Heidegger And Hendrix

Heidegger And Hendrix

Photo by Denis_Bourez – Madame Tussauds, London
I have in mind the Heideggerian concepts of ready-to-hand and present-at-hand, as well as the music of Jimi Hendrix. These musings have convinced me that Hendrix demonstrated the kind of thinking Heidegger talked about.


I have listened to the music of Jimi Hendrix since I was fifteen. Even then, I sensed something magical in his lyrics and in his guitar work. I suppose I could say that certain of his songs touched me (whatever that may mean) at the very center of my being. I liked the psychedelic stuff, but it was the gentle, poetic songs which made me think there was more to him than being just another rock star.

When I think of ready-to-hand, I see Hendrix and his guitar performing on stage. Heidegger said, referring to a hammer, “the less we just stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and the more unveiledly it is encountered as that which it is” (Being and Time, page 98). I can think of no better example of an object revealing itself as that-which-it-is as in the virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix. He seemed to fuse with the instrument, all lines of distinction being blurred in the magical sounds which emanated from him/it.

Jimi’s hands were incredibly large. He had very long fingers. Sometimes, he would play certain notes with his thumb, strategically hooking it around the neck of the guitar. It seemed as if his very Being was pouring out of him through his hands, through the guitar, into our ears. According to Heidegger, what gives food for thought withdraws from us. What withdraws from us is strange, or enigmatic. The music of Jimi Hendrix is no less strange than, say, the painting of Dali, or the poetry of Blake. It seems that true food for thought is always perplexing. Take, for example, Hendrix’s song, Bold as Love. It is a very melodious tune with strange lyrics about colors. It makes absolutely no sense logically, but there is something about it that is mysterious, something Zen-like which draws you into a deeper, more primal mode of thinking. Some might say it has to do with all the acid Hendrix ingested. I don’t know. I only know that it is a beautiful song, and that it is very deep. Heidegger says:

Whenever man is properly drawing that way, he is thinking–even though he may still be far away from what withdraws, even though the withdrawal may remain as veiled as ever” (Basic Writings, page 382).

I can’t get over how similar this sounds to what I have learned about Zen. In the koan, you have food for thought which withdraws just like Hendrix’s music, just like a Blake poem, or a Dali painting. So mysterious, yet so revealing!

Jimi’s creative use of feedback was one of the most enlightening aspects of his music, I think. Was it really just a lot of noise, or was it Dasein/Hendrix crying out in pain and pleasure? When he played the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, was he experiencing angst? Is that why he burned his guitar at Monterey in 1967? Noise or Being? I only know that when I hear it, I am deeply moved.

Undoubtedly, Jimi Hendrix was no less a thinker than William Blake or Salvador Dali. Sure, Jimi did drugs, but so did Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Should we ignore Kubla Khan or Rime of the Ancient Mariner for that reason? Doesn’t Dali’s work look like it was drug-induced, if viewed from within the categories of ratiocination?

Poets and artists are more qualified to be called thinkers, in my opinion, than those who limit themselves to logic. Jimi Hendrix deserves to be included among the thinkers.

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