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*9.22-BURNING OF THE MIDNIGHT LAMP (Jimi Hendrix Experience)

Jimi Hendrix with sound engineers
Jimi Hendrix with sound engineers

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[Intro]

The morning is dead
And the day is too.
There's nothing left here to lead me
But the velvet moon.
All my loneliness
I have felt today.
It's 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, it 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, all alone.
        (Loneliness is such a drag!)

[Break]

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 circus and the wishing well.
And someone who will buy and sell for me
Someone who will toll my bell.

        And I continue to burn the same old lamp, alone.
        (Darling, can you hear me calling you?)

[Coda]


Burning of the Midnight Lamp was the first song that the Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded using a wah-wah pedal. (There’s a lot of wah-wah in the album Electric Ladyland.) About the same time as Hendrix was recording Midnight Lamp, Eric Clapton recorded his first wah-wah song for Cream, Tales of Brave Ulysses, and released it in the UK as the B side to Strange Brew. However, Burning the Midnight Lamp was released in Britain and in parts of Europe as part of the Summer of Love, and was (to my knowledge) the first A side of a single featuring the wah-wah effect to receive much airplay. It did moderately well overseas, but wasn’t released in the United States until it became a cut on Electric Ladyland a year later. The first time Americans heard the wah-wah on record (so far as I know) was in Cream’s album cut Tales of Brave Ulysses on Disraeli Gears in November 1967.

The musical form of the A section is a repetitive blues riff popular among much rock music from the Rolling Stones’ I Can’t Get No Satisfaction to Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, and beyond. However the length of the riff is longer than usual and is played with the wah-wah pedal guitar accompanied by a harpsichord. (It is reported this was the one and only time that Jimi Hendrix played a keyboard for a record.) This makes for an unusual duet, but the record is rendered even more strange by the inclusion of a woman’s gospel choir, The Sweet Inspirations (who had backed Aretha Franklin records). I believe this is also a first in rock and in psychedelia, except when referring directly to gospel music (as in Neil Diamond’s Thank the Lord for the Night Time). The playing of the wah-wah here is extravagant and extreme, sometimes comical, with far less reserve than Eric Clapton showed in his work. Jimi Hendrix would show a lot more mastery of the wah-wah technique in the other cuts of Electric Ladyland when it is used. According to Wikipedia, the mandolin effect on Burning of the Midnight Lamp is produced by recording two or more guitars playing the same part slowly, then speeding it up so that it plays at double speed on the record, effecting a unique timbre.

The lyrics extend over two quatrains while the melody continues to develop over its length leading to a climatic refrain. They show the poet at the “end of his rope”, ready to abandon his career as a performer because of the loneliness of touring on the road to promote his music. Evidently, yet another woman has just left his hotel room, bringing but brief and specious intimacy, and leaving nothing behind for the poet but a forgotten earring. I interpret the “smiling portrait” to be but a mirror reflection of the singer, a public mask hanging on the “frowning wall” of his private self. He seems to feel that his fate is in the hands of someone else, perhaps a road manager, who besides buying and selling his soul, will also arrange for his death. However, the poet is driven to make art, to “burn the midnight lamp” no matter the sad situation he finds himself in, with nothing but the “velvet moon” to guide him.

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