THE 50(ISH) GREATEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME…

Jimi Hendrix & A Lack Of Experience

Album #5 : Jimi Hendrix — Are You Experienced?

James Beck

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I used to own this album on CD (remember CDs?), I bought it with a gift voucher at HMV (remember HMV?) on a family shopping trip in about 2003 (remember leaving the house?)

Hendrix apparently hated this cover — I can see why, he looks like a vampire.

I bought Are You Experienced? on the recommendation of my older brother, who also suggested it be in this list, and at the reticence of my dad — who didn’t think I would like it. He was right — I was probably about 13 at the time and I didn’t really get it. Weirdly, I then spent close to 20 years deep-diving into the back catalogues of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and pretty much any blues guitarist I could find and somehow, inexplicably, never returned to this album.

If I wasn’t ready to hear it when I was in high school, I definitely am now. Maybe a bit of life experience has taught me something I needed to know, or maybe it is just that Jimi Hendrix was the source of all that other music I love. The beauty of this album is that Hendrix is undeniably one of the greatest guitar players of all time, but Are You Experienced? is not one big self-indulgent jam. The songs are three or four minutes long. They are punchy, they are tight. The solos hit like lightning strikes: “here’s a reminder of what I can do, in case you forgot”.

Purple Haze, all in my mind… (Photo by Micah Tindell on Unsplash)

Incredibly, Hendrix was only 24 when he recorded Are You Experienced? A little over three years later, he would be dead. Hendrix is part of the infamous “27 Club” of artists who died at 27 years old. Other notable members include singer Amy Winehouse, Door’s frontman Jim Morrison, the legendary Kurt Cobain, and Celebrity Big Brother star Jade Goody. When I bought this album first time around, 27 felt impossibly old. Now, it is scarily young.

I will be 32 in May — what extra experiences have I had in the 5 years I have on Jimi? Well, aside from personal milestones, if feels like in the last 5 years the world has gone completely insane. I have seen a referendum on Britain leaving the EU and then the delivery of Brexit, I have seen Donald Trump be voted in, and out, of the presidency. Also, there’s that whole Covid thing.

It feels like we are living through a lot of history at present, so, yes, I think I am now pretty experienced. Too experienced if anything. The relentless nature of news channels, and the fact that there is so much news to report, is exhausting. Plus, there’s the fact that I don’t have anything else to do, go to or talk about. So, news it is! I would love a day like 11th April 1930. On that day, the entire BBC radio news broadcast went like this:

“Today is Good Friday. There is no news.”

*Piano Music Plays*

Hugh Pym is off today… (Photo by Dolo Iglesias on Unsplash)

Whilst the news might be full, sometimes it seems like everyday for me is 11 April 1930. Obviously new experiences have been arrested but sometimes lockdown feels like existing, rather than experiencing. I spend my days waiting; waiting for the weekend, waiting for payday, waiting for parcels, waiting for the vaccine, waiting for cases to come down...

I can now understand why dogs get so excited when the postman comes knocking! One of the weirdest aspects of lockdown life is that I cannot remember the last time I met somebody new in person. I have had plenty of Teams, Zooms and Skypes with people, but I haven’t met anyone’s legs for about a year.

That all might sound a dour but, honestly, I am glad to be living through this period – As I said; it is really history unfolding before our eyes. Something to tell the grandkids!

As perspectives like that show, as I get older I think I am getting a little wiser. Importantly, I also become surer of what I want in life. 13-year-old me didn’t know what he wanted enough to choose an album, let alone make any major life choices. Nowadays… Oh hang on. I’m still randomly choosing albums out of a tin. Ah.

Anyway — I guess by virtue of just sticking around I have gained more life experience. It is like going for a hike: you keep moving forward and upward and you don’t realise how far you have come until you stop and look back. (For example; 10 years ago, that metaphor would have been about getting drunk, not going for a hike).

Mmmm… metaphorical… (Photo by Anders Nord on Unsplash)

And so, having soberly reached a safe vantage point, I can admit that I was wrong about Are You Experienced? and that I have been missing out for all these years. Fortunately, I have a great many years left to appreciate it.

(Also, I know the title song is really about drugs, I am not that naïve).

Thanks for reading — over the course of 2021, I’ll be reviewing 50(ish) of the greatest albums ever recorded. You can see the list here.

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James Beck

(n): Glasgow-based Stopfordian. See also; Books, Sport, Nonsense