William Saunders is the author of the biography Jimi Hendrix: London. Here is a link to his blog:
Q: What made you interested in writing about Jimi Hendrix?
A: I first became interested from talking to people who had seen him play in small London clubs back in the 1960s. At the time I often went to hear music in clubs myself and the idea of seeing someone as extraordinary as Jimi Hendrix in a small space seemed mindblowing. It was intriguing to think of someone so legendary in what for me was an ordinary environment.
I was a child in London during the 1960s and it was a strange era to witness. As time passed I found I wanted to write about it more and more because it was becoming buried under legend. The Austin Powers movies, for example, are great fun but based on what British television looked like in the 1960s. London in the 1960s, the London of my childhood, was a great grey, soot-stained city, very bleak in many respects. It’s hard to realize now how refreshing and glamorous any burst of color seemed.
Q: What was the most interesting thing you learned about Mr. Hendrix when researching the biography?
A: What I learned over and over again was how charming and sweet-natured he was. I have never come across anyone who disliked him. He had an appalling childhood and many disappointments in his youth, so it would be understandable if he had been bitter or scarred in some way. If nothing else his life shows that nobody need be a prisoner of a terrible past.
The most bizarre thing I learned is that he was roped in to play Santa Claus at an infant school as a publicity stunt to promote his second album in December 1967. Apparently he looked a bit eccentric (then again he looked a bit eccentric when he wasn’t dressed as Santa Claus) but lived up to the role very well.
Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for the book?
A: They found me. I heard Roaring Forties Press was doing a series of books about artists and cities. I pitched them a couple of conventional ideas and then added “I know this might sound odd but I think there’s a really good book to be written about Jimi Hendrix and London.” To my surprise that was the idea they went for. I later learned that they had already decided that if anyone pitched them a Jimi Hendrix idea they would take it, without even sight of a synopsis. This goes to show that you should never stifle an idea just because you’re afraid it will sound crazy to someone else.
Q: What makes someone a rock star?
A: In a word: image. A star is someone in whom we see qualities we’d like to see in ourselves. Not necessarily good qualities either, vulnerability is very much part of stardom. A star of any kind is someone who lives out our desires and faults on a much greater scale than we could, or would. Stars are a modern phenomenon of mass media but the rules of the game were written down in Aristotle’s Poetics over two thousand years ago: hubris and nemesis for them, catharsis for us.
There is no doubt that Jimi Hendrix’s image ran ahead of his music and still does. He was an icon before he was famous and still many, many people know who he was without knowing very much about him. I’ve done my best to recover both the man and the talent from the image, because powerful as the image is, both are far more interesting. I’ve tried to show there was nothing inevitable in the Jimi Hendrix Story, not even his success. He didn’t particularly want to be a star, and didn’t enjoy it all that much when he became one.
Q: How did London influence Jimi Hendrix?
A: London allowed him to be himself, he’d been an outsider all his life until he came to London. The Blues, the music he loved, was out of fashion in the United States, but there was a lot of interest in London. He also found his voice as a songwriter. Many people are confused when they encounter the various and often weird ways English is spoken in the British Isles, he was fascinated. He liked word-play, and as he said himself, hearing English spoken in England opened new possibilities of language for him.
Q: There has been much controversy surrounding Mr. Hendrix death. What do you think was the real cause of death?
A: I think he died of accidental barbiturate poisoning, just as the Westminster Coroner originally decided. Barbiturates were widely and legally available in the 1960s, they are very toxic, and accidental overdoses were not unusual. The rumors that he was murdered are just preposterous. Some of his close friends believe that the overdose might have been deliberate. Barbiturate overdose was a frequent and effective method of suicide, and he had many troubles in the last weeks of his life. Suicide can be an impulsive decision too, so I can’t entirely rule this idea out, although I see nothing to suggest it.
If people want a mystery, how about the question where was his friend Devon Wilson when he died? She had been seen with him earlier but then she vanishes from the story. I’m not suggesting she caused him any harm but if anything was covered up, it might well be that she was present at his death. She died in NYC in 1972 from a fall from a balcony, which might have been suicide.
Q: What other kinds of writing do you do?
A: Every kind that there is. I’ve published poems, written advertising copy, been a magazine and a newspaper journalist, I write short stories, and longer works of fiction, and recently I’ve been working on a couple of short screenplays with a movie director. Come to think of it, I’ve never written for the theater, but there is an idea for a play I fool around with now and again.
Q: Why do you think blogging has become such a popular hobby?
A: Because it’s so open, and that’s also what’s so good about it. With Blogger and WordPress anyone with internet access can start a blog instantly. As someone with a MSM background I should be intimidated with the influx of new talent and fresh competition, and sometimes I am. My own start was in alternative media so to see the opportunities for self-expression blogging brings is a dream come true. In any craft, art or occupation you learn by doing, more than anything else, and blogging allows people to start doing straightaway, without having to beg someone to give them a chance.
Q: If Jimi Hendrix were alive today and you could only ask him one question, what would it be?
A: I wouldn’t be able to resist asking him what he thought of my book.
Q: What contemporary bands have strong Hendrix influences?
A: I believe he has influenced every guitarist since. Prince and Lenny Kravitz are very obvious examples. His influence is also felt in some places nobody would expect. The violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy is a Hendrix admirer. The classical Kronos Quartet have performed some of his music (which would have delighted him, because he liked Baroque music). He is also the founding father of funk music, or at least its grandfather via Bootsy Collins.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)