Unseen Text: Jimi Hendrix, in his own words
Text Type: Interview
Guiding Question: Analyze how Hendrix’s voice and use of language presents opinions in this interview.
Today’s sample response was written by a student, Helena Wang, under exam conditions. While it has been edited for clarity, the ideas and analysis points are hers. This answer contains many strengths; I’d like to draw your attention to the focus on tone of voice. Tone can be one of the hardest elements of a written text to interpret: a spoken interview would include inflection, pace, emphasis, even body language and eye contact, all clues that can help you hear the speaker’s tone. But in your exam you’ll be given a printed text, so you’ll have to use your mind’s ear and inference skills to ascertain a speaker’s tone of voice, should this be relevant to the extract. Read through the text for yourself, and keep track of how you respond to tone. What words will you use: Confident? Nonchalant? Humble? Arrogant? Zealous? Kind? All these words – and more – could be useful in a response to this text. While the interpretation and evaluation below is entirely convincing, remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat. This is especially true when the text is as rich and linguistically interesting as this interview. Your own ideas – even if they differ from the ideas here – can be equally valid.
Music makes me high onstage, and that’s the truth. It’s almost like being addicted to music. You see, onstage I forget everything, even the pain. Look at my thumb – how ugly it’s become. While I’m playing I don’t think about it. I just lay out there and jam. You get into such a pitch sometimes that you go up into another thing. You don’t forget about the audience, but you forget about all the paranoia, that thing where you’re saying: “Oh gosh, I’m onstage – what am I going to do now?” Then you go into this other thing, and it turns out to be almost like a play in certain ways. I have to hold myself back sometimes because I get so excited – no, not excited, involved.
When I was in Britain I used to think about America every day. I’m American. I wanted people here to see me. I also wanted to see whether we could make it back here. And we made it, man, because we did our own thing, and it really was our own thing and nobody else’s. We had our beautiful rock-blues-country-funky-freaky sound, and it was really turning people on. I felt like we were turning the whole world on to this new thing, the best, most lovely new thing. So I decided to destroy my guitar at the end of the song as a sacrifice. You sacrifice things you love. I love my guitar.
Race isn’t a problem in my world. I don’t look at things in terms of races. I look at things in terms of people. I’m not thinking about black people or white people. I’m thinking about the obsolete and the new. There’s no colour part now, no black and white. The frustrations and riots going on today are all about more personal things. Everybody has wars within themselves, so they form different things, and it comes out as a war against other people. They get justified as they justify others in their attempts to get personal freedom. That’s all it is.
It isn’t that I’m not relating to the Black Panthers. I naturally feel a part of what they’re doing, in certain respects. Somebody has to make a move, and we’re the ones hurting most as far as peace of mind and living are concerned. But I’m not for the aggression or violence or whatever you want to call it. I’m not for guerrilla warfare. Not frustrated things like throwing little cocktail bottles here and there or breaking up a store window. That’s nothing. Especially in your own neighbourhood.
I don’t feel hate for anybody, because that’s nothing but taking two steps back. You have to relax and wait to go by the psychological feeling. Other people have no legs or no eyesight or have fought in wars. You should feel sorry for them and think what part of their personality they have lost. It’s good when you start adding up universal thoughts. It’s good for that second. If you start thinking negative it switches to bitterness, aggression, hatred. All those are things that we have to wipe away from the face of the earth before we can live in harmony. And the other people have to realise this, too, or else they’re going to be fighting for the rest of their lives.
I hope at least to give the ones struggling courage through my songs. I experience different things, go through the hang-ups myself, and what I find out I try to pass on to other people through music. There’s this song I’m writing now that’s dedicated to the Black Panthers, not pertaining to race, but to the symbolism of what’s happening today. They should only be a symbol to the establishment’s eyes. It should only be a legendary thing.
My initial success was a step in the right direction, but it was only a step. Now I plan to get into many other things… I want to be part of a big new musical expansion. That’s why I have to find a new outlet for my music. We are going to stand still for a while and gather everything we’ve learned musically in the last 30 years, and we are going to blend all the ideas that worked into a new form of classical music. It’s going to be something that will open up a new sense in people’s minds.
I dig Strauss and Wagner, those cats are good, and I think they are going to form the background of my music. Floating in the sky above it will be the blues – I’ve still got plenty of blues – and then there will be western sky music and these will be mixed together to form one. And with this music we will paint pictures of earth and space, so that the listener can be taken somewhere. You have to give people something to dream on.
- This is an edited excerpt from Starting at Zero: His Own Story (published by Bloomsbury Press in 2013) a collection of materials written and recorded before Hendrix’s death in 1969.
The given text is an extract from a collection of interviews, letters and diaries authored by musical legend Jimi Hendrix. The collection was printed posthumously: Hendrix died in 1969. The fact that this extract was published in 2013 speaks to the considerable fame and influence Hendrix had in the music industry; half a century later people are still interested in reading his words and discovering his unique insights about music and other topics. The writer of this text deliberately appeals to this interest in the subheading he wrote for this article. The heading promises ‘a unique insight into his mind’ and describes Hendrix as a ‘private man’. Readers of this article would no doubt be excited about getting a glimpse into his private and intimate ‘thoughts’ about topics as diverse as his impressions of London, stage fright, racism and his plans for the future (which were tragically cut short). This text somewhat presents an expected representation of a famous musical celebrity as, in places, Jimi seems like an extraordinary creative person, very different from his ‘ordinary’ readers. However, his use of voice and friendly, colloquial language means that reading the interview feels like talking to an old friend from the past.
The first noticeable thing about this interview is the unusual format. Typically, written interviews are published in a question-and-answer format, with the opinions of the interviewee being guided and led by the interviewer. However, apart from the subheading and caption, the only voice that appears in this interview is that of Hendrix. This creates a text more like a diary than an interview, with the reader getting the feeling they are drawn into his private thoughts. The heading explicitly calls attention to this feature, stating the interview is all ‘in his own words’. The writer doesn’t intrude, so the text unfolds quite naturally, shifting from topic-to-topic in the manner of an easy and relaxed stream-of-consciousness, rather than a formal interview. As well as embodying the way thoughts and ideas jump and flow naturally, the format allows the reader to imagine being inside Hendrix’s mind, escape from reality and delve into his ‘thoughts’. Being the recorded words of someone from the past, the text also opens up a bridge between the living and the dead, creating a whole new type of ‘them-and-us’ dichotomy.
It is his personal thoughts that would no doubt appeal to readers the most. Hendrix seems like a person who is able to express his thoughts freely, without inhibition. This is evident in the way he describes the feeling of performing onstage: he uses the metaphor ‘music makes me high.’ The word ‘high’ is easily associated with drug use, a topic that is taboo in the public eye, and the association is furthered when Hendrix says he is ‘addicted to music’. Hendrix uses it to mean how music has a powerful transformative effect on him, the lexical field of drug-use means his audience might also bring negative connotations to this language. However, Hendrix seems confident in his tone of voice, unbothered by how the wider world might perceive him. This confidence is also present in phrases like ‘I just lay out there and jam’ which suggests an ability to relax and trust himself. The overall effect is hard to quantify. On one hand, this kind of relaxed and non-judgemental language use draws Hendrix closer to his readers, who may identify with his experience. His admission that he suffers from ‘paranoia’ and stage fright also create the impression he is just like you and me. On the other hand, his ability to ignore taboos and speak in a controversial way sets him apart from ordinary people who may have to speak more carefully.
Nowhere is this dichotomy more evident than when Hendrix’s thoughts jump into the subjects of race and racism. One surprising statement he makes is that ‘race isn’t a problem in my world.’ This phrase is quite explicit in setting Hendrix apart from ordinary people who have to contend with such problems on a daily basis. His use of language is almost an admission that some celebrities get to inhabit an entirely different ‘world’ where such problems don’t exist or, if they do, have less impact on him as an individual. Also, his personal viewpoint about race is unique. He says, ‘I don’t look at things in terms of race’ and ‘I’m not thinking about black people and white people.’ Actually, his use of language in this section of the interview is quite assertive. He declares his opinions strongly (‘race isn’t a problem… there’s no colour part now’), using little words such as ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’ to give his opinions the tone of factual statements. No doubt from his point of view these statements are true, but they are still subjective.
However, despite his admission that he is able to stand apart on the issue of race, he still proposes a world view that his readers can get behind and support. He describes the violence of racism and protest in negative terms, and this section of the interview employs the language of battle and war: ‘it comes out as a war against other people; aggression or violence; throwing little cocktail bottles… breaking up a store window.’ Jimi Hendrix lived through a period of civil rights activism that was defined by the opposite approaches of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. King preached pacifism and peaceful protest whereas Malcolm X called for the ‘ballot or the bullet’, advocating violent action if necessary to achieve equality and true emancipation. In this interview, Hendrix aligns himself with King’s pacifist approach. He states strongly, ‘I don’t feel hate for anybody.’ In fact, he reveals a truly humanist and empathetic side when he considers the experience of people who ‘have no legs or no eyesight or fought in wars.’ He repeatedly rejects violence, reiterating later that ‘if you start thinking negative it switches to bitterness, aggression, hatred.’ While not an overtly persuasive piece, I can imagine readers nodding along in agreement as they read Hendrix’s thoughts in this section.
Hendrix’s thoughts eventually circle back to music, and it is arguably this section that readers of the interview might be most interested in. It becomes clear that Hendrix sees music not only as a personal challenge (he earlier described his achievements metaphorically as a ‘sacrifice’) but also as a force for good in the world. He wants to ‘give those who are struggling courage through my songs.’ Despite his reluctance to support violent protest, he is writing a song ‘dedicated to the Black Panthers.’ He depicts music as a healing force that can carry wisdom: ‘what I find out I try to pass on to others through music.’ Compared to the previous section of the interview, his tone is a lot more mellow and the language of violence and struggle lessens the more he talks about his music.
Yet, despite his attempts to depict himself as one of the people (‘I experience different things, go through hang-ups myself’), it’s this section of the interview that most sets Hendrix apart from his ordinary readers. His language use mixes slang and colloquial phrase such as ‘hang-ups’ with grandiloquent language such as ‘symbol’ and ‘legendary’. He may try to speak in a humble tone of voice, but his ambition is anything but humble: he declares, ‘we are going to blend all the ideas that worked into a new form of classical music.’ Jimi plans to create an entirely new musical genre! He calls his sound ‘beautiful-rock-blues-country-funky-freaky’, hyphenating his descriptions to imply that there’s nothing else like his music. His confidence and self-belief is conveyed through anaphora: ‘we are going to… we are going to…’ And finally, he uses a metaphor to describe his music in visual terms that are both dreamlike and magnificent: ‘we will paint pictures of earth and space, so that the listener can be taken somewhere.’
In conclusion, despite the way that, for large parts of the interview, Jimi comes across as a down-to-earth, calm, and even nonchalant person, the interview ends in such a way that one is left astounded by the force of his creative vision and certainty. This dichotomy can be seen most clearly in the way he aligns himself with revolutionary historical composers such as Wagner and Strauss. While he calls them ‘cats’ in a friendly and colloquial way (‘I dig Strauss and Wagner, those cats are good’), the very fact that he sees himself as a modern equivalent to those musical visionaries suggests that Jimi Hendrix was anything but ordinary.
Categories:Paper 1 Analysis