It appears that not many people actually sat Hendrix down to ask him about his life and what drove him to create the songs that quickly placed him on a pedestal. The result of this lapse has been a glut of biographies that have long toggled between haphazard music criticism and pop psychology.
To be fair, this isn’t really a biography. It’s more like a compilation of interviews, letters and assorted morsels put together by writer Peter Neal and Alan Douglas — the producer once vilified by Hendrix fans for replacing some of his own playing with the work of session musicians.
What comes across (apart from the editors’ respect for a friend) is how well Hendrix recognised his place in the larger scheme of things. When he died mysteriously in London on September 18, 1970 at that cursed age of 27, he was already a legend.
His performance at Woodstock a year earlier, however, created the myth of a wild musician that Starting At Zero dispels quickly, drawing attention instead to his sensitivity and spiritual nature. Also particularly refreshing are his comments, via interviews and jotted musings, on the notion of race and identity.
If you happen to be a guitar player, Hendrix discussing his music ought to be reason enough to pick up this book. If you are just a fan of what he left behind, this will dramatically change the way you listen to it. “They make black and white fight each other so they can take over at each end,” he says at one point. It is an extremely astute remark for someone often dismissed as just a great guitar player.