Tuesday, August 18, 2009

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS IN POPULAR SONG NO. 2

'ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?'

‘Are You Experienced?’ is the 11th and last track on The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first LP, named ‘Are You Experienced’ without a question mark. ‘Are You Experienced?’ is a pertinent question in many an instance, but often refers to a specific situation or discipline. Without reference to a skill or circumstance, the enquiry is rendered obsolete, almost surreal. So what was Mr Hendrix referring to? He follows the question ‘Are You Experienced?’ with ‘Have You Ever Been Experienced?’ in which lies the paradox that shall eventually lead us to the answer we crave.

‘Have You Ever Been Experienced?’ is an incongruous question: it is impossible to lose experience once it has been gained. You either are, or are not experienced. If, however, we were to take the liberty to assume for a moment that the ‘experience’ Jimi Hendrix is referring to, is a euphemism for a very specific experience, it is not unreasonable that the song, the band and the experiences of the individuals in that band, are all linked. Perhaps ‘Have You Ever Been Experienced?’ is the sonic equivalent to ‘You’ve Been Tangoed!’ The advert for the orange soft drink Tango alluded to a transcendental (albeit unpleasant) experience the imbiber would have as a result of consuming the drink.

Jimi Hendrix is no great lyricist, in fact the first verse of ‘Are You Experienced?’ is ever so slightly reminiscent of a 12-year old girl’s poetry course work, for which she might have got a C+, if she was lucky and had a perfect attendance record. Jimi’s talents lay with guitar playing, audio manipulation and his groundbreaking experimentation within these realms. However, from meeting his champion Linda Keith in 1966, Jimi had added Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) to his habitual intake of alcohol and cannabis; Jimi’s intake of this new stimulant could be construed as equally groundbreaking and experimental as his music. Psychedelic in sound, fashion, sight and mind, Jimi’s life had turned into one big trip, and not on the kind where you play giant Ludo on the top deck of an ocean liner, but rather the halucinogenic kind. And what is a trip, actual or virtual, if not an experience?

‘Are You Experienced?’ asks Hendrix, ‘Have You Ever Been Experienced?’ he insists further, but what does this mean in light of his relationship with psychotropics? Well, if the Acid trip is equivalent to the experience, then what Jimi Hendrix is really asking, is whether or not the audience is currently ‘tripping balls’, or indeed has ever ‘tripped balls’.

Hendrix could also be referring to a pure aesthetic experience, and the last line does indeed allude to this possibility: “Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.” However, this scenario seems unlikely and is much more Kantian and consequently much more dull, and therefore will not be discussed in this instance.

Mia Tagg 2009®

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