While my dreaming schedule consists mainly of running away from nothing in particular on legs that don’t work, forgetting to do homework for a school I left many moons ago and the occasional harrowing sleep paralysis, some lucky folks are gifted pillow-propped masterpieces and even somehow remember them! As if Jimi Hendrix didn’t have enough talent in his locker, the sleep fairies were even gifting him slumbering masterpieces.
The 1967 track ‘Purple Haze’ is one of the most influential in rock history with its tritone brilliance dazzling a generation of guitarists. Hendrix’s manager, Chas Chandler, even recognised its potential straight away, barking, “Write the rest of that,” when he first heard the layered riff, “That’s the next single!”
While ostensibly a drug anthem, it would actually seem that the kaleidoscopic imagery of Hendrix’s masterpiece comes from the ethereal realm of sleep instead. Whether his dream was rendered technicolour by a bit too much ‘cheese’ before bed or something else, however, is another matter entirely.
As an ardent lover of science fiction novels, Hendrix believed his dream of walking under the sea in a plume of purple haze, was inspired by reading Philip José Farmer’s book Night of Light. The book’s synopsis reads: “Once every seven years, a world in orbit around a binary star is bathed in a bizarre radiance that rearranges physical reality.”
With this concept circulating around Hendrix’s cranium, he literally got lost in the idea. In his dream, he was surrounded by a thick purple fog in the depths of the ocean with no way out. Enter the classic saviour, none other than Jesus Christ. Hendrix was beginning to enter an unnerving anxiety realm when he was lifted from the purple plume by the Lord and Saviour himself.
As such, the original lyrics for the song consisted of “Purple Haze, Jesus Saves,” before Hendrix decided to go with something a bit more secular to suit the 1960s counterculture crowd. However, he did remain ardent throughout that the song actually had nothing to do with drugs and resided purely in the realm of science fiction, dreams and redemption.
The track took form on Boxing Day in 1966 when Hendrix was struggling to shake the sleepy visitation from his mind. It debuted not long after that on January 8th, 1967, in Sheffield and the crowd were instantly blown away by the sheer visceral energy of the piece. With a wild imagination, unbelievable musicianship, memorable lines, and colourful imagery all in the fore, it is arguably Hendrix’s most definitive track, thus it is perhaps befitting after all that it was derived from an electric dreamland.