Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze' Is About Aliens, Not Drugs
Jimi Hendrix was the psychedelic '60s made manifest, all free love and burning guitars and tragic amounts of drugs. He was also a quiet, shy, science fiction-loving nerd. And, believe it or not, it was those nerdier parts of Hendrix that helped him write "Purple Haze," his first big hit, and propelled him to international fame.
Look at this nerd.
As a child, Hendrix was enraptured by the Flash Gordon serials and watched them whenever he could. He even told his parents to call him "Buster," a name he borrowed from the lead actor. He doodled flying saucers, wrote fan fiction and some of his own stories, and read whatever sci-fi books he could find. Even as he got older and found a new obsession in the guitar, his old habits stuck with him.
One night, after playing a small solo gig in Greenwich Village, Chas Chandler, former bassist for The Animals, came up to Hendrix. Chandler was trying his hand at producing and thought Hendrix had the stuff, kid. That's probably not exactly what he said, but you get the point. Chandler managed to convince Hendrix to fly out to England, where the latter ended up crashing at the former's home.
Lo and behold, Chandler was also a sci-fi aficionado. He had bookshelves stuffed full of novels Jimi had never heard of. While brainstorming songs and auditioning members for his backing band, and synergizing branding parabolas or whatever, Hendrix spent his free time tearing through Chandler's library. This crash course in advanced science fiction literacy included Philip José Farmer's 1957 novel, Night of Light, a story about an interstellar sun rolling up once a generation to start warping and distorting reality. Farmer also mentions the "purplish haze" of sunspots glowing around a distant planet, a phrase that resonated with Hendrix and stuck with him well after he put the book down.
One day, while he was backstage and waiting to go on with his new band, the phrase popped back into Jimi's head, and, in a torrent, he began writing a ten-page, thousand-word poem about the bloody, war-filled history of Neptune. After the show, he edited the crap out of that poem, paired it with a guitar riff he'd been working on, and "Purple Haze" was born.
That wasn't the only sci-fi song of Hendrix's, either: "Third Stone from the Sun" and "Up from the Skies" were both inspired by George Stewart's Earth Abides, another book borrowed from Chandler's library.
So, there you go. "Purple Haze," a perpetual marijuana anthem, is actually about sunspots and an alien planet. Sorry, stoners – or, maybe, you're welcome.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters, and he recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He’s also on Twitter a bunch.
Top Image: Hans Kerrinckx/Flickr