By: Monica Solis
This year’s SXSW Film gave me the opportunity to check out some incredible films, but, I must confess, the must-see’s on my list were music documentaries and biopics. I mean, c’mon, you don’t get into college radio for nothing. One such film I anticipated was “JIMI: All Is by My Side,” a biopic of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, which was directed by John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”). “JIMI” had its U.S. premiere at SXSW Film.
It’s not about style. I want my music to go inside the soul of a person. You know, for me, it’s colors. I want people to feel the music the same way I see it.” – Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in JIMI: All Is By My Side
The biopic was made strong by its incredible acting from notable musicians Andre Benjamin (OutKast), as Jimi Hendrix, and Imogen Poots as Linda Keith. Keith was a music scene socialite and the girlfriend of Keith Richards; she played the unassuming, important role of guide and confidant to Hendrix. In a 2010 NPR segment, Director John Ridley states that he discovered a rare Hendrix song called “Sending My Love to Linda,” and couldn’t stop thinking about who that could be. Here’s the studio cut, which was ultimately named “Send My Love to You Linda.”
Ridley’s subsequent investigation led to the unraveling of the story of Linda Keith’s critical role in Hendrix’s career. In a Rolling Stone interview from March 13, 2014, and at the film premiere itself, Ridley said the discovery of this untold story served as an inspiration to make the film.
As the estate of Jimi Hendrix is known to be extremely gaurded, Ridley had to find ways to adapt the powerful voice of Hendrix through cover songs that were important to Hendrix’s musical development. Such songs included The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which was performed via a smashing cover song in an inspiring scene with a confidant Jimi (Benjamin). Though the lack of original Hendrix songs in the film is initially disappointing, it does not detract from the message of the film – sincerity, a sincerity of spirit. In fact, the lack of popular Hendrix songs like “Purple Haze,” (admittedly a favorite), can even be seen as a way for the film to break away from commercialism. It’s raw and unexpected.
The film was incredibly moving, yet troubling. It portrayed a much darker side of the famous musician. Perhaps that is what made the film so difficult to watch. “JIMI: All Is By My Side” showed the behind-closed-doors element of Hendrix’s life in the years 1966-1967, before his infamous, fiery performance at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival in California. The biopic shows Hendrix struggling with familial relationships,attachments to significant others, race issues, and the deep-rooted struggle with the idea of stardom. Ridley said it was important to show Hendrix in this light because it was important to show him as a human being and not just an icon.
The biopic did indeed show a flawed, human side of Jimi Hendrix, rather than a portrait of him as a guitar god exclusively.
However, SXSW still took this year to honor the musician aspect of Hendrix, and I had the honor to be there!
On Thursday, March 13, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) unveiled “The Jimi Hendrix Forever Stamp,” for the USPS 2014 Music Icons series.
Other musicians that have shared the “Forever Stamp” spotlight include Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, both honored by USPS in 2013. The next music icon to be part of the series will be rocker Janis Joplin.
Following the USPS unveiling of the Hendrix stamp, at Butler Park in Austin, crowds gathered for a Jimi Hendrix tribute concert, which was completely open to the public. But, ladies and gents, the free entry aspect of the show did not diminish the quality – this was SXSW after all. The Jimi Hendrix tribute concert was no ordinary show. I was lucky enough to stumble upon the show, and thus, I was sweetly reminded that I LOVE wailing guitars. Let me tell you, there was plenty of talent to dish the riffs.
Participating musicians in the Jimi Hendrix tribute concert included Slash (Guns N’Roses), Mary Bridget Davies, Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney), and Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction), who all performed Hendrix classics like “All Along the Watchtower” and “Foxy Lady.” Unforgettable. It’s hard to forget a rock’n’roll legend when the rock’n’roll lives, and surely, it wouldn’t hurt ya now to put on some tunes and get some experience…you know, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
(Film still provided by: SXSW Film)
Photos: Monica Solis/KTSW-FM 89.9