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Music

The book that inspired Jimi Hendrix's psychedelic masterpiece ‘Purple Haze’

The musical realm is something of a culmination of influences from across the rest of the creative disciplines. Art, literature and film have all massively fed into the creation of music and given us some of the most iconic lyrical moments in history.

Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant’s numerous references to the fantastical world of J.R.R. Tolkein, Grace Slick’s surreal nods to Lewis Carroll in the psychedelic masterpiece ‘White Rabbit’ or Metallica’s direct mentioning of Ernest Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, are just a handful of examples that display this is as a well-established practice within popular music.

On the other hand, music has also influenced literature. Horror master Stephen King is well known for containing many musical references in his books, with there being many direct mentions of his musical heroes such as Bob Dylan and The Beatles across his library. In fact, King’s 1987 classic, Misery, takes its name directly from a Beatles song.

Furthermore, aside from Misery, the Beatles have inspired a whole host of fictional works based on their song titles, which include Haruki Murakami’s iconic 1987 novel Norwegian Wood and David Ignatius’ retelling of the Great Gatsby, The Sun King.

It is clear, though, that lyrically, music owes a lot more to literature, either western or otherwise. The amount of times the literary field has inspired our favourite songs or albums is nothing short of innumerable. It seems that even psychedelic hero Jimi Hendrix was inspired by literature. Who’d have thought that the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s second single, 1967’s ‘Purple Haze’ would be inspired by a literary tome?

Ostensibly taken as a drug anthem, it seems as if one of Hendrix’s defining moments was inspired by a kaleidoscopic dream he had, one that was informed by science fiction. When we take a step back, this isn’t so surprising, as psychedelic rock, particularly at that time, was drenched in the influence of science-fiction. 

Pink Floyd’s psychedelic cornerstone 1967’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawncontains many references to science fiction as does a lot of Hawkwind’s work, and these are just two examples of many. There seems to be an innate parallel that can be drawn between the LSD soaked world of psychedelia and science-fiction.

This can be partially attributed to how two of the genre’s most iconic authors, Aldous Huxley and Philip K. Dick, were widely known to be proponents of the hallucinogenic LSD. Fittingly, their works are filled with surreal and bizarre imagery that was inspired by, and feeds into, the unhinged world of lysergic acid.

Coming back to Hendrix and ‘Purple Haze‘, prior to penning the track, the guitar-hero had a dream in which he was walking under the sea in a plume of purple haze, which was directly 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.” This bizarre radiance is described in the book as a “purplish haze”. 

Hendrix later explained that he was frustrated that he couldn’t develop the ideas Night of Light had given him even further. He said: “You know the song we had named ‘Purple Haze’? (It) had about a thousand, thousand words… I had it all written out. It was about going through, through this land. This mythical… because that’s what I like to do is write a lot of mythical scenes. You know, like the history of the wars on Neptune.”

Maybe this should be the start of audiences digging deeper into Hendrix’s lyrical efforts. The above statement shows him to have been a keen reader and one who was set on instilling literary themes into his work, something that is not widely known about the late maestro. Although initially, ‘Purple Haze’ can be taken as an era-defining drug anthem and a zenith of guitar wizardry, it is clearly so much more than that, and it offers up a portal into the dense mind of Jimi Hendrix.

Listen to ‘Purple Haze’, below.

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