*4.37-PURPLE HAZE (Jimi Hendrix Experience)

Jimi Hendrix Experience


Purple Haze --all in my brain.
Lately things don't seem the same.
Acting funny but I don't know why--
'Scuse me while I kiss the sky [or "this guy"].

Purple Haze all around.
Don't know if I'm coming up or down.
Am I happy or in misery?
Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me.


Purple Haze -- all in my eyes.
Don't know if it's day or night.
You've got me blowing, blowing my mind--
Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?

[Coda: I can’t go on like this / It’s blowing my mind]

Purple Haze was the song that introduced Jimi Hendrix Experience to the world, and popularized a genre of music that would become known as hard rock and thrive far beyond the psychedelic era. There had been premonitions of the form before, in My Generation by the Who, and Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In the Shadows? by the Rolling Stones, as well as in some of the garage or proto-punk groups, like Love, The Seeds, and Velvet Underground. But Purple Haze is where hard rock began to form its own aesthetic, even as it was the perfect psychedelic song in reference to LSD (or so it was understood to be). For a while the two forms, psychedelic and hard rock, both shared the same loud and dissonant blast, the same strident rhythm. Only in the break does Hendrix free himself of the heavy beat, thumping one-note baseline, the primitive triads that hardly make for a melody, and improvise a tune, while the bass guitar creates a memorable repetitive pattern underneath. Purple Haze saw the introduction of the Octavia guitar effects unit, a precursor of the wah-wah pedal, which was used on the lead guitar solo. The unit doubles an audio frequency, thereby essentially adding an upper octave. It was developed by Roger Mayer, an acoustical and electronics engineer, with Hendrix's input. During the song's coda, the guitar part is doubled in speed, which in conjunction with the Octavia, further extends the guitar's upper frequency range. David Henderson (‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, 1981, p. 104) describes this sound in the coda as "an uncanny piercing tone that takes off, Eastern-sounding beyond the range of the guitar." Keith Shadwick (Jimi Hendrix: Musician, 2003, p. 96) observed that the coda’s Octavia distortion "gives the impression that the guitar notes are flying off into the ether."

Sometimes Purple Haze refers to a strain of potent weed. But Owsley Stanley claims he named a kind of LSD after the Jimi Hendrix song and began distributing it at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. Often when Jimi Hendrix references LSD, it is not the gateway to enlightenment, or the blissful pleasure it was to such psychedelic song writers as Donovan, the Beatles, the Byrds and the Beach Boys. He seemed to feel tripping was a dangerous situation, like Neil Young tended to do. It was an experience of emotional confusion, and Jimi Hendrix expressed it through the blues. Jimi Hendrix evokes the closeness of death in the tripping experience, the feeling that he may not see tomorrow. And yet he is also so giddy as to embrace a mondegreen, both of which work to exemplify “feeling funny but I don’t know why”, whether kissing the sky, or “this guy”. He embraced this as a joke despite the homophobia of the period. The only other reference so far to homosexual contact in psychedelic music that I recall (also as a joke) is in Ballad of the Thin Man by Bob Dylan.