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Editorial intern Sean addresses the musicians of the Fox Valley by reflecting on a famous event in our collective musical history.
The 18th of this month will mark the 45th anniversary of one of rock 'n' roll's most pivotal moments. This special moment is the night in which Jimi Hendrix set his pink Stratocaster ablaze during the climax of the Experience’s set at the 1967 Monterrey international pop festival.
Everyone has seen the footage. There he is, kneeling over his guitar, with a bottle of lighter-fluid soon to emptied; a crowned prince of the hippies. The results are magnificent, even from a non-musician's perspective, and appreciation of his showmanship is hard to deny by anyone. Such an ending is appropriate for Hendrix, whose life can be viewed in comparison to the act as a short-lived but exciting combination of fire and destruction, resulting in equally powerful and vibrant music.
This occurrence is one of the handful of stereotypical Hendrixisms in which the general public forms their opinion of the late guitarist. Along with his rendition of “the Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, and other quirks, like his ability to solo with his teeth, have placed Hendrix in the minds of many as a musician whose spontaneity and sexually-charged playing stand unmatched.
His personal life is rooted in half-baked late-sixties folklore, inspiring myths of the man who is so readily bundled together by said public with his lazy hippie cohorts. But a closer look into his life reveals stories of a perfectionist who tirelessly mashed his fingers into the fretboard day and night, looking for the perfect lick. A man who not only partied with the hippies, but who spent many long hours in the studio, working well into the night. Rehearsing his material, thinking about his future shows.
Many times more than naught, he could be found wandering the streets of London, shuffling in and out of clubs, eagerly looking for someone to jam with. All in an attempt to stay fresh. To be as flexible a player as possible. To be as, if not more, knowledgeable in music than any of his contemporaries. Just about every interval of his free time was spent with a guitar in hand, or at least nearby. It would be painfully obvious to state that he was well-rehearsed when it came to that six stringed instrument, but the blatant nature of that statement is only true because of his strenuous efforts to be the best that he could be. Both as a musician, and as a performer.
What many do not know about Hendrix, or this performance for that matter, is that he was also well-practiced in setting his guitars on fire. Prior to gaining fame in the United States, he was wildly popular in Europe. It was here that while on tour with the Walker Brothers (an American pop group), on March 31 of that year that he first subjected his guitar to the fiery spectacle.
Initially beginning as a cute publicity stunt, the act would garner such a enthralling reaction from his audience, that he felt compelled to repeat the action at many shows to follow, one guitar after another would be doused in lighter-fluid, and lit. To all of Europe, he became admired for what would become his gimmick. This pyromaniac repetition allowed for his relative ease that can be seen as he did it less than three months later at the festival, as it was just another show where he could shock the audience something fierce. Going through the motions, he, by that time, knew exactly what he was doing. He not only practiced his set lists, but he also practiced how to properly destroy the instruments.
The significance of this moment at Monterrey serves as a moment when Hendrix broke into the mainstream media of the United States. Before that, he was largely ignored by many here, often times having to take the role as a side guitarist for other acts like Little Richard or the Isley Brothers. It was a squealing guitar with its smoldering strings that helped established Hendrix as a wild man of rock 'n' roll, the sensationalism of the burning sky-rocketed him into the upper framework of fame, but it was a routine of intense practice and a lifestyle of diligence to music that placed him on the stage in the first place. In short, he put the "work" in "working musician."
That being said; with Hendrix's career being one of exceptional dedication, and with his breakthrough moment soon to be 45 years in the past, I would like to now turn to an auspicious note and address the musicians of the Fox Valley. For you I pose these questions:
How does Hendrix's career inspire you?
How has hard work paid off in your music?
Is fame or artistic satisfaction your primary goal?
What does it take to achieve either?
How is it possible today to achieve both?
—By Sean Lyons
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