James Marshall Hendrix was an intensely complicated individual by all accounts. This unique man was comprised in equal parts of musical virtuoso, pacifist, voodoo high priest, lover, and drug addict. He lived life fast and hard… spending most of his adult days in an altered state of consciousness due to some sort of extrinsic stimulant. For better or worse, the psychedelic neptunian sounds he came to be known for creating on his electric guitar permanently altered the course of the blues and rock music genres. Love him or hate him, Jimi Hendrix is one of a few who will be remembered for their absolute mastery of a chosen craft. The kind of mastery that ends up transcending the craft itself.
Some of us might be thinking… “What can I possibly learn from Jimi? He’s a genius and I am nowhere near as good he was”. Well guess what… I’m not as good as him either (not yet anyways) LOL. That notwithstanding, the more I read and learn about his life, the more I realize that there are important lessons embedded in his story from which we can all learn regardless of our current level of intelligence or musical ability. So if you will, let’s explore these lessons one by one. Now then, here we go…
Don’t be afraid to experiment
Find what you love, and go after it with gusto
Stay away from hard drugs
Jimi was a restless soul who constantly experimented with music and life. People who knew him said that he never seemed content to stay within the current status quo of what he could do as a musician, as he constantly pushed himself to find new ways to get even better. Jimi never stopped experimenting and learning even after he became a guitar virtuoso… he would keep this habit until his last days on earth. It isn’t unreasonable to conclude that his constant experimentation with his craft was a major reason why he remained the ultimate guitar playing badass of his time, perpetually a few steps ahead of his contemporaries. In the same way, we can learn from Jimi and continually strive for forward progress in our relationships, talent development, careers, health, and so on. It is important to note that while striving for constant improvement is actually uncomfortable, it is pretty much the only way to legitimately grow.
Finding what you love is a tricky thing because society has lulled a lot of us into thinking love is all sunshine and rainbows. I would argue that everything in life (no matter how pleasurable) always comes with its own specific brand of pain and the key to finding what you love is discovering the kind of pain that you can sustain. Jimi found the pain he could sustain in his guitars and in composing music and boy… did he do it to the exclusion of almost everything else or what? I say “almost” because he didn’t quite give up alcohol, women, or hard drugs in favor of music but I think you get the picture. Take the time to find what you love and stay loyal to it… it will become your best friend and be there for you in the worst of times.
There are a few other articles on this blog that highlight life lessons from famous luminaries, and this particular point is the one thing that is common to all of the luminaries we’ve written about. To be blunt, they all worked insanely hard for a prolonged period of time. The only way to work this hard for such a sustained period of time is to have a strong compulsion towards whatever it is you are working on or trying to achieve. The only way you or anyone else for that matter can sustain that strong compulsion is through love for the subject matter. So this point goes hand in hand with the point above… you need to work super hard to achieve great things and the only way you’ll be able to work super hard on anything is if that something is what you love.
Pretty much everyone who is familiar with blues rock knows it when they’ve just heard a signature Jimi Hendrix solo or lick because they are usually so very unique to his personality. Jimi’s guitar playing remained totally and completely true to his inner essence throughout his life. And for those of us who think it was easy to stay true to his inner voice, think again because it wasn’t. As a matter of fact, Jimi kept getting kicked out of bands and clubs during the early stages of his career for going with his musical instincts at a time when they weren’t yet popular. In his typical zero f*cks given style, he soldiered on with his unique playing style until he found an initial niche for it in England where he found initial fame. From then on, the rest as they say is history. A legitimate argument could be made that Jimi wouldn’t enjoy the same iconic status that he currently does right now if he had watered down his unique style to appease the masses.
The saddest thing about the legend of James Marshall Hendrix was how early he was taken away from us. The man only lived to be 27 years of age and it’s a bit gut wrenching to think about how many more hits and memorable ballads he could have infused into our culture had he not cut his life short by doing too many hard drugs. The lesson is clear… stay away from hard drugs, especially if you have the kind of “addictive” personality traits that most geniuses do.
There you have it guys, a few solid life lessons that we can all learn from the guitar virtuoso and voodoo high priest also known as Jimi Hendrix. I hope we both heed the words and lessons within, and consistently apply them to our own lives.
Oyolu B.C. Ph.D.
Listen to tunes!