Jimi Hendrix (Johnny Allen Hendrix, 1942-1970) was a legendary rock guitarist and songwriter whose innovative, haunting and almost voodoo-like technique has influenced music and musicians to this day, including the classical violinist Nigel Kennedy.
Hendrix’s song lyrics often point to a kind of Gnosticism, “Have you ever been experienced? Well, I am.” Paradoxically, he also sings about the trials of his psychiatric diagnosis. “Manic Depression’s a frustrating mess.”
Although Hendrix’s work touches on mysticism, it seems to be influenced by powerful drugs and arguably not a type of mysticism that leads to a healthy and mature spiritual life.
For decades it’s been rumored that Hendrix put LSD tabs underneath his headband while performing on stage. Acid-saturated perspiration would apparently flow from his forehead into his eyes, where it would be absorbed into his bloodstream, almost like a time-release capsule keeping him high. Another version of this urban legend is that Hendrix cut his forehead before placing an LSD tab on top of the wound, covering it with his headband.
Hendrix died in 1970, probably due to an unintentional overdose of sleeping pills taken after a night of partying. He was only 27 years old, an age which seems to have an uncanny and tragic significance in rock music.
His career and death grouped him with Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones as one of the 27 Club, a group including iconic 1960s rock stars who suffered drug-related deaths at the age of 27 within a two year period, leaving legacies in death that have eclipsed the popularity and influence they experienced during their lifetimes. Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse were later added to this list, also dying at the age of 27.¹
In hindsight, it’s tempting to ask if Hendrix might have lived longer if only he’d connected with some kind of spiritual guide, director, or holistic psychiatrist.
It’s a moot point, of course. His greatness as a guitarist was probably linked to his lifestyle choices. So we might say that he was a great artist but as a mystic, something of an Icarus figure.
Having said that, he certainly didn’t let fame go to his head:
“I feel guilty when people say I’m the greatest on the scene… Your name doesn’t mean a damn, it’s your talents and your feelings that matter. You’ve got to know much more than just the technicalities of the notes; you’ve got to know what goes between the notes.”²
I also feel it’s sort of tragic that Hendrix, like so many people around the world, seemed to buy into the psychiatric label now known as bipolar disorder. I realize this is the current trend and that sufferers supposedly do better if they “accept” and “come out” with their diagnosis.³ But to me, this whole perspective is too monolithic and other, more creative and spiritually based explanations for so-called bipolar symptoms are not only possible but could result in far better outcomes.
I’ll probably take some heat for saying this because psychiatry, as superficial as it can be, has almost become a new dogmatic Church of the Mind. Today, very few question a psychiatric paradigm that smacks of scientism but this wasn’t always the case. I’m not sure if the rise of Big Pharma has contributed to this cultural brainwashing but whatever the reason, it’s a sad turn of events.
To me, the current label of bipolar seems like a crude, materialistic – perhaps even unconsciously nasty – caricature of something that could be understood quite differently if only we had the depth and wisdom to appreciate that.
Hendrix might not have fully understood that perspective back then. But I imagine now in heaven he’d agree.
³ See for example https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/10/15/1124400056/bipolar-disorder-mental-health
Related » Archetype, Collective Unconscious, The Doors, DSM-IV-TR, Hero, Little Richard, Psychiatry