Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix by Charles R. Cross took me about a week to read, and I found myself wanting more and more with each chapter. It would have taken me four days, except I stopped for a few days before reading the last two chapters; perhaps – in my own mind -trying to put off the inevitable death of Jimi Hendrix.
Cross’s book brought Jimi to life, and being that I’d never read a biography on Hendrix before and wasn’t fluent in all of the back story and the players involved in his life’s story, Room Full of Mirrors didn’t bog me down in names and dates and places, but instead the author craftily wove the story together in a way that held my attention without ever becoming a tedious read. At times, I felt as if I were there – either at the smaller clubs like the Bag O’Nails or the famed Monterey Pop Festival – watching and listening to Jimi play.
In so much as this being a review, I was admittedly lax in my note-taking as I read along, not wanting to distract even one moment from the story, so I’m riffing from memory here while it’s still fresh in my mind. The challenge for me, which the author successfully overcame, is to not inject my own personal opinion, awe and admiration for Hendrix as an artist. Don’t get me wrong, there is no question for me that Mr. Cross’s book is a labor of love for the artist, but he does a phenomenal job of “the facts and just the facts”.
From his beginnings as “Buster” Hendrix growing up in Seattle, Washington, his story is not unlike those of Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby (also from Washington State), Paul McCartney and countless other music legends… He grew up poor and of little means. Distant Seattle was somewhat removed from the extreme segregation prominent in other parts of the country at the time, which in itself undoubtedly made Hendrix “experience” (pun intended) unique to that of other African-American artists of the late 1960s. And although Hendrix beginnings as a performer lie in the famously black “Chitlin Circuit” of the east coast, playing guitar for artists like Little Richard, Otis Redding and Jackie Wilson, his wild guitar style seemed to always leave him fired from those gigs, destined for something drastically different.
Jimi was first “discovered” by Linda Keith – a girlfriend of Keith Richards at the time – playing at a small club in New York, and later by Animals bass player Chas Chandler who was to become his manager and the man responsible for his introduction to the swinging London scene. Penned as everything from “The Wild Man of Borneo” to “Psychedelic Superspade”, names others may have found derogatory, seemed to only enhance his legend and singular greatness. His guitar skill spoke for itself, dethroning the reigning Guitar God, Eric Clapton, in a single performance (at which I snickered out loud – Go Jimi).
One point made by Mr. Cross which I found worth remark was the initial negative reviews of Hendrix by Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine, who said of Hendrix performance at the Monterey Pop Festival “He is not the great artist we were told” and later that he sounded like “a junk heap” and that his songs were “basically a bore”. I can only wonder if the author found the same irony in those reviews as I do, being that Jimi Hendrix has topped Rolling Stone’s “Best Guitarist” list since its inception.
Charles R. Cross succeeds in bringing Hendrix story to life, and his ability as a story-teller is outstanding. Whether it be his angry drunkenness or his typical shy innocence and naivete, this book gives a respectful and unbiased account of the life and death of Jimi Hendrix, and left me wanting to know, see and learn more about this legendary and iconic artist.
Which I intend to.