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Hendrix and Handel

Dear Friends,

Jimi Hendrix was born into a poor family in Seattle the day after Thanksgiving, 1942. In late 1961 — on November 3, according to some sources — Hendrix formed a band called “The Casuals.” He had just been discharged from the army, having suffered an injury during a parachute jump. He was known by fellow servicemen as a loner who slept with his guitar. He loved Elvis Presley growing up. His father always hated the idea that his boy dreamt, so unrealistically, of a career in music. The Casuals played at clubs on Hendrix’s base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He was 19 years old.

A half dozen years later, Hendrix was playing a Soho club that included, one memorable night, audience members Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. This was the time and London was the place — the guitar capital of the world. Hendrix biographer Charles R. Cross says Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney may have also been there the night Hendrix stormed the scene. Miles Davis became a Hendrix fan.

There’s a new play (Opens in a new window) running in Seattle that tells the story of Hendrix’s life as a kid. Ahead of what would have been his 80th birthday on November 27, a new Jimi Hendrix Experience Live album, titled “Los Angeles Forum: April 26, 1969, (Opens in a new window)” is scheduled for release on November 18 on 2LP vinyl, CD, and all digital platforms.

Here’s (Opens in a new window) “Purple Haze” from the famous LA concert. There was a threat of unrest at the Forum that day. Hendrix told the crowd “to sit down and be cool.” He changed the words “’scuse me while I kiss the sky" to “’scuse me while I kiss that policeman,” a touch of humor that apparently helped defuse things. Police were lined up between audience and stage.

Here’s (Opens in a new window) Beck showing an interviewer how he liked to play Hendrix’s “Little Wings.”

Hendrix used a Fender Stratocaster, flipped upside down and restrung for left-handed playing. He liked a Marshall Super Lead amp, a Vox Wah, and various gadgets — I mention for the sake of the true experts like Giselle Donnelly — such as the Octavia. It’s not merely a fuzz pedal, says Roger Mayer (Opens in a new window), who introduced Hendrix to the Octavia: “The sound … is about mirror imaging; you’ve got twice as many [wave] peaks as you would normally have, and that’s what gives the frequency doubling effect. It sounds alien, but it also sounds human.”

“The idea,” Hendrix said, “was not to get as complicated as you can, but … music has to go places.” He said he liked to play raw, which reminds one of Janis Joplin, born a year later than Hendrix in Port Arthur, Texas. They both died at age 27, Hendrix in Britain in Notting Hill.

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I’m noting briefly here important recent work by American Purpose friends:

Martha Bayles has a fine review (Opens in a new window) of Mark Pomar’s book Cold War Radio in the Wall Street Journal.

Evelyn Farkas urges increased and enhanced military assistance (Opens in a new window) for Ukraine in the Boston Globe.

Giselle Donnelly has been insisting on the same, here (Opens in a new window) for The Dispatch.

Bill Galston argues (Opens in a new window) in the Wall Street Journal that a strained alliance must rally to stick by Ukraine this winter.

Bob Zoellick explains (Opens in a new window) in the Journal how Russian cash can sustain Ukraine through the winter.

Uli Speck explains (Opens in a new window) in a paper for Ralf Fücks’ think tank in Berlin how Germany’s Russia policy is upended.

George Weigel warns (Opens in a new window) against the new authoritarianism and a world without rules and order.

Jon Rauch wrote (Opens in a new window) for The Atlantic in August on the Orbanist vision of Trumpists. It’s worth re-reading in advance of next week’s midterm elections.

Steven Hill sees (Opens in a new window) Elon Musk as a threat to democracy.

Daniel Stid writes (Opens in a new window) about the importance of networks in democracy.

Mathilde Fasting hosts (Opens in a new window) former editor of The Economist Bill Emmott on her podcast on the struggles of liberal democracy.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies has issued recommendations (Opens in a new window) on how the U.S. must support the brave people of Iran.

Larry Haas has been a long-time, staunch supporter of robust assistance (Opens in a new window) to the people of Iran.

Joe Horowitz’s recent book on Black classical music has just won an important award. You can read about the award here (Opens in a new window).

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Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel share something in common. They both lived in the same Mayfair house in London, at 25 Brook Street. It’s a museum (Opens in a new window) today. Handel from Halle moved in during the summer of 1723. As a foreign national he was unable to purchase property or take a long-term lease, but his status eventually changed. The German “Händel” became a naturalized British citizen in 1727. He made his career in London and died in the Brook Street house in April 1759.

It’s the time of year when Handel takes over many of our churches and concert halls. We’ll all have ample opportunity to hear Messiah on stages, in elevators, at holiday parties, and in hotel lobbies — the Hallelujah chorus in any case. I’m finishing with three gems from Handel you might miss this holiday season.

Zadok the Priest was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth’s. Handel composed the anthem in 1727 for the coronation of King George II. The work has been performed at every coronation since. Here’s (Opens in a new window) a sharp performance. I never tire of the Mozart line about Handel, described by the musical wonder as master of effect, capable of striking like a thunderbolt.

Here’s (Opens in a new window) a short, lovely piece.

As for thunderbolts: Here’s (Opens in a new window) a favorite of mine, one I’ve shared before, with a stunning performance led by John Eliot Gardiner. It’s 40 minutes to the end including a mesmerizing encore. It’s worth every single second.

Warmest regards,


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