60s Today contributor Lara Dal Molin imagines what Jimi Hendrix would be like today if he was still alive.
The pub is dark and the old wooden table is sticky, and for a few minutes we’re just drinking in silence. My feelings are mixed, swinging between different moods, kind of halfway between noticeable excitement and inexplicable shame. I’m trying to keep my hands still, to prevent myself from biting my nails, as that wouldn’t look very professional. But why am I even worrying about these things? I’m sitting in front of someone who’s seen it all. All…
At that moment in time, it is with immense astonishment that I watch him reach into his pocket, pull out a packet of cigarettes, absent-mindedly choosing one, and eventually lighting it up.
As I furtively move my eyes, nobody around us seems to notice. In incredulity, I hear myself say: “Sir…” Immediately his eyes are on me, and I feel myself painfully gulping, with difficulty. What am I even on about? Should I say anything at all?
“Sir,” I repeat. “UK law banned smoking indoors in 2007.”
The hazy, blurred lights suffuse the pub, and I can barely distinguish the patterns of his jacket. However, interestingly, I am able to see its seams: the pale pink almost glows in the dark. As I timidly look up at his face, I find him smiling familiarly, and cautiously stubbing out the cigarette against the edge of the table.
“I tend to forget about these things,” he says.
As a sign of politeness, I sit facing the wall behind my guest, and therefore my view of the venue is limited. As a result, he enjoys a nice view, as he can see myself as well as the rest of the pub. However, with slight discomfort, I realise he doesn’t seem to care about this detail.
“So, mister Hendrix,” I start, but I shut my mouth as he gently, yet firmly, says: “How ‘bout you call me Jimi? I don’t want to be reminded of how old I am.”
“I was just about to ask you how it feels to turn 75… But I can change the question if you wish.”
I never realised how inappropriate that question was until I uttered it just then. By no means did I intend to be offensive, and I hope my interlocutor can deduce that by the way I nervously stare at the corner of the table. I suddenly feel ashamed of being a non-native English speaker, constantly concerned about all the small things, all the tiny words, all the imperfections. I drown my mild sorrows in a long sip of beer, hoping that my brain will shut up as I just did.
“Y’know,” he says. While I was busy arguing with my brain, I almost forgot I was sitting opposite Jimi Hendrix. “I never really thought I’d survive my twenties.”
Suddenly, the pub goes extremely quiet. Actually, not only the pub but the whole street, the whole of Soho, the whole of London seems to turn off, to create some physical space for my guest’s voice. He’s spent most of his life in this city since first moving here in 1966.
I’m just sitting there, in front of someone sounding like he’s been to hell and back, someone who sang, danced, drugged up and smoked more than I could ever do in a hundred lives. I’m 21 and what’s my most epic story? That time I walked into my parents’ bedroom at 6am, crying because I’d been smoking too much weed and thought I was going to die. Well done, what a compelling anecdote.
“It’s a bit surreal,” he adds. “But beautiful,” and his eyes light up.
I cannot find the words to respond: a big, genuine smile is all I have to give. He seems to appreciate it, and he doesn’t look like he expects anything else.
“I’m aware of the fact that, recently, you decided to decrease the size of your shows. In fact, you only perform at small, relatively private venues now. How come?” As I speak, my guest is smiling as if he’d seen this question coming.
“Well, first of all I’m older now…” He laughs quietly. “Secondly, in terms of big crowds, I think I gave all I had to give when I was younger. Fifteen, twenty years ago, I started to feel this nostalgia for the 60s, the 70s, that wouldn’t allow me to perform in the same way. I had to do things differently, y’know. People seem to like it, and I think it’s the right thing to do. Nowadays, preaching peace as I used to, would be quite pointless. People now have social media, people grow up in this environment full of hatred. Peace is now a personal choice. And because it’s so personal, my shows‘ W gotten smaller as well.”
I nod as I quickly scribble down some notes. For some reason, asking Jimi Hendrix if I could record our interview didn’t even cross my mind. I have no clue why. I didn’t even ask his preferences. The mere idea of recording our conversation seemed to me almost disrespectful, disgraceful, so I didn’t even bother asking. I look at my bits of paper and take a sip of my drink, attempting a professional look while preparing for the next question.
“You haven’t released any new music for a couple of years now. Are you working on anything at the moment?” Although I am a journalist, and therefore strongly believe in the truthful spread of information, I feel bad asking this question at a personal level. In fact, who am I to mind such personal business? Who am I to pressure Jimi fucking Hendrix into answering this stupid question?
“I am indeed working on something,” he seems calm about it while he plays with his hands, almost resembling the amount of material he’s been dealing with. “It’s a new project, and luckily it’s looking like it’s going somewhere. However, if you don’t mind, I won’t give away anything more at this stage.”
If I don’t mind? I know what the right thing to do is, in this case. I should be asking him some more, and try to squeeze a potential release date out of him. However, I can’t get myself to do so. In fact, I say no more, write down a few things and decide to move on to the next question, already feeling like I’ve been way too intrusive.
“That’s awesome – I’m looking forward to hearing it,” I allow myself to comment, timidly, as he smiles from the other side of the table. His personality comes across as really cheerful and relaxed, and this calms me down.
“What’s it like to be on stage these days, as opposed to the 60s and 70s?”
He suddenly seems really interested in my question, for a reason I cannot yet explain.
“I’ll tell you what,” he says, and his tone changes to one more forceful for the first time in our conversation. “That’s a good question. I never thought being on stage could upset me, y’know. It’s what I live for; it’s what I’ve decided to do with my life. It’s special because it’s the public expression of my music. And, until about twenty years ago, performing meant witnessing the ultimate manifestation of life. People screaming, people dancing, people kissing, smoking, talking, and just doing their own thing. These things are just part of life, right?” He briefly pauses. “But then the new century came.”
His eyes are darker now. Slowly, he stretches his right arm in front of him, and closes his hand into a fist leaving the thumb out, clearly miming holding up a phone. He then looks me straight in the eyes, and I nod severely, showing that I understood his gesture.
“People dance less now. It feels like they also feel less, and live less,” he adds, and more silence follows. The left pocket of my jumper, which contains my new iPhone, feels on fire against my skin. I suddenly feel ashamed of owning one of those devices. I cannot even grasp the disappointment of an artist feeling like people come to his gig only to post pictures of it on Instagram.
We sip our drinks slowly, without talking. It feels like I’ve been silent for years, as soon as I say: “May I ask you one last question?”
“Go for it.” Jimi seems profoundly amused by my politeness, and his face lights up again.
“Is there any young band or artist that you like?”
His new expression of amusement and tranquillity lead me to understand that the heavy moment is gone, and that he’s interested in the new question. He says: “I try keep up to date with everything that’s experimental, or with whatever shows tendencies towards being revolutionary. When I started with the Experience, I was just trying out different combinations of sounds, and I was having a lot of fun doing it. I try to look out for people like the fifty-years-ago myself. Following young artists also makes me understand what’d gone wrong back then, and what I could’ve done better throughout my career until now.”
“Thank you, Jimi.”
Later, as I leave the pub, my guest decides to stay for another drink. He’s waiting for someone. As I step outside, the cold air and the bright street lights hit me like a slap on the face. And as I walk away, I start wondering whether our conversation happened in this world or in another one… Was it reality or just a realistic dream?
Lara Dal Molin is a writer, aspiring journalist and software engineer based in Winchester. She is currently an undergraduate at the University of Surrey, where she studies Liberal Arts and Sciences.