Interview avec Jane de Mendelssohn : 11 mars 1969"TALKING ISN'T REALLY MY SCENE. PLAYING IS."
AN INTERVIEW WITH JIMI HENDRIX By Jane de Mendelssohn (International Times)
By March 1969 Jimi Hendrix was at the top of his game. Still brimming with the success that The Experience's third studio album, Electric Ladyland had brought them, and the immensely successful performances at London's Royal Albert Hall on February 18th and 24th. Hendrix was poised not only to convert the recordings made at the Royal Albert Hall into a proposed live release, his creative influences were now focused on his next studio masterpiece, First Rays Of The New Rising Sun—a spectacular double-LP set that unfortunately, Jimi would never live to fulfill.
With success surrounding Hendrix at every turn, he was always the subject of much media attention. On March 11, Hendrix was interviewed by Jane de Mendelssohn of The International Times – an event conducted in the relaxed settings of Hendrix's Brook Street apartment. This was a time when interviews did not have to be done under the watchful guise of management and where, in this case, arrangements were made for Jane to simply knock on the artists' front door and go in for a face-to-face interview. The results of the interview would become subject of a feature she would simply title, "Hendrix: As Experienced By Jane de Mendelssohn;" and live forever as an 'experience' that she would soon not forget. "I was very surprised that, when I got to his flat in Mayfair, he opened the door in the nude,"
explained de Mendelssohn after the meeting. "I followed his naked torso up the stairs to the first floor. As soon as he got into the room, he got into bed. Quite a strange way to start an interview with a famous pop star—or anyone else come to that."
But despite the awkward setting that she found herself in, Jane gradually eased into the situation and soon found herself talking to one of the world's biggest pop stars less about music, and more about the uncomfortable topics of violence, propaganda, and the establishment. "Most of the interview was conducted with Jimi in bed and me sitting on the side of the bed,"
says de Mendelssohn. "I got the feeling he was quite insecure. When I asked him about his family, he didn't want to talk about it. Also, it was quite clear all along that if I wanted to go to bed with him, I could have just got inside. He never touched me, but it was 'understood', free and easy. But I didn't—it was a question of pride. I didn't want to be seen as a groupie…"
And when all was said and done, Jane de Mendelssohn had her story and a memory, "[that] I came away feeling I'd met somebody."
JANE DE MENDELSSOHN: Tell me about your Indian heritage.
JIMI HENDRIX: Well, my grandmother's a full-blooded Indian, that's all. She used to make clothes for me. And everybody used to laugh at me when I went to school, you know, the regular sob story. She's full-blooded Cherokee [laughs].
JANE: And is she still around ?
JIMI: Yeah. Up in Seattle, Vancouver, British Columbia now.
JANE: And does she live on a reservation ?
JIMI: No, she lives in a groovy apartment building. She has a television and a radio and stuff like that. She still has her long sliver hair, though.
JANE: Can't you tell me something about the whole Indian heritage scene? I don't know much about it.
JIMI: It's just another part of our family, that's all. There's not too much to know. There's a lot of people in Seattle that have a lot of Indian mixed in them.
JANE: Do they still take peyote?
JIMI: Oh yes, it's all over the place. It's mostly around the Southwest and all that, around the desert areas, you know. But you know all Indians have different ways of stimulants, their own step toward god, spiritual forms, or whatever…which it should be kept as, nothing but a step, mind you.
JANE: What I'd really like to ask is… well, you're very big these day's you've become a real pop giant…
JIMI: Oh don't tell me those things [laughs].
JANE: Everybody's writing about you, talking about you, you won the Rolling Stone magazines Performer of the Year award. I want to know how it all affects you as a human being.
JIMI: Well, I' m trying not to let if affect me at all. It's nothing but a brand, it's the way the public identifies me probably with them, but I don't think that way and it's like any body else, I just happen to have a chance to be heard.
JANE: Does it touch you ?
JIMI: Yeah, it touches me and so forth.
JANE: Do you feel that is cuts you off at all ?
JIMI: Yeah, a lotta times. I can't have fun like anybody else. I used to be able to go somewhere, down to the Wimpy or something like that, you know earlier on, but most of the time I go down there now there's always people asking for autographs, somebody looking at me really strange, you know, whispering and all that. So then, quite naturally you get complexes about that. My head's in a position now where I have to take a rest of else I'll completely crack up pretty soon, in the next few hours or days … [laughs]
JANE: D'you think it's true that teenyboppers don't go for you so much as the sophisticated heads ?
JIMI: I've found out that just by looking for myself you know, that you'll find almost anybody in our audience. You see a nine-year-old and you see a ninety-year-old, all ages anywhere we play. You find all kinds of people there. You find a lot of straight people there, so therefore we Play twice as loud just to see where they're really at, and they dig it, the louder the better, they're just not getting into the fact that it does make you drunk if you let it.
JANE: Do you get hustled a lot by people wanting bread and hanging on your door ?
JIMI: Oh constantly, yeah I try to treat everybody fairly but if I did I wouldn't be able to buy another guitar. So therefore I just don't go around too much, expert when I find a certain little scene going, and just go there if I want to go anywhere. But I stay in bed most of the time, or go to the park or somewhere. That's where I write some of my best songs, in bed, just laying there. I was lying there thinking of some when you came in. A really nice piece of music that I'm getting together for this late-summer LP that I'd like to with this cat named Al Brown, in America. It's called. The First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, and it gives my own solution. You know, anybody can protest, for, instance, like in records or whatever you use your music for, anybody can protest but hardly anybody tries to give a decent type of solution, at least a mean-time solution, you know.
JANE: You've got the reputation for being moody. I was almost afraid to come.
JIMI: Moody? Oh that's silly. [laughs] I shouldn't say that. That's what you're supposed to think. The establishment, they project a certain image and if it works, they have it made. They knock down somebody else for instance, you know, like saying I'm moody or so-and- so is evil or saying blah blah woof woof is a maniac or something, so that everybody gets scared to actually know about me. So that's part of the establishment's game.
JANE: You were quoted in the Sunday Mirror as saying that it was time for a change from the pretty song The Beatles made, time for something else.
JIMI: Aah. I don't know if I said that. Which paper is that in? Sunday Mirror. Well, most of those papers are all screwed up anyways, they come over here and they do their interviews, we turn the cats on, you know, give 'em wine and all that, and they go back and they're so stoned they don't know what they're writing about. No, I don't say nothing like that. I wouldn't, there's no reason to.
JANE: What do you think about The Beatles ?
JIMI: I think they're excellent and fantastic writers and musicians and so forth, you know.
JANE: Do you think their era of enormous influence has passed? Do you think another big influence is moving in ?
JIMI: Well…yeah, people are starting to get a little more help to music nowadays. It's not so easy to throw hogwash on anybody. The Beatles are doing their thing. I think they're going toward the past a little more. There's a lot of people that's waiting for something else to happened now anyway.
JANE: Don't you think it's you ? I've got this feeling.
JIMI: Me ? [laughs]
JANE: Well, it seems to me to be moving down to the animal, and that's what you are. The Beatles aren't animal.
JIMI: The Beatles are part of the establishment. They're starting to melt that way too. We must watch out. It's just like a young cat protesting in school, for instance, saying, "That's not right, this is not right," so he goes out and says something about it and everybody says, "Yeah man, that's what it's about man, we're with you." Soon as he reaches about twenty- five years old and starts getting into the establishment scene, you know, he got his degree and all this, and now he's a lawyer or whatever he wants to be, and all this feeling for everybody else, well he forgets it himself because he's comfortable now, he's nice and fat and got his little bib together, so then he just forgets about the younger people, all his friends, what they used to say when they were in school, and he melts into part of the establishment. And that's not saying nothing bad about a person at all, it's just the scenes some people go through. Compare that with The Beatles music, that's the way I look at it. It's like a person who starts out with something really on fire, you know, but now they're still good, as a matter of fact they're better than they used to be, you know, but they seemed a little more closer to the public beforehand. Now they're doing things, like for instance "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" bang bang shoot shoot and all these little songs.
JANE: D'you dig that ?
JIMI: Not necessarily, no.
JANE: What about violence ?
JIMI: I don't dig it too much, no. It's best to have violence on stage and watch it through TV than do it yourself. So what we do, we get up there and like, I found that it worked both ways; we'd do our thing, you know, and so many people would dig it, would really be turned on by it, and they don't bother their old ladies as much when they get home. They don't beat their old ladies up as much [laughs] because there's hardly anything left in them. We try to drain all the violence out of their system. That's why you watch wrestling matches and football games, you get it all out of your system, unless you want to do it for real yourself, and then you'd be a violent person. Bad. Bad.
JANE: Well, what about violent trends in America today, The Black Power scene saying, "We've tried everything else, now we're going to slam you, baby ?"
JIMI: Well, that's what the establishment's waiting for, for people to start fighting against their own selves like for instance black against white, yellow against pink, and all that. But that's not the idea of the thing, the idea is against the new and the old, and the establishment causes this by playing games.
JANE: Well, in fact the establishment seems to get frightened by all this violence in the States because…
JIMI: Propaganda, propaganda, everyone has their own brand of propaganda…
JANE: It still seems that if you burn down a few warehouses in The States today…
JIMI: Oh they should burn down more, I think.
JANE: Well right! That's what I was asking you !
JIMI: They should burn down the whole area.
JANE: Would you do it if you were there ?
JIMI: Well if I wasn't a guitar player I probably would, yeah. I'd probably be in jail, 'cos like I get very stubborn, like with the police. I used to get into arguments with them millions of times, they used to tell me to be quiet and I just CAN'T be quiet, there's no reason to be, especially if I have something to say. So I'd probably wind up getting killed. But I have to feel those things. I hear about violence and all that, but really for me to say anything about that…I just can't jump on the bandwagon just because it might be happening today. 'Cos like for instance how they exploit and prostitute the groupie scene, you know, that's a violent scene, it's the same thing.
JANE: But you must have an enormous amount of energy and if it weren't coming out through your music, maybe you'd be very violent.
JIMI: Well, I am very violent anyway, in defense, you know.
JANE: How liberated do you think you are ?
JIMI: You mean free? I don't know. That's pretty hard to say. In music we get to do anything we want to do. But I get restricted when I get around a lot of people sometimes, or even with one person too long.
JANE: What, on a head scene ?
JIMI: Yeah, like for instance on a love scene. If I stay with one person too long, I feel more obligated than I do pleased, that makes me, as it were, have to get away. So I don't know how free feeling you can get if every time you turn around you might be with somebody. Like if you're writing a song or something like that, and you want to get the words down or you're thinking about something, and all of a sudden these people pop up…not saying you, because I'm digging this interview. And at least it's a different face [laughs].
JANE: It was surprisingly easy to get an interview with you. I mean if you want one with Paul McCartney it can take weeks to set it up.
JIMI: Well, maybe 'cos I'm not Paul McCartney. You get a lot of… oh no, I shouldn't say that.
JANE: Why not ?
JIMI: There's a lot of things I shouldn't say. But you have time, don't you. Great, we can get into a whole lot of things. There's this thing I was writing, LP sleeve notes for one of our LPs. We've got about three lined up now. Now we're trying to get them released but everybody else wants us to be released stars and so forth, so now we have to do this film, like round in August or something like that, and even before that we have to do an American tour, April and May, and we'll only have just a few weeks to edit these recordings that we did. Can I play some of those from the Albert Hall to you ? Yeah ? Can I ? Is that all right ? What was the question? I forgot. What was we talking about ? Oh yeah, about being hard to see folks and all that. That's silly, that's the stupidest game you could ever play. It's not like, "Oh can't see you today, far too much on, tomorrow baby…"
JANE: All your songs seem to be directed at chicks. Is that form personal experience ? For instance, there's one phrase, "I wanna make you mine." What d'you mean ?
JIMI: Oh, just the cat would like to make love to you, that's all, whoever's singing the song, you know.
JANE: D'you see him as somebody else, outside of yourself ?
JIMI: Well, sometimes. I don't look at it as me singing the song, I look at it as anybody singing the song. It's hard to say. I Just don't put myself in all those positions 'cos I've already been through them already, all the things I like to get into myself personally, but in the meantime I can write down some other experiences, yeah, you're right, like you say. But I don't necessarily use those direct words when I'm talking to somebody [laughs]. I don't say, "I wanna make you mine."
JANE: Sometimes, it all depends. A lot of times I write a lot of words all over the place, anywhere, on matchboxes, or on napkins, and then sometimes music comes across to me just when I'm sitting around doing nothing. So I go back to those few words if I can find them and you know, just get it together. Sometimes it all happens at the same time. All depends on what you might want to say. Different moods you might be in...
JIMI: Yeah, definitely. Sometimes, there's things I'd like to say. A lot of songs are fantasy- type songs so that people think you don't know what you're talking about at all but it all depends on what the track before and after might have been. Like you might tell them something kinda hard but you don't want to be a completely hard character in their minds and be known for all that ' cos there's other sides of you and sometimes they leak onto the record too, you know, that's when the fantasy songs come in. Like for instance "1983" – that's something to keep your mind off what's happening today but not necessarily completely hiding away from it like some people might do, with certain drugs and so forth.
JANE: But is this awareness actually conscious when you write this song, or you write it, listen to it, and then realize what motivates you afterward ?
JIMI: Well, honest-to-God truth, on the first LP I didn't know what I was writing about then. Most of the songs, like "Purple Haze" and "Wind Cries Mary," were about ten pages long, but then we're restricted to a certain time limit so I had to break them all down, so once I'd broken the songs down I didn't know whether they were going. to be understood or not. Maybe some of the meanings got lost by breaking them down, which I never do any more, it's such a drag.
JANE: Your songs don't tend to be analyzed and intellectualized by reviewers like for instance The Beatles' songs.
JIMI: Mmm, which is kinda good, because our songs are like a personal diary.
JANE: Well, it's just this basicness in your music that makes me see you as the innovator of a new era.
JIMI: Yeah, but that's how it should be in any scene though. Like I said about the carpenter, if he really digs that he should put all his heart into really getting that together, if it means going to school or whatever it means. And in music, you gotta say something real just as quick as you can. I just say what I feel, you know, what I feel, and let them fight over it, if it's interesting enough. But that's the idea of it, make it very basic. During a certain age which was past not so long ago they started getting really superficial, and the music started getting too complicated, and in order to get into that you have to really be true to yourself, and none of those cats were doing that, they just put sounds here or sounds there. I don't seem like I'm busy 'cos I'm just sitting here, but after all, being busy can be just sitting here in this kind of scene, you know. I haven't had no time off to myself since I've been in this scene. People just make me so uptight sometimes, but I can't really let it show all the time because it's not really a good influence on anybody else. Oh no, don't take any pictures now 'cos my hair's all messed up. I just hate pictures, it always comes back on me later on. People are always saying, "D'you remember that picture that was in the so-and-so?" and I say, "No I don't ****ing remember it.'…Some music is such bull**** nowadays, and that's why there's so many good groups going towards establishment because it's comfortable there, it's not so hard, you don't have to keep scuffling for the test of your life. I couldn't even save up some money and go to the hills, because there's always problems, you know, always hang-ups. Most people would like to retire and just disappear from the scene which I'd LOVE to do, but then there's still things I'd like to say. I wish it wasn't so important to me, I wish I could just turn my mind off, you know, forget about the scene. But there's so much rubbish going by and for us trying to do our thing, there's so much rubbish said about us. I'd like to get things straight in this interview. I spend most of my time just writing songs and so forth, and not making too much contact with people 'cos they don't know how to act. They act just like the . . . the pigs that run these places, you know . . . countries. They base everything on the status thing, that's why there's people starving, because humans haven't got their priorities right. I don't feel like talking to most people because they're just bulls****ing, they don't even know the difference between us and the Cream, for instance, or Blue Cheer.
JANE: Do you still take acid ?
JIMI: Not necessarily, no. I don't get a chance to get into all that because I'm writing songs and so forth. Anyway I just used it for certain things, as a step towards seeing it both ways, if you like.
JANE: Do you feel good onstage ?
JIMI: Oh yeah, I love to be onstage, not necessarily onstage but I love to play, that's why we play so loud 'cos it makes us feel good anyway.
JANE: Does the atmosphere in the audience affect you to the extent of changes the way you play ?
JIMI: It never changes me to a negative feeling. I just ignore the negative feeling 'cos I know exactly what I'm doing when we're onstage, you know. And if the audience doesn't dig it, well, I don't know, there's nothing else we can do. Like you say, music is what it's all about, it's not us three up there facing about fifteen thousand people, it's the sound we make that are important. Oh I can't explain, you know what it is, you're not daft.
JANE: Well, I know what it is to me, your music is something In the middle between us, a medium between human beings, and the groovier the music the faster the communication.
JIMI: It's all spiritual. Except when the eardrums come...
JANE: Can you get outside of yourself enough to see the picture other people must see ?
JIMI: Yeah, I like kids. I guess I like them any age. It's a drag to grow up because you're not really growing up, you're just losing. You're only as old as you think you are, as long as your mind can still function openly you're still young.
JANE: D'you mind getting older ?
JIMI: Not at all, no.
JANE: Can you think of yourself as being eighty ?
JIMI: Not too much, no. I don't think I'll be around when I'm eighty. There's other things to do besides sitting around waiting for eighty to come along, so I don't think about that to much.
JANE: And death. Does it bother you?
JIMI: No, not at all. This is only here we're going through, you're not even classified as a man yet. Your body's only a physical vehicle to carry you from one place to another without getting into a lot of trouble. So you have this body tossed upon you that you have to carry around and cherish and protect and so forth, but even that body exhausts itself, so you get into a whole lot of others scenes, which are bigger. This is nothing bit child's play---so— called grown- ups. Children don't play games. Well they do, but adults play the more serious games that can get people killed for no reason at all. People who fear death ----it's a complete case of insecurity, That's why the world's screwed up today, because people base things too much on what they see and not on what they feel.
JANE: They don't even know what they feel.
JIMI: Right. Well, it's time for a direction.
JANE: And did you have this awareness before you made it or has money made a difference ?
JIMI: Well, listen, I could have stayed at home. I could have stayed in L.A,., but I just couldn't stay in one place too long because I wanted to see other things. That's why I went in the Army beforehand when I was sixteen, so I could really get all that mess over with and concentrate on the music I play, which calls for travelling all over the place in my own way. I travel most places without any money actually. And so when the money comes along, well, it's just another part of living really. I don't dig the way the world's going these days, but it's nice to get experience out of it, that's the money, that's what I consider riches.
JANE: And do you believe that you can change anything, anybody ?
JIMI: Well, the idea is trying. But I'm just gonna do it...
JANE: It's really down to your music, isn't it ?
JIMI: Yeah, that's it, that's what we're talking about. Music. Talking isn't really my scene. Playing is. There's certain people on this Earth that have the power to do different things, for instance in the Black Power movement they're using it wrongly. But in the musical movement you can't call that using it wrongly 'cos that's a natural talent. Protest is all over with. It's the solution everybody wants now, not just protest. The Beatles could do it, they could turn the world around, or at least attempt to. But you see it might make them a little more uncomfortable in their position. But me, I don't care about my position. What I have to say I'd be glad to say it. You see it comes out in my music, and then you have to go through scenes like the releasing of an LP and you can't release one every month, and you can't do this and you can't do that. And all the public-image bit . . . in my book it doesn't have to move along. People should get out of images and all that, and start getting into their own gigs, and so forth whatever they can, in their own bags, you know instead of laying back and digging someone else and saying "Oh wow! Oh wow! Look at that! Such imagery!" and all that ****. That's what made me cut my hair off because of this being a slave to the public and all that, you know. ... I used to dig all these scenes with the clothes and the hair and all that but then people start misusing those scenes as our image and all that, which it is, but it's nothing to talk about, it's just the way I felt like going through according to my own taste. But then people start trying to prostitute that idea, and it gets to be a hang-up. You find yourself almost running away. You have to grab hold of yourself. People, they don't give me inspiration except bad inspiration, to write songs like " Crosstown Traffic" and all that 'cos that's the way they put themselves of me, the way they present themselves.