Rainbow Bridge by Mark Stone
February 2020. I have been listening to this album a lot lately. It was introduced to me in college by Peggy Simms Little's husband Tom (aka "Derelict") who was my roommate and close friend. Donald Dickson was also a really important friend of mine in those days, along with Varnum Ouyang, my roommate from the previous year.
I love "Dolly Dagger", which is a catchy tune that brings out Hendrix's R&B roots. And "Pali Gap" is a personal favorite, an instrumental number that shows an understated touch for melody that would surprise casual Hendrix listeners. I'm guessing its a song that Larry Henderson can appreciate.
But what really sticks with me is the final two songs: "Hear My Train a'Comin" and "Hey Baby". The latter was intended to be the foundation of Hendrix's next studio album, tentatively titled "New Rising Sun". "Rainbow Bridge" is a posthumous release, and presents Hendrix on the knife edge between falling apart and transforming to a new level of musical maturity. These final two songs on the album are really about that knife edge. "Hear My Train a'Comin" feels like a cover of some roots blues song, except that -- like "Red House" -- it's a Hendrix original. It is desolate, it is psychedelic, and it is mythic, invoking the metaphor of a train departing much as the Greeks invoked the metaphor of crossing the River Styx.
"Take me home
From this lonesome place"
By contrast, "Hey Baby" is about rebirth. It is about passing through mortality, and coming out the other side. All of the desolation that is so palpable in "Hear My Train a'Comin" is supplanted with cautious optimism in "Hey Baby". I hear someone who has carried a burden for a long time, and at last feels hope, knowing that the moment is coming when the present will change, and with a leap of faith one will commit to a future of unknown opportunity.
"[Is the microphone on?] Hey baby where are you coming from?
Well she looked at me and smiled
And looked into space and said 'I'm coming from the land of the new rising sun'
Then I said, 'hey baby, where are you trying to go to?'
Then she said 'I'm going to spin and spread around peace of mind and a whole lot of love to you and your kind'
Hey girl I'd like to come along"
Imagery of the divine permeats Hendrix's music. It fascinates me that when Hendrix invokes the divine, it is always in a feminine form. Vicki Saunders would not find that surprising at all. I'm learning. Slowly.
Tonight my brother-in-law was admitted to the hospital after being rushed to the ER. Cancer sucks. And my sister remains alone, in a home she crafted with her soulmate, uncertain of the outcome. I keep returning to a quote from my favorite philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, that Stefan Sencerz and I discussed decades ago: "What problem does immortality solve?" The Buddhist in my sister would likely answer that it solves no problem at all, for every moment is a moment of death and rebirth.
And in the ashes of that answer I am left wondering, like Leibniz in the "Monadology": "Why is there something rather than nothing?" You can, of course, choose to scoff at the question and proclaim it requires no answer. I don't fault you if that is your view. But I believe, with every fiber of my being, that that question has an answer, even if I have not apprehended it yet. And I believe that all the more as tonight my brother-in-law rests in the crucible between something and nothing, and my sister awaits the outcome.