Meaning of Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix

Purple Haze

Jimi Hendrix

What is the meaning of “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix?

“Purple Haze” is one of the most iconic songs by Jimi Hendrix, the legendary guitarist and singer who revolutionized rock music in the 1960s. But what is the song really about? Is it a psychedelic trip, a love song, or something else? In this blog post, I will explore the meaning behind “Purple Haze” from different perspectives, including the artist’s, the listeners’, and the historical and societal context.

The artist’s perspective

According to Hendrix himself, “Purple Haze” was inspired by a dream he had where he was walking under the sea and a purple haze surrounded him, engulfed him and got him lost. He said that it was a traumatic experience, but in his dream his faith in Jesus saved him. At one point, he wrote the chorus as “purple haze, Jesus saves”, but decided against it. He also said that some of the lyrics were formed from some of his free verse ramblings that he jotted down from time to time.

Hendrix described “Purple Haze” as a love song, saying that it was about a girl who put a spell on him and made him act differently. He said that he was not referring to any specific girl, but rather to a general feeling of being in love. He also denied that the song had anything to do with drugs, although he admitted that he used LSD and other substances at the time.

Hendrix wrote “Purple Haze” on December 26, 1966, while backstage at a club in London. He recorded it with his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, in January and February 1967, at De Lane Lea and Olympic studios in London. He used some unusual studio tricks to get the unique sound, such as putting a pair of headphones around a microphone to create an echo effect and using an Octavia device to raise or lower the guitar by an octave. He also played the signature Hendrix chord, which is a dominant seventh chord with a sharpened ninth, creating a dissonant and exotic sound.

The listeners’ perspective

“Purple Haze” was released as the second single by the Jimi Hendrix Experience on March 17, 1967, in the UK and on June 19, 1967, in the US. It was also included on their debut album, Are You Experienced?, which came out in May 1967 in the UK and in August 1967 in the US. The song was a hit in several countries, reaching number three in the UK, number six in Canada, number 17 in Germany, and number 65 in the US.

Many listeners interpreted “Purple Haze” as referring to a psychedelic experience, especially because of the ambiguous lyrics and the innovative guitar playing. The phrase “purple haze” was often used as a slang term for LSD or marijuana at the time. Some listeners also thought that Hendrix was singing “scuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “scuse me while I kiss the sky”, adding to the confusion. Hendrix sometimes played along with this misinterpretation by singing it that way and pointing to one of his band members during live performances.

“Purple Haze” became one of Hendrix’s most popular and influential songs. It was praised by critics and musicians alike for its originality and creativity. It was also seen as a symbol of the counterculture movement and the psychedelic era of the 1960s. The song inspired many cover versions by artists such as Frank Zappa, Ozzy Osbourne, The Cure, Wyclef Jean, and others. It was also sampled or interpolated by artists such as Dr. Dre, Girl Talk, Neil Cicierega, and others. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and ranked among the greatest guitar songs of all time by Rolling Stone and Q magazine.

The historical and societal context

“Purple Haze” was written and recorded at a time when rock music was undergoing significant changes. The Beatles had released their groundbreaking album Revolver in August 1966, which introduced new techniques and styles such as tape loops, backward recordings, Indian music influences, and psychedelic lyrics. Bob Dylan had gone electric in 1965 and 1966, blending folk music with rock and roll and creating controversial masterpieces such as Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. The Beach Boys had released their ambitious album Pet Sounds in May 1966, which showcased their complex harmonies and sophisticated arrangements. These and other artists had expanded the possibilities and boundaries of rock music, challenging the conventions and expectations of the genre.

Hendrix was influenced by these artists, but also by his own background and experiences. He was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1942, to a mixed-race family. He grew up listening to blues, R&B, soul, and rock and roll. He taught himself to play guitar and joined several bands in his teens and early twenties. He served in the US Army for a year, but was discharged after an injury. He moved to New York City in 1964, where he performed as a session musician and a sideman for various artists. He also formed his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, and developed his distinctive style and stage presence.

In 1966, he was discovered by Chas Chandler, the former bassist of the British rock group The Animals, who became his manager and producer. Chandler brought him to London, where he formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. He quickly gained fame and recognition for his virtuosic guitar playing, his charismatic personality, and his flamboyant outfits and antics. He also befriended and impressed many of the leading British rock stars of the time, such as Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and others.

Hendrix was also influenced by the social and political events of the 1960s. He witnessed the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the rise of feminism, the sexual revolution, the hippie movement, and the emergence of new forms of art and culture. He expressed his views and feelings on these issues through his music, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly. He also experimented with various drugs, such as marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and heroin, which affected his mood, perception, and creativity.

All these factors contributed to the meaning behind “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix. The song was a reflection of his personal journey, his artistic vision, and his cultural context. It was a song that captured the spirit of the times, but also transcended them. It was a song that spoke to many people on different levels, but also remained mysterious and enigmatic. It was a song that changed rock music forever.

Conclusion

“Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix is a song that has many meanings and interpretations. It can be seen as a love song, a psychedelic song, or something else entirely. It can be understood from the artist’s perspective, the listeners’ perspective, or the historical and societal perspective. It can be appreciated for its musical innovation, its lyrical ambiguity, or its cultural significance. It is a song that has fascinated and inspired generations of fans and musicians alike. Purple Haze is a song that deserves to be explored and celebrated.

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