If Jimi Hendrix hadn’t gone the way of too many rock stars, dying in 1970 at age 27 because of his desire and/or need for drugs, would he have gone to his movie’s premier last week at South By Southwest in Austin? Would he have declared it groovy? Would he be using a walker? Hearing gone? Stopping frequently to rest, on his laurels? Would there have even been a movie to go to?
Of course, silly, because even cut down at such an early age, with only three studio albums to his credit, he planted himself deliriously, unquestionably, at the pinnacle of musical creativity and accomplishment, alongside such fellow 20th century giants as Coltrane, Mahler, Ravi Shankar and Wild Man Fischer.
If he had lived until now, into his 70s, there’s no telling where he would have gone musically, but I’d bet my Strat (if I had one) it would have been crazy, unpredictable, brilliant and probably jazzy (oops, I guess that’s a prediction), and pretty hard to squeeze into one movie. Tragic to have lost such soaring talent to dumb luck rather than wretched excess, most likely an accidental overdose, on red wine and sleeping pills — shoot, that’s what gets me through long plane rides.
The film, scheduled for release in early summer, is called “Jimi: All Is by My Side,” from John Ridley (wrote and directed), fresh off the Oscar stage for writing Best Picture “12 Years a Slave.” The film’s sound designer was Glenn Freemantle, whose mantle is no longer free because it’s occupied by the Oscar he just won for sound editing on “Gravity.” So, two blokes on this project each snag Oscars less than two weeks before the Jimi film’s U.S. premier, and somehow they also bribe the U.S. Postal Service into issuing a Hendrix postage stamp the same day. Not bad.
But what, you’re wondering, does any of this have to do with Santa Monica, that Curious City I profess to love writing about, even though I could be writing about music, or movies, as I did for so many years?
Maybe it’s got nothing to do with Santa Monica, and I’m just a huge Hendrix fan who’s excited about this new dramatization of his life. Actually, it’s not his life, just a year or so, 1966 to ’67, when he was still dreaming of success. There must be some way out of here, he told his several selves, then he got the invite to play the Monterey Pop Festival — and the movie ends! Just before the world’s music axis shifted when he caught fire there.
And because Jimi’s poopy half-sister Janie, who controls his catalog, wouldn’t grant permission, there are no Hendrix songs in the movie (though she’s had no problem giving the long green light to Visa, T-Mobile, Pepsi and others).
One lousy not-famous year, no Jimi songs (but remember, he always did great covers, like “Sgt. Pepper”), but these are not reasons to dismiss this flick. Trust me. I know more about Hendrix than you do. Unless you’re, well, probably, quite a few people.
Maybe it sucks — I haven’t seen it — but nearly all the press out of Austin is glowing. “The only negatives are from people expecting a film like ‘Ray,’” said producer Nigel Thomas, “which this is definitely not.”
Maybe I’m only excited about it because Thomas is a longtime friend?
No, that’s not it. I am the huge Hendrix fan; he’s one of my very few unadulterated music gods, and I understand the attitude of this movie and would beeline for it even if Thomas weren’t involved and the reviews weren’t stellar. Hendrix before stardom is a more interesting, ripe concept than what we all know followed, which is not that different from what every rock star goes through.
So Nigel Thomas, an English bloke (obviously), is formerly also a Santa Monica guy, splitting his time between his condo here and his London-area 16th-century farmhouse, for 10 years through the late ‘90s. I saw him create his film career here out of nothing more than his experience in finance, mostly in real estate, and his charm, smarts, people skills and dearly-acquired upper crust public school accent. (“Public schools” there are actually private schools. Go figure.)
He was so good at raising money for his first film that he had enough to immediately do a second. Unheard of. His movies in the beginning didn’t always make it to theatrical release, but they always made money. From distribution rights, video rentals, Japan-Brazil-South Africa-Antarctica deals, cable, whatever it took. Smart guy, this Thomas. Especially smart to reinvent himself just to get his skinny pale English carcass out of the frigid English winter, to two blocks from the beach in sunny Santa Monica. He jokingly told me, just after relocating, “If I had known there were so many Brits in Santa Monica, I would’ve settled in Beverly Hills.” But he did not mean it.
Movies are more fun than real estate, especially when you get to hang with a Beatle because you hired his sister for one of your films and he came around during post production to visit and make sure all was well. I think Nigel now has Paul McCartney’s mobile number, and I’m incredibly jealous.
Speaking of music, and Macca, I’m not the only one who has noticed what a good radio station KCSN (88.5) has become (“In the land of milk, honey, but no H20,” Curious City, Jan. 21). The old Beatle, whose new album sounds pretty good, called the station unannounced last week and chatted for an hour with program director Sky Daniels. Nic Harcourt, former KCRW (Santa Monica College) program director for 10 years, is on the air there six (not eight) days a week, spinning much better sounds than he did here, I think.
And hallelujah, Harry Shearer’s brilliant “Le Show” is there too, back at the 10 a.m. — 11 a.m. Sunday slot we all listened to for so many years until KCRW unceremoniously gave him the boot. (Shearer fell in love with New Orleans, but maintains a home of many years in Ocean Park. I’ve run into him a few times on the basketball courts near his house. He’s pretty good, but he cheats.) Santa Monica’s good radio has moved to Northridge, and it’s better than ever.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org