I think we can all agree Jimi Hendrix was a weirdo. That’s not an insult, but love songs written by weirdos tend to be a bit of a mixed bag. Especially the sorta weirdo who would try to break you for your girl dead in front of you. Jimi was that sort of weirdo (read a story once of him trying to pull Marianne Faithful dead in Mick Jagger’s face and saying “I don’t care about Mick”).
And weirdos do stuff like explain love through the colors of the rainbow, and they don’t bother to make sense until the end of the second verse. And, when the weirdo’s as good as Jimi, they somehow find a way to make it work.
There’s no real science to “Bold as Love.” It rambles around that loose, chromatic theme. It “ends” twice, with a 360-degree rising crescendo of drums in between. It’s the good and the bad. Purple anger and green envy are casually mentioned before the “live-giving” blue waters. And all, as titled, are bold. So are the good things. So is his red confidence and yellow fear. It’s classic Hendrix, fully immersed in whatever he felt or played at the time, even if this one song meant being immersed in them all at one time.
Sure, the whole greatest-guitarist-ever thing is why we’ll always remember Jimi, but that emotion is why we think of him as such. You can go find guys who can do all kinds of twisted shit with they fingers, and you can find folks who can play every note Jimi played and then some. But no one, ever, has been able to tap into the feeling of a song with his guitar like Hendrix. Where so many see the best guitar player as the one who can most blow your mind, Jimi remains the greatest at moving the soul.
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It’s that quality that grounds his often abstract lyrics. Behind “Bold as Love” are notes that dance behind the verses, his characteristic style of breaking down chords into their component parts so nothing gets lost. The solos aren’t fast or necessarily impressive. They’re just perfect, picking up from his confession of love and exploding in something between an expression and a release.
And if you didn’t understand him the first time, he cranked it up again.
The name of the game in music will always be emotion. Great singers make you feel them. Great instrumentalists move you as they make you move. Jimi, awkward though he could be while singing, was great at both. Because no matter what weird shit he was on, you had to feel it. There was no other choice because he had no other choice. He was too confident in his difference, too comfortable in his insecurities, to do anything else. The acknowledgment of fear didn’t require that he bow to it. Love was bold, so he had to be, also.
And he always was. His one guitar did the work of two men. On “Bold as Love,” he did enough feeling for two, also. Except it was always just him. Just his willingness to ride out the dissonant voices inside all of us. But he wasn’t torn between them. He wasn’t even stuck in the middle. He brought it all with him, and whatever else he couldn’t carry was in his guitar case.
He was the best because he was everything, and he said it all, regardless of how it sounded when it came out. He had his guitar to say the rest.
And we heard him, loud and clear.