From Charles Shaar Murray's 1991 Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix & The Post-War Rock 'N' Roll Revolution:
Like rock music itself, nostalgia is governed by a simple, straightforward principle: First Simplify, Then Exaggerate. Nostalgia is a filter for history operated partially by the unconscious and partially by the architects and gardeners who tend what J.G. Ballard calls The Media Landscape. It is designed to remove history's nasty, inconvenient lumps, and it trawls the resulting soup for raw materials -- images of sufficient resonance to solidify into symbols. When these nuggets surface, they can then serve double duty: they can function as comforting, reassuring landmarks, enabling us to navigate in a general consensus of everyday reality, and -- since symbols are infinitely more mobile and flexible than our use of them can ever acknowledge -- they can be rearranged into an ever-changing kaleidoscope of values and imperatives.
Just as the term "traditional values" can mean anything which a conservative politician wants it to when he or she is about to announce something not in your best interests, so the sights and sounds of the past can be endlessly shuffled into "proof" of virtually any contention or interest. Nostalgia makes good Stalinists of us all, as that which it is inconvenient or unpopular to remember becomes progressively less real, fading to a grey rendered ever more muzzy by the bold tones and snappy graphics of the authorized version.
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 guitarit, and he could play it with his teeth too. (Like David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, "he took it all too far/but boy could he play guitar.") He is a conventient focus for cozy generalizations about the innate phallocentricity of hard rock, the evils of drug use and the reactionary tedium of the extended guitar solo; and equally for mawkish or cautionary homilies on the destructive potential of stardom, the naive futility of sixties idealism and how terrible it is that gifted people sometimes die young.
All this has been digested; Hendrix is as servicable as a symbol of the excesses, indulgences and pretensions of his era, as he is of its aspirations and vaulting imagination. His death, like the final collapse of The Beatles, is a handy cultural marker for that moment when (depending on your personal view of these matters) the surge towards the millenium was ambushed in its prime, or -- thankfully -- everybody come to their senses and resumed business as usual.
Tags: Crosstown Traffic, Charles Shaar Murray, Jimi Hendrix, song-related, music