Finding myself at loose ends, I grabbed the DVD of "Hear My Train A Comin'" a new documentary on Jimi Hendrix.
Over the years I have seen a number of documentaries devoted to the man and I do own a good amount of performances on VHS and DVD, all fine enough though some have slightly weaker premises than others - one that revolved around dramatic readings of his correspondence (letters he wrote, postcards, diary entries) comes to mind as a kind of a stretch. The basic facts and chronology of his life-story are pretty well established and frankly common knowledge among most fans of rock music, both young and old, and it doesn't appear that there's any especially revelatory material left to uncover -- so the basic criteria for any new documentary on offer would be is: how much footage of the man himself, both on and offstage is there? how much hasn't been shown in previous documentaries? is the basic narrative coherent and effective? are most of the salient points in the narrative touched on. "Hear My Train A Comin'" scores well on all counts. Plenty of Hendrix being Hendrix, making music and just being his diffidently bad-ass self, the major bulk of which seem to be hitting the screen for the first time -- even the scenes from Woodstock, which has been pretty exhaustively documented in the festival film, expanded version of the festival film and then in a 2 DVD set devoted solely to Hendrix's performance, are backstage shots or camera angles not previously seen. The narrative line is handled cleanly and intelligibly, nicely illustrated not only by vintage footage but by the testimonials of various colleagues, friends and lovers -- band members like Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding; the man who launched his career and produced his first two albums, Chas Chandler; the women who befriended and championed him, Linda Keith (who famously appropriated one of Keith Richards' guitarist she had in safe keeping for Jimi's use) and Fayne Pridgeon who was his Harlem connection. All in all, a good and lively telling of the story, definitely taking a very upbeat slant.
In fact if there's any criticism I'd have of "Hear My Train A Comin'" is that it breezily overlooks many of the problems that beset Hendrix -- the basic conflict he confronted of wanting to record more and perform live less vs. the need to generate sufficient income to maintain his basic lifestyle and his artistic ambitions (composing and experimenting in the recording studio at length, and then building his own custom-designed studio, Electric Lady); the pressure he felt being a Black man performing for predominantly white audiences and initially with white backing musicians; the contradiction between his often outrageous showmanship onstage with his innate shyness, vulnerability, sensitivity and Romanticism. So it's NOT the "definitive" Hendrix documentary biography the back cover copy claims -- but it IS a good un. Utterly enjoyable and utterly truthful as far as it goes. As far as I can remember, coz -- as initially noted,I was four sheets to the wind when I watched it. And it cushioned my comedown quite admirably.