Are you Experienced
Experience is the death of the illusion of greatness; Jimi Hendrix is not the greatest guitar player ever, but he is great. Enter Are You Experienced.
This album hits all my major emotional beats. It has variety, all the way from blues (Hey Joe, Red House), to Psychedelia (Are You Experienced?, Third Stone from the Sun), to hard rockers (Manic Depression, Purple Haze); covering lyrical ideas such as mental illness, aliens, drug use, and the transformative power of love. All the musicians are at the top of their game, with Noel Redding dutifully holding down that bass, and Mitch Mitchell effortlessly drumming to the style, from jazz to beating the shit out of those skins.
There is something bewitching about the character of James Marshall Hendrix—the way his guitar is a part of him, the way he sings so confidently. It’s a powerful magic, especially for a loner like me, who has always failed with women. I’m not experienced. The way he can so enthrall motivated me to study his technique, so that maybe I could have that power: to enjoy the fruits of a relationship, to not be alone.
So I studied, and obsessed.
My obsession took me to corners I had never anticipated: classical guitar of John Williams, the understated brilliance of Nick Drake, heavy metal shredding, electric, acoustic, slide, fretless, and E-bow— I came to love the guitar deeply. My fingers came to caress strings like an old lover, restringing a personal therapy.
Then Jimi’s spell broke. And my heart got broken one too many times.
You hear someone’s soul translated into chords and melodies; you hear hopes, dreams, and desires; realizations, fears, and terrors...
I had learned the simplicity of technique that Hendrix employs. I saw the illusion for what it was. I mourned. It is a hard truth when greatness’ veil lifts, and you see the pulleys that move underneath. I came to see my desire for love as an illusion as well, a lack experience that gave undue weight to my desires.
Fortunately, some other things happened too. I asked why 3000 albums are the greatest of all time, and I started thinking about it. I started examining relationships from the lens of isolation. Then Hendrix’s greatness became clear—he is himself.
This album is great for one profound reason: When you listen to it, you aren’t just hearing great guitar and awesome music, you hear Hendrix. You hear someone’s soul translated into chords and melodies; you hear hopes, dreams, and desires; realizations, fears, and terrors; you hear the unquantifiable instant that was Jimi Hendrix. The illusion of greatness falls away to reveal the truth: a man made into music.
This is, perhaps, the single most important quality of a great album, the power of art to take things that do not live and breathe the illusion of life into them.
I’m no closer to romantic solace, and I’ve torn down the illusion of its greatness, but I hold it dear. I’ve stopped trying to look for greatness in my art too, I don’t need illusions. Instead, I’m looking for me, to find my voice. The rest is secondary.
And as far as things go, this album is a great place to start.
Until I’m stone free.