Since my aim was to bury both and praise neither, I feel I should be forgiven. But some sort of palliative gesture would seem appropriate, if not imperative at this point.
And so, I turn to one of the few artists of whom I can find nothing negative to say: Jimi Hendrix.
Indeed, the only critique one can make of Hendrix is that he did not live past the offensively young age of 27. Regrettably, when it comes to musicians checking out before their time, there are simply too many tragedies to count. But Jimi Hendrix remains the Alpha and Omega of artists whose abrupt departures leave us inconsolable. Considering that we are still trying to come to terms with what Hendrix did between 1967 and 1971, it is excruciating to contemplate what he would have achieved had he reached even early middle-age.
Art Tatum and the piano. Jimi Hendrix and the guitar.
Take any and all other instruments and let the debates begin, but those two are covered; there is nobody who can make a convincing argument otherwise. When it comes to Hendrix, there is no conjecture: he already did it, but the growth he displayed in only a couple of years is unlike what we’ve witnessed from just about any other musician or composer, ever. We’re talking light years, the universe expanding; real quantum type shit. Put it this way: Miles Davis, who didn’t have many good things to say about the best Jazz musicians, made no bones about his desire to get Hendrix in the studio to jam. That’s like Michael Jordan saying he’d like to play some pick-up basketball with you, or Muhammad Ali asking you to spar with him.
Pure, unfiltered artistry. Unparalleled achievement. Jimi Hendrix did it first, and he did it best. He was, quite possibly, not entirely human. To quote Bill Hicks, Case. Fucking. Closed.
Exhibit A: Pali Gap. If the liner notes are accurate (and why wouldn’t they be?) this was just an impromptu jam miraculously caught live in the studio because the tapes were rolling. Imagine if they hadn’t been? Imagine what other spontaneous jams weren’t captured? Imagine all the jams he never had a chance to create? No, don’t. It’s too painful. All we can do is appreciate what we got while he was here: it’s more than enough to tide us mere mortals over until we punch the great clock in the sky. Is it too much to hope he’s already out there somewhere, waiting for us? Probably. Either way, this world isn’t a particularly terrible place so long as we can still listen.