Nostalgia is a means of gagging the past so that it will tell us only what we want to hear. Charles Shaar Murray cannot bear what ‘nostalgia’ has done to the ’60s in general and Jimi Hendrix in particular. No matter that the ’60s are currently around us, that The Rolling Stones’ latest tour is considered a matter of vast cultural significance and that we live in the era of the remake and the rerun, Murray argues that the ’80s fascination with the ’60s only provides us with a playground of the past, stripped of all the tensions that made the era so vital. In the terminology of the period which these linked essays explore, Crosstown Traffic is an attempt to ‘liberate’ Jimi Hendrix.
As Murray argues at the start of his book, the ‘authorized version’ of the Jimi Hendrix Experience (sic) is that Hendrix was a crazy black man who did funny things with a guitar, had thousands of women and eventually died of drugs, which was a shame because he was a really good guitarist, and he could play with his teeth, too. The Hendrix that Murray would like us to recognise was a great black instrumentalist who drew deeply on blues, jazz and soul traditions to create a terrifyingly modern guitar style whose finest hour was his deconstruction of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock.
This Hendrix also died of drugs, loved lots of women and did all manner of things to his guitar but Murray is rather less keen on these activities and his revisionism occasionally strays towards a clean-up campaign. Thus, in the book’s weakest paragraphs, Murray plumbs Hendrix’s lyrics to prove that