His music—liquid lightning guitar runs, slippery chord progressions, entrancing stereo phasing, and cosmic dream-drenched lyrics—suggested a medium operating outside the bounds of ordinary reality.
Veteran San Francisco media personality Steve Wagner was co-host, writer, and executive producer of the Bay Area television programs Reel Life and Filmtrip.
Steve has ghostwritten several published books, contributed articles on music, film, and popular culture to numerous publications, and presented lectures and workshops on music, art, and mythology throughout the U.S.
His book All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and Gods of Rock (2019), a study of the classic rock era through the lens of classical mythology, is the product of ten years of research and composition.
Day seven of our rock archetypes countdown commences with the magician, Jim Hendrix, who transformed the guitar into a shamanic tool and magical wand. Pete Townshend of the Who describes the totemic import of the instrument and specifies its significance for Hendrix: “The guitar gave me something that was more than something on which you played a tune.… [This] was definitely true for Jimi Hendrix. As a Shaman, which he was, he was able to channel light or something.” Below is an excerpt from All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and Gods of Rock that explores the magical contribution of Jimi Hendrix to the mythic rock pantheon:
Released in May 1967 in the UK and three months later in the US, Are You Experienced enthroned Hendrix in the upper reaches of rock royalty—he would soon thereafter assume the mantle of world’s highest-paid performer. A dazzling showman (playing the guitar left-handed and upside down, to boot), his use of controlled feedback, distortion, flanging, chorusing, and the recently-invented wah-wah pedal quilted a sonic tapestry unlike anything heard previously. His music—liquid lightning guitar runs, slippery chord progressions, entrancing stereo phasing, and cosmic dream-drenched lyrics—suggested a medium operating outside the bounds of ordinary reality.
“’Scuse me, while I kiss the sky.”
Hendrix’s most iconic song, “Purple Haze,” announces Are You Experienced with a dissonant intro—a jarring and somewhat sinister sounding triad of notes rarely employed in prior twentieth century popular music. Known as the “Devil’s Interval,” the tri-tone produces a restless sound that elicits a feeling of unresolved tension (it has since been employed in many now-omnipresent hard rock riffs such as Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”).30 The song then marches to a strident, anxious beat until catharsis comes in the form of Hendrix’s unforgettable turn of phrase: “’Scuse me, while I kiss the sky.” With this evocative line, Hendrix infers the shaman’s inter-dimensional ability and intimate relationship with the sky gods.
Transcending the sense of underlying energy and the point of direct experience that is beyond the physical world, the logic of the brain, and, most frustratingly, language.
Representing the deeper feminine qualities of inner wisdom and intuitive process, concerns of ecology and equality, possession of hidden knowledge, and emphasis on truth and integrity, attributes of countless mythic goddesses of the ancient world.
Everything we experience in our material world is realized and created through a dance with its opposite.