing noise--
They’re out of style. (2x)
So down and down and down and down
And down and down we go.
Hurry my darling; we mustn't be late for the show.
Neptune champion games to an aqua world is so very dear.
Right this way smiles a mermaid.
I can hear Atlantis full of cheer
Atlantis full of cheer (3x)
Electric Ladyland has two cuts that play for over thirteen minutes: Voodoo Chile, the longer of the two at fifteen minutes, is a live hard rock performance steeped in the blues (a contender for best guitarist virtuoso performance with Eric Clapton’s Crossroads on Cream’s Summer 1968 album Wheels of Fire). Voodoo Chile indicates the direction Jimi Hendrix would go after leaving Noel Redding and the Experience configuration of group members behind. 1983 is the most successful large scale psychedelic studio construction of the classic period. There weren’t really many contenders: Psychedelic Masterworks notes among its possible peers are The End by the Doors; Brown Shoes Don’t Make It by the Mothers of Invention; A Day in the Life by the Beatles; When the Music’s Over by the Doors; and A Very Cellular Song by the Incredible String Band. But 1983 was the most thoroughly composed as a symphonic piece, with jazzy improvisations for seven minutes portraying underwater acoustics. The other songs aforementioned have a feel of two or more songs brought together in order to add up to something greater than its parts. Like its shorter cousin, the Experience’s Third Stone from the Sun (on the Are You Experienced album) the length is made from extended instrumental parts, so much so that its effect is that of an instrumental in which float an archipelago of verses. This too is different from other successful psychedelic constructions of length, which grew from an accumulation of various melodies to accompany the lyrics.
Jimi Hendrix was a master of communicating the movement of fire (see House is Burning) and water (see May This Be Love) on his guitar. It is my belief that sonically this song best expresses the “otherness” that psychedelia was seeking, frequently through either the metaphors of outer space or being underwater. Third Stone from the Sun had communicated the outer space experience. But even more expertly, through engineering Chris Wood’s flute, Mitch Mitchell’s various drum rhythms and Hendrix’ own extreme range of expression on guitar, 1983 makes the listener “experience” being underwater in a manner other pychedelia of underwater adventure (Yellow Submarine by the Beatles; Moonlight Mile by the Doors; Tales of Brave Ulysses by the Cream; Dolphin’s Smile by the Byrds) weren’t able to extensively elaborate upon through sound.
The story the lyric tells is that of escaping a sort of apocalypse on earth by developing a “machine” which would enable humans to breathe underwater. The singer and Catherina, using the machine, return to Atlantis, a mythological place favored by hippie cosmology (Donovan released a hit song Atlantis in March 1969). Jimi Hendrix’ loud guitar and martial beat depicts the “noise” of war on land. "Oh say can’t you see it’s really such a mess", suggests the thing that is “such a mess” is America. As if innocent of all knowledge of war, Hendrix sings of “giant pencil and lipstick-tube shaped things” instead of bombs. The B section growls at the doubters in society that claim the miraculous can’t be done for the survival of mankind; that claim making even an effort dependent on a machine rather than nature would be “beyond the will of God”. I suspect the unnatural “machine” is to be found in the use of hallucinogens of some kind. Things get quieter, whispering and ringing as the singer and his woman begin to walk into the ocean. The seven minute break is full of quiet intriguing sounds, various rhythms and tonalities, even loud guitars and squealing flutes once in a while, all to describe the underwater experience. When the song returns to the A section of the lyric, the words emphasize the falling chord in the melodic structure of the verse (a prominent formation in psychedelic music) by making the form express a gentle floating down into the depths. Atlantis is oblivious to the wars on the surface, and “full of cheer”—a description that reminds me of Christmas, making Neptune take on a bit of the aspect of Santa Claus, a child’s deep symbol of trust in the goodness and generosity of the universe.
One may wonder why, at the time of the composition, Hendrix chose to give form to an apocalyptic vision that is dated fifteen years into the future. 1983 seemed far away in 1968, but close enough to be in the audience’s lifetime. I suspect the date was chosen as the year before 1984, as that is the title of well-known dystopian novel written by George Orwell and published in 1949. Hendrix seems to suggest that before Orwell's Big Brother censures your mind against thought crimes, humanity needs to find an escape from the inevitable—either by colonizing another planet or living under the sea, hidden from view. 1983 offers a happy, miraculous escape from the feeling There must be some way out of here [Bob Dylan: All Along the Watchtower].