All Writing and Photography © Alex Livingstone/Owner's Closet

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Letter To The Chronicle

(This is a letter I've written to The Austin Chronicle. I had to submit each section individually online but I'm mailing the letter in it's entirety via USPS. It is posted here as I wrote it. To read the article that drove me to distraction, click on this:

Dear Chronicle,

This letter is a reaction to Margaret Moser’s feature story regarding the five Jimi Hendrix albums released in March by Sony Legacy.


While I understand that the previously unreleased Jimi Hendrix recordings that have just been unleashed on the world warrant critical attention, I believe the need to review his groundbreaking and game changing original 40-year old recordings is banal. Does Moser or the Austin Chronicle truly think that any of their reading audience hasn’t heard these albums? Really. I would bet that the number of people in Austin who are intimately familiar with the recorded works of The Jimi Hendrix Experience outnumber 2:1 the number of people who voted in the last local election. Anything more than a review of his latest posthumous release, which barely exists in this feature, is telling us what we already know.


Amongst the few informative passages actually addressing the recent Hendrix releases, one that addresses non-musical information with any real insight is one that refers to Stevie Ray Vaughan. You just had to mention him, didn’t you? In a seemingly desperate attempt to continue to blow Austin’s exaggerated historical self-worth out of proportion, Moser connects Stevie Ray Vaughan to Jimi Hendrix by comparison of their penmanship! Weak. If musicians’ stylish misspellings provide glimpses of greatness, look for the next Chamber of Commerce mascot in the gear rental agreements at Rock N Roll Rentals. Better yet, double check the piles of rejected SXSW applications that will accumulate over at the Chronicle office this fall. After considering all the musicians who have emulated, worshipped, and covered Hendrix over the years, I’m confounded as to why Stevie Ray Vaughn was mentioned at all.


Moser, I can’t believe you had the nerve to state that at the time of his death, “Hendrix hadn’t discovered Texas guitarists yet.” Knowing that Hendrix was a big fan of Billy Gibbons is Rock 101. Gibbons’ Moving Sidewalks opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience on their first tour of the United States. If you had been paying attention in all the greenrooms and Austin Music Awards ceremonies your presence has graced, somewhere along the lines you would have heard that Jimi Hendrix very much admired and respected Billy Gibbons as a guitarist.

And by the way, what’s a blues native? Why did you interrupt an article about one of history’s greatest musicians with an anecdote about a teenage blues band that covered two Hendrix songs? I bet that has never happened before. Oh, wait. Millions of other burgeoning rockers and I all did that in the 9th grade. As difficult as it may be, please try to tell us something we don’t already know.


I too remember when Hendrix burst into my life. I contracted chicken pox in the eighth grade and for two weeks I stayed at home employing my parents’ record collection as a substitute soundtrack to Super Mario Bros. I remember Are You Experienced? and Heart’s 1985 hit-monster Heart being the two albums that were in heavy rotation. After repeated listens I became frustrated that “Third Stone From The Sun” skipped at the end during the industrial/piledriver fadeout. While this blemish prevented me from being able to hear “Third Stone” resolve the way Hendrix intended, the dynamic and rhythmic tour de force that had already occurred became the blueprint that would shape my musical world. And as millions of others’ stories go, my first band was playing “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze” in my friend’s garage the next year. (Sorry ‘bout that, Jimi.)

And now that I’ve shared this story I ask myself, “So what?” For a period of time in my youth, that Heart album meant as much to me as “Are You Experienced?” Does that mean that because badass Austin bassist Mark Andes played on that Heart album that he has anything to do with Hendrix? No. Nor does it mean that anyone wants to hear about my chicken pox any more than they want to hear about your crabs.


When I first read Moser’s article, The Big Lebowski analogies rushed to my mind as I imagined my The Dude to Moser’s Walter Sobchak. With hopes that my oft repeated question will actually be answered, I raise my voice to ask, “What does Stevie Ray Vaughan have to do with anything?” This question is a symptom of my exhaustion brought on by the nostalgia pedaled by the Chronicle, and Austin in general, on a regular basis. Nearly every week, the names of fallen heroes and venues fill the feature stories and gossip column as if these ghosts were the only major players the Austin music scene had to stand behind. Let’s move on, people. There are hundreds and hundreds of people alive in Austin, right now, renting PAs, recording equipment and rehearsal spaces, making their own music and hoping to be heard. And of those living people, dozens of them truly deserve to be heard by the millions just as the Sahms, Foleys, Vaughans, and Van Zandts have been.

Another way of saying this is that it’s sad that with so many musicians, bands and songwriters in this town, long gone B-list dinosaurs like Moby Grape are the ones getting a cover story. Moser, please don’t attempt a feature about the newly remastered and repackaged Exile On Main St. Rolling Stone already did the heavy lifting on that one.

Alex Livingstone