Hendrix from Outer Space

We’re on Hendrix overload here at Reverb today. A rather different take now, but one that really should be shared, by the brilliant Robert Harrison (below) – Dante scholar and professor of Italian at Stanford University – who sees neither London nor New York (never mind Jimi’s birthplace, Seattle) as the places that can really inform our apprecition of Hendrix.

Robert Harrison
Robert Harrison

No … no, no, no. Jimi, you see, was from Outer Space. I am going to post the audio here – there’s a play button at the bottom of this post. Don’t be put off by the fact that Prof. Harrison dips into the thoughts of St. Thomas Aquinas now and again. It all makes perfect sense in the end. Here is a flavour of his take, which was broadcast on his show Entitled Opinions (Stanford University Radio, KZSU):

“[Jimi’s] obsession with outer space; his obsession with everything that had wings – be it birds, be it angels, and be it flying saucers – all this seems to me enourmously interesting. But there’s very little in the biography that can account for it. Could the elements account for it?

I believe there’s no question Jimi Hendrix was an aerial spirit. That there was a spirit of the air – that out of the four elements (earth, water, air and fire) he had a special affinity with air … I would be more comfortable with an elemental analysis of his music than a biographical one … In the final analysis, I think it was this affinity with the air that made him believe that he had – himself – extraterrestrial origins. And we have to take him seriously when he suggests – in that weird language of his – that he actually came from elsewhere.

From one point of view he was entirely human: he was a kid from Seattle; he was the son of his parents … but from another point of view things really aren’t so simple. All we know for sure is that when Jimi burst on the London scene in the mid-60s it seemed to everyone in that city that he had come from another planet.”

MP3: Robert Harrison on Jimi Hendrix (Entitled Opinions, 2009)

The programme lasts around one hour and features clips of Hendrix music, voices of various people (Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend), but mostly Robert Harrison doing what he does every week on Entitled Opinions – i.e., thinking aloud, waxing philosophical and bringing a measure of wonder back into the world.


By John Scanlan

John Scanlan is the Series Editor of Reverb with Reaktion Books.