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Setting Hendrix Free

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

This week’s Free Ride* takes us into the lyrics of a song that came out posthumously in 1971 from arguably the best rock and roll guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix, who would have turned 68 today. The song, Freedom, carries a lot of irony, and not just because it came out soon after Hendrix died from a drug overdose in his quest to free himself via chemical means. It is also ironic in its connection to Hendrix’s main guitar influence, Curtis Mayfield.

Many times Hendrix cited Mayfield as his favorite guitarist, and the r & b legend’s influence certainly shows up in the Hendrix ballads. Here in the blues song Freedom, we see a lyrical influence as well, in the closing lines of the song. As the last chorus concludes with Hendrix calling for freedom to live, freedom so I can give, he has his background singers channel some Mayfield lyrics,

keep on pushing straight ahead,
keep on pushing straight ahead

Mayfield’s song, Keep on Pushin’, recorded when he was frontman for the Impressions in 1964, was a motivational challenge dedicated to the work of the Civil Rights movement. The irony lies in the use of the word push that would come around a few years later, when the angst of the black community turned from Bull Connor’s dogs to drug addiction woes in the inner cities. Mayfield would use the word in one of his more famous songs, Freddie’s Dead, from the Superfly movie, speaking of the tragic figure who was pushin’ dope for the man. Not the kind of push you want to encourage people to keep on doing.

In between the two Mayfield songs Keep on Pushing and Freddie’s Dead, that is, between Civil Rights and Superfly, Jimi Hendrix recorded Freedom, and then left the world before the song could be released. Like too many who have longed for some sense of transcendence from the shackles of this life, he searched for it in the wrong places, in LSD and amphetamines. Instead of freedom, they gave him another shackle to deal with, addiction.

As our society continues to push for that elusive sense of freedom in all its manifestations – political, civil, economic, emotional, spiritual – we would do well to both keep on pushin’ and to keep an eye out for the pushers who inhabit our street corners. The dope they’re selling may not always be in the form of drugs – our addictive nature has found many monkeys to climb on our back. We now have political junkies, news junkies, mall junkies, junk food junkies, sexting junkies, you name it, the pushers can find a way to sell us on their ability to free us from our troubles. When we see them coming, we can sing along with Jimi,

better stick your dagger in someone else, so I can leave,
set me free! . . .
Freedom, so I can live
Freedom so I can give

*Free Ride is a Saturday blog that takes a different song each week and muses on the lyrics of freedom. If you have a favorite “freedom” song (it could be any song that has the word free or freedom in it), feel free to suggest it in the comment box below. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.



  • December 21, 2010 at 9:00 am

    I confess to wondering how a post about Jimi Hendrix could glorify God. You did it beautifully.

    Comment by David Guion

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