Kurt Cobain’s biographer takes on the great rock guitarist’s legacy and misses the mark.
Cross, former editor of the Seattle alternative weekly The Rocket, reached bestseller lists with his biography of Nirvana’s ill-fated front man (Heavier Than Heaven, 2001). In this book he reconsiders another Washington state icon, ‘60s rock superstar Jimi Hendrix. Due on the eve of the 35th anniversary of Hendrix’s death at 27 from an accidental overdose, Cross’ biography sits somewhat in the shadow of Keith Shadwick’s comprehensive Jimi Hendrix Musician (2003), as well as such precursors as Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek’s Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy (1990) and Charles Shaar Murray’s Crosstown Traffic (1989). Cross is strongest in his chapters about Hendrix’s deprived upbringing in Seattle and the first stirrings of his musical urges, but his tales of Hendrix’s apprenticeship on the Southern chitlin’ circuit and his artistic development in the hipster cauldron of Greenwich Village in the mid-‘60s feel underreported. Worse, Hendrix’s 1966 arrival in London, where he quickly became the toast of English musical society, reads like a twice-told tale. We hear again that Hendrix slept with his guitar, but little attention is paid to exactly how he developed his stunning musical and technical gifts. His prodigious mastery of the studio, still a large part of the guitarist’s testament, receives virtually no scrutiny — his sessions are viewed as just part of the blur that accompanied his snowballing fame. While Hendrix’s ascent as a black musician playing for white rock ‘n’ roll audiences (and viewed in some quarters as a racial sell-out) is contemplated, Cross seems either unwilling or unable to grapple with this contradiction, which was so central to Hendrix’s inexorable rise. One ultimately understands that Hendrix was crushed by the burden of celebrity, but the sources of that celebrity remain vague.
Hendrix’s story is finally lost in a purple haze.