Classic Rock Review

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Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix & The Post-War Rock ‘N’ Roll Revolution by Charles Shaar Murray (1991)

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This book is an attempt at a scholarly study of Hendrix’s music, its cultural and social significance, its influences and those whose music it influenced. While fascinating at times, the author seems more interested in over displaying his education, vocabulary and being politically correct than he does writing a well researched, reader friendly study of this important subject matter. His obvious bias against certain musical genres and his desire to make everything about race further mars his ability to write an objective study.

The first four chapters are by far the weakest. Long winded ramblings and lack of thorough research render much of the first hundred pages useless. The mini-biography in chapter two is so filled with inaccuracies one is tempted to dismiss Murray’s work before going any further on the grounds that he’s too lazy to research the life of the man who is the central subject matter of his book. Chapter three wastes twenty pages blubbering about sexism in popular music and spouting pseudo intellectual blather just to come to the conclusion that anyone who listens to Jimi’s music already knew: some of Hendrix’s songs contain put downs of women and some attribute to them almost divine qualities, and some fall somewhere in between.

Murray also figured out that women song writers do that, too. What a genius! Then we have a chapter about “the black artist and the white audience”. This is where it gets really bogged down in meaningless meanderings and intelligence and coherency are sacrificed upon an altar of trying to appear politically correct. Anyone whose listened to popular music from the 60’s and also blues, jazz, psychedelic and even country knows that black and white music was thoroughly and irretrievably cross pollinated by this point and thus almost impossible to any longer make an absolute clear distinction between the two. Charles more than proves this point himself but seems loathe to admit it. The arguments here reminded me of a TV critic back in the 80’s who was trying to decide if The Cosby Show was about a black man who happened to be a doctor or a doctor who happened to be a black man. In other words, another 25 pages that really has very little to contribute to our knowledge or enjoyment of Jimi’s music or music in general.

After wading through 105 pages of mostly hot air, my perseverance and patience was finally rewarded and Murray finally digs into subject matter on which he is able to sometimes make a relevant point. Chapter five deals with blues great Robert Johnson and jazz guitarist pioneer Charlie Christian, their similarities with Hendrix and their influence on his music. Fascinating stuff and hard to put down. Murray quotes from some sources that I will definitely be checking out ASAP, both for their subject matter, and the fact that after chapter two I feel a need to fact check this book. The next couple of chapters are devoted to the blues and jazz respectively, and provide a lot of food for thought. At the end of the book there’s a discussion of the gear Hendrix chose to make his music with which is great. Though I really enjoyed the last 100 pages of this work, there were still numerous errors about Jimi and others.

He says the Byrds’ Eight Miles High came out before George Harrison ever heard a sitar. Sorry Charlie, but Rubber Soul containing Norwegian Wood was released in ’65 and Eight Miles High in ’66. He says Sly Stone wrote Somebody To Love that was recorded by both of Grace Slick’s bands, The Great Society and Jefferson Airplane. Wrong! Grace’s brother in law Darby Slick wrote it. He continually refers to Jimi’s Woodstock band as being named Electric Church though it was Gypsies, Suns and Rainbows. He says of guitarist Larry Lee who played in this band that “little has been heard before or since.” That depends on if you’ve ever read in other books on Hendrix. If Murray had done the slightest bit of research he’d know Hendrix and Lee had been friends and played music together since the early 60’s but that Lee spent a couple of years in Viet Nam just before Woodstock and since then has been quite easy to locate by Hendrix biographers and documentarians. And there’s more.

I like the idea behind this book, but it is very flawed in execution. When Murray’s not trying to impress us with what a genius and great musical critic he is, he’s a pretty good writer with a descent sense of humour. He does need to spend a little more time on research and realize that it doesn’t make you less intelligent to make a clear point in 5 pages as opposed to running in circles for 20. While he may have felt Jimi’s impact on rock music was out of the scope of a book this size, he should have at least mentioned artists like German guitarist Uli Jon Roth who have moulded not just their music but their life and spirituality on Jimi’s. Instead Charles heaps praise on pop poser Prince as a worthy example of Hendrix’s influence. This book has more than enough of interest and relevance to make it worth reading, but I must disagree with the other reviewers who shower it with such high praise.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Book Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix & The Post-War Rock 'N' Roll Revolution by Charles Shaar Murray | , | Leave a comment