When I was fifteen or sixteen and living in Huntly, I went one night down to the local disco and heard a three piece Maori band from Auckland play ... Purple Haze. In an intoxicating wash of magenta light. The rumour that Jimi Hendrix was, like they say really, a Maori from New Zealand, is still current in some parts. A Ngai-te-Rangi from the Bay of Plenty perhaps. Not long afterwards I heard on the radio the first Bob Dylan song I remember - Hendrix doing All Along the Watchtower. I still love the radio, for the way you hear on it things you'd never otherwise encounter. Not so very long ago, on 2SER, I came across the thrilling voice of Cassandra Wilson. She was singing The Band song, The Weight. I pulled into Nazareth / I was feeling about half past dead ... Nazareth is a small town in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. Been listening to her a lot lately. On one of her records, she covers a Hendrix song. Not an easy thing to do. I remember this one from the radio in the sixties as well. Is there a better lyric evoking the night time desolation of streets in a big city ...
After all the jacks are in their boxes
And the clowns have all gone to bed
You can hear happiness staggering on down the street
Footsteps dressed in red ...
A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday's life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife ...
The traffic lights turn blue tomorrow
And shine their emptiness down on my bed
The tiny island sags down stream
Because the life that it lived is dead ...
Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past?
And with its crutch, its old age, and its wisdom
It whispers no, this will be the last ...
That's the words without the refrain, which is so well known it probably doesn't need repeating. Hendrix is said to have written the song in London when his girlfriend ran out into the streets one night after a fight. A band member said the riff came from Curtis Mayfield, and that Jimi had been obsessing over it for years ... Cassandra Wilson's version, like many of her covers, opens the song out so it sounds like a raga that she riffs along in front of with that fabulous voice. She has a new cd, called Loverly, but I haven't heard it yet. Recorded in a rented house in Jackson, Mississippi, her home town, it includes a version of Wouldn't It Be Loverly from My Fair Lady. The album of songs from that show, with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews (and Stanley Holloway), was one of the very few long playing records we had in our house when I was growing up. I know the whole thing by heart. In those days, I thought Pygmalion was about a diminutive feral cat.