What would it be like to live forever?
To become immortal (in the online sense)?
Why don’t you ask Jimi Hendrix? He knows.
Really? But isn’t he, um, dead?
Yeah, but his spirit lives on. His legacy. His music.
Umm … OK if you say so. But …
Go on. Ask him.
OK. Here goes …
A (fantastically fictional) conversation with Jimi Hendrix
Mark Hermann: So Jimi, I see kids walking around today in t-shirts with your likeness on them. And they were born 20 years after you passed away.
Why is it that more than 40 years after your death, your name still resonates across the generations?
And what could you teach us down here on Earth to help us on our journey to find our own personal legend? To become immortal?
1. You have to want to change the world
Jimi Hendrix: Yeah, well I guess that kind of blows my mind, you know? People still talking about me and my music and all. It’s really cool. But like, maybe it’s because I changed the world, dig?
I showed people a glimpse of another reality. The one you used to play in naturally as a child before they taught you to color between the lines, you know? When you still remembered the place you came here from.
MH: Well, yeah. That and the fact that you were the most amazing guitar player in history.
JH: Well, thank you man. But now dig. When you chose to come back into the physical world, you were given a message from the creator that you and you alone get to deliver during your life on Earth. It’s like your gift, you know? And you have to realize the power you possess within you to do amazing things, man. It’s the same for each and every living soul.
But it’s really a drag that most people when they get down there and they start to grow up they forget. They get caught up in their daily realities, dig? But that’s all just an illusion, man. Nothing but a room full of mirrors.
I guess I just delivered my message.
2. Create something that has never existed before
MH: Jimi, you were voted The Greatest Guitar Player Of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine. You shattered the boundaries of what was sonically possible on the electric guitar along with electric music as a whole, creating sounds never heard before.
Songs like Purple Haze and Foxy Lady, no one before or since has ever sounded like you. And you accomplished all this in like three years, before we sadly lost you when you were just 27.
How did you do that?
JH: Well you say I shattered all these boundaries, but I was just trying to hold up a mirror to reflect the unlimited possibilities of your own true potential. There are no boundaries, man. The only limitations are your imagination.
You know, most people just see the light coming through the window. I was trying to show you a glimpse of the rainbow that you really are. All the colors, man.
Whether you play music or write or teach or heal or lead nations, you are a creator sent from the original creator and your life is a blank canvas that you get to color in any way you choose.
So why would you waste your precious time on Earth painting by the numbers and copying what some other cat has already created when you could be a total original?
3. Become the dream
JH: Now, you’re talking about my career as though it began after all the hoopla started with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. But I had the dream back when I was real young.
See, my old man never bought me a guitar. But in my dreams I was already playing one. So I was walking around my elementary school strumming a broomstick I made to look like a guitar. People thought I was crazy but I didn’t care, man. My teachers wanted to kick me out. I didn’t care.
I wasn’t going to let a little thing like not owning a guitar, or people trying to put me down, stop me from playing one anyway until the dream became a reality, dig?
Your dreams are real. But you got to believe in them or they start to fade if you don’t pursue them, OK?
You can’t sweat what other people think. A lot of people are stuck in this reality they think is solid. But it’s not, man. It’s fluid. You can change it. You just got to do your thing your own way and follow your heart. It will lead you to the truth.
4. Be passionate (to the point of obsession)
MH: They say you were so obsessed with music that you slept with your guitar, Jimi. Care to elaborate on that?
JH: Well, yeah it’s true I guess I did do that. But you know, if you really want to get to the essence of anything you do and understand it on a spiritual level, you got to become one with it.
If that something is a woman, you got to make love to her, man. Join in that physical union with her. That’s the only way to know her completely, dig? To expose her deepest secrets. That union is our connection to the universe.
The guitar was that woman for me, dig? She would only reveal those secrets if I could know her on that deepest spiritual level. Music was all I could think about.
So yeah, I guess you could call that obsession.
But that’s what you got to do if you want to shine your incredible light. You’ve got to ignite your passion and lose yourself in those flames. And if you can surrender completely to them they will fuel your soul.
That’s where you will find your truth.
5. Putting in your 10,000 hours
MH: They say you practiced religiously when you finally did get that first guitar.
JH: Yeah, every day and night. Without fail. I got lost in it. But I was on a mission, you know?
I just knew deep down that if I wanted to be the best, I had to become the master of my ship. And to do that you got to pay your dues and put in the hours, man.
You sweat. You get frustrated. You make your mistakes, but you keep at it until you begin that ascension. No way around that. That’s how you steel yourself for the journey. On Earth that’s the only way you’re gonna climb that mountain and reach the summit, dig? You got to do the work.
But this was love. So it never felt like work. It was joy.
6. First you imitate then you innovate
MH: How do you learn to invent something that never existed before you?
JH: First thing is you got to pay your respects to the masters who have come before you. I remember some jazz cat once told me early on,
First you imitate, then you innovate. If I can’t hear your influences, I don’t trust you as a musician.
You could apply that to anything you do in life, right? So you need to start there.
Now I always loved the blues, you know? B.B. and Albert King, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, cats like that. I worked really hard until I got their licks down cold under my fingers.
And I was also sneaking into the clubs any chance I could get, watching the more experienced cats in my area doing their thing live. I would soak it all up, man.
Then you take everything you’ve learned, you melt it all down and put your own spin on it. Transform it into something else. Like alchemy, man. This becomes your sound. Your bag of tricks. Then it’s not stealing. It’s just adding your spoke to the wheel, right?
But like anything in your Earth life, you can’t build a house, a castle or reserve your place up here in the Kingdom without a solid foundation. You got to be able to show ‘em where you came from, dig?
Remember that, brother. First you imitate. Then you innovate.
7. You have to study with a master
MH: You wound up playing with guys like Little Richard and some of the other great R&B artists of that era. How did that come about?
JH: Well, you know my dear friend and bass player, Billy Cox (Band Of Gypsies), who I met while serving together in the army, he hooked me into this heavy gig scene down South.
They used to call it the Chitlin’ Circuit. Man, we played every back alley juke joint, theater and dive there was to play down there. It was rough. But it also whipped me into incredible shape.
And yeah, we ended up backing up cats like Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and Little Richard too. I always said I wanted to do with the guitar what Little Richard could do with his voice. He was an amazing cat.
I learned everything I knew about show business and showmanship playing with those cats.
But now dig. If you want to become a master you have to study with a master first. And I only got that opportunity because I put in the time back when. You got to show them you’re worthy.
Don’t ever forget that. There are no shortcuts, OK?
So my advice to you is if you aren’t or you can’t find a way to work with the heaviest cats in your scene, why don’t you reach out and ask them to help you?
Seems to me with all those powerful little boxes y’all spend so much time carrying around these days, you can get in touch with just about anyone, right? All you got to do is ask.
Dig, here’s a little secret from the universe.
Ask for what you want. It’s more powerful than you can ever know. Don’t ever be afraid to ask. No matter how big the request. If it’s from your heart, know that the universe is listening. And the universe will respond.
8. Exude total confidence and lead
MH: So Jimi, with all that experience and practice, you were already a master long before you ever got your big break.
JH: Let’s just say I was ready when the call finally came. Look, in your very brief physical life on Earth, you only have this moment. This is your time and your creative space. And you got to own it.
Ain’t nobody gonna hand you the keys to this kingdom, dig?
So after playing with those great cats for a while, my soul was starting to grow restless. Every time I tried to shine my light a bit on stage, they would shut me down and say I was showboating.
So I had to move on and try to find my own way. You know, eventually every bird has to leave the nest and spread its wings, right?
9. But can you really put the walk to the talk?
MH: So how did you climb that mountain?
JH: Well, you know when you’re young and trying to prove your mettle, you want to become the greatest swordsman in the world. So you’re going to have to get into a lot of swordfights and win, right?
So I would show up at jam sessions in whatever town I was staying and wait for my chance to play. And when I got it I made sure you were going to have a real tough time following my act.
I know that sounds childish now, but back then, when it was my time on Earth, I had to figure out how to rise up to a place where my light could be seen so I could finally deliver the message, right?
If you want people to remember your name, you got to put yourself all the way out there. Show ‘em all your colors. No holding back. You got to blow people’s minds, dig? So they have no choice but to become your messenger to help spread the word.
This is the path to the Kingdom.
10. Do you believe in the dream enough to persevere when no one is listening?
MH: To say that you simply showed up on the scene and the rest is history would be oversimplifying the story.
JH: Yeah, the truth is that when I first set out on my own, people didn’t really get it. I didn’t fit into one of those neat little boxes they set up for the pop artists of the day. I was a bit of a freak show, I guess.
But you know, I didn’t just shrivel up and throw in the towel when nobody was listening, man. I knew I had this message the world needed to hear. So I persevered.
And gig by gig, city by city out there in the shadows, I got my act together and polished my show. I got better and better, turning people on one by one until my day in the sun finally arrived.
Who was that cat? Emerson I think, who said, ‘God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.’ That’s truth, brother. This journey will test your faith.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d ever find my audience.
11. How far would you go to climb the mountain?
MH: You finally left the Chitlin’ Circuit and set out to try your luck in New York City.
JH: Yeah, I settled in Harlem. I immediately started jamming all over town to get into the scene, you know? You got to connect with your peers, man. Let them know you exist. People started to take notice. Eventually, I won the amateur contest at the Apollo Theater, which caught the attention of some pretty heavy cats.
But still, even after meeting cats like that, people like (Rolling Stones’ manager) Andrew Loog Oldham and (future Sire Records President) Seymour Stein, neither cared much for my act or my music and passed on me. So I wasn’t sure where to turn next.
But in England, the British Invasion was just starting to explode. Chas Chandler, from The Animals (House Of The Rising Sun, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place) was visiting the U.S. and caught my act. He knew they would dig it in England. So I signed a deal with him and he brought me over there.
But dig, I left everyone I ever knew behind. It was kind of scary. Traveling to a new land where you don’t know anyone. But that’s what you got to do sometimes if you want to climb that mountain.
And I guess that’s where the stars began to align for me, you know? When I left my comfort zone. Almost immediately, I was playing in front of the very cats I had been hearing all about in the States. Cats like Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend. They all came out to see me.
That’s what it takes. You got to be willing to travel across that desert to find your oasis. Knowing you might starve before you find it. That’s when you find out if you really believe.
I made it across the desert, man.
12. Don’t fit in. Stand out.
MH: Jimi, you never did quite fit into the conventional mold. Pretty much right from the start. Can you talk about that?
JH: Yeah, you know I couldn’t really hold down a job very long and couldn’t cut it in this man’s army. Never could deal with people telling me what I could and couldn’t do. They said I was untrainable (laughs).
Same with my music. They had these little boxes they wanted it to fit into and my music just didn’t fit any of ‘em. So I made my own box, dig?
A brother in hippie threads playing distorted white rock and roll combined with R&B / soul influences? In the Sixties? Man, white people weren’t sure what to make of me. And black folk thought I wasn’t black enough.
You can’t waste time worrying about what other people think. Trying to fit in. Just make your own scene and throw a better party. Wave your freak flag high. That’s what I did, man. Eventually the world had no choice but to gather round my box, dig?
13. Be totally outrageous in your work
MH: You didn’t just stand out, Jimi. You were totally outrageous! That takes real courage.
JH: At some point you got to stop trying to please everybody. Always being polite and playing it safe, dig?
Look, most people walk around their whole lives totally asleep. Your job is to wake them up and show them the light. So you have to give them something unforgettable. And the only way to do that is to do something outrageous.
That’s what happened at the Monterey Pop Festival. They say that was my defining moment, where America and the world got to know my name.
So I already knew The Who had their act where Pete Townshend would smash his guitar and they would trash the stage, right? And I had to follow that act and close the show. So I had to figure out how I was going to top that. That’s when I decided to burn the guitar.
I guess some people viewed it as sacrilege but it was always meant as a sacrifice, OK? As in the one you love. Like making a sacrifice to the gods of music for the gift of this amazing opportunity.
Like I said, man. You got to put yourself all the way out there if you want people to remember your name.
Yeah, some people were offended by what I did at Monterey but that’s all right. Let them love you or hate you, man. At least you know you got their attention. Everything in between is worthless.
14. “Very good” won’t get you invited to this party
MH: Jimi, down here on Earth we speak about the immortals. People who live on forever in our hearts. People like Gandhi. Mozart. Albert Einstein. John Lennon. Miles Davis. Leonardo Da Vinci. And Jimi Hendrix.
You weren’t just famous. You were all remarkable in some unique way. Iconic. One of a kind.
What is the common thread that leads mortals to become immortal?
JH: You left out Jesus Christ, Moses, The Buddha, and Charlie Chaplin too, man. He was another amazing cat.
Well, it’s pretty simple really if you can just open your mind to it.
Most people can’t see past their own nose, dig? You have smart people and simple people, rich people and poor people. There are famous people and a whole lot more who are totally unknown. But it’s all just two sides of the same coin, man. The same illusion.
But everyone you mentioned, eventually they climbed that mountain and found their truth. They remembered their message and became a direct channel from the creator, dig?
And when you can show someone a glimpse of the divine, it gives you great power over them because they don’t believe they can achieve this themselves. They need a leader. So they feel they must return to you again and again to be reminded. It becomes a kind of religious experience for them, dig?
But you have to be able to take them to the top of that mountain and show them the view.
15. Do you electrify your audience?
MH: It’s been said, Jimi, that when you played the Star Spangled Banner at the close of the famous Woodstock festival in 1969, that your image with that headband and the fringe jacket along with that stunning rendition of the song encapsulated the entirety of the Sixties in that one iconic moment.
When we see old footage of some of your performances, the audience is mesmerized. What did you do to them?
JH: Well, I just tried to bring them to my electric church every night, dig? See, electricity is within you and all around you. It’s beyond thoughts and words. That’s why I played electric music, man. It was about getting past people’s eyes and ears and connecting directly to their souls. This is what you have to do in your own work.
And in my church, through this electric music I would show them all the colors of this life experience. The pleasures. The pain. The horrors of war, the fire of passion, the power of love. All through our universal connection to the music.
And like any good sermon, I would take them higher and higher until they gave in to the experience. I would try to show them the top of that mountain every night, man.
Once you have given that experience to someone, they will have to come back again and again.
16. Can you walk on water?
MH: Jimi, you created sounds both live and in the studio no one had ever heard before. How did you accomplish that?
JH: Well, I always saw sounds as images, colors and shapes and needed to somehow express that in my music, you know? But the recording technology at that time didn’t easily allow for that.
That’s when I met (producer / engineer) Eddie Kramer. He was a magician. He was the translator. He turned the recording studio into a whole new instrument of expression for me. A bridge from the cosmic to the physical, dig?
I would say something like I wanted the guitar to sound like Medusa. So he would turn the tape upside down and have me play a guitar solo normally so that when you put the tape back on correctly the guitar would play backward and create this whole other serpentine kind of vibe, dig?
We come here to Earth to create together, man.
In your journey, there’s always someone you’re supposed to find who possesses a key element missing in you. And if you find them, when those two elements come together, sparks fly, man. It’s beautiful. That someone for me was Eddie Kramer.
The wheel keeps on turning. You tear things down, rearrange the elements and you build something new. That’s how new worlds are created. Alchemy.
17. Be totally and fearlessly you 24/7?
MH: Jimi, you would walk the streets and show up to recording sessions dressed to kill, like you were about to walk out onstage. The consummate rock star. Were you acting out a role? What did the real Jimi Hendrix look like behind closed doors?
JH: Does a peacock change his feathers when he walks into a new room? When I was in the physical world, what you saw was what you got, dig? I was just expressing myself in all my colors, man. The clothes, how I talked, what I believed, the music I played, it was all a reflection of the same thing, Jimi Hendrix.
At some point in your life you got to take a stand and be you. All in 100%. There was no god of wishy washy, dig? You got to say it. You got to play it. You got to live it.
Do you think when John Lennon got home each night he hung up his cape and became the mild mannered Clark Kent again?
How you gonna change the world if you’re afraid of your own reflection, man?
18. You Cannot Fake Your Way Onto Mt. Olympus
MH: Jimi, I hear people talk about faking it until they make it when they talk about how they found success in life. Just acting like you’re an expert until you become one. Do you think that applies to becoming immortal?
JH: I don’t know. Maybe that would work to get over on someone or to sell something someone doesn’t really need. But it’s just a human thing, I guess.
Dig, throughout history mortals have always been obsessed with status and celebrity. And they would do anything to get next to it. To move up the ladder, you know? And there have always been those people of means and influence who have ingratiated themselves into the party, Ok?
But there is no advertisement you can buy or political figure you can try to get next to who can grant you access to the place you’re speaking about.
Dig, you can’t fake your way to immortality. Because it speaks to something deep down in the soul that resonates on a level beyond words or thoughts or ideologies or social status.
Music is either true or false, man. It needs no words to help you decide. It’s like a direct path. Either it connects with you spiritually or it doesn’t.
It’s the same with your work. Truth is universal. If your work comes from that place, it connects and resonates far and wide. If not, there’s only disconnect, dig?
So to become immortal is to do or create something so profound that it shows people their own connection to the creator. To the truth.
And no earthly possession can hold a candle to that.
19. Jimi’s secret weapon
MH: Jimi, it seems like there was this X factor that attracted people to you that seems to defy all the typical explanations of how one obtains legendary status. What was that secret sauce?
JH: Well, OK I’m going to lay some mojo on you now (laughs) and let you in on a little secret.
Did you ever wonder why all those romance novels women just eat up always had that same character? The tall, dark and handsome stranger who did forbidden things to them. Stuff their man could never do? Awakening feelings from deep dark places they never knew existed?
Because it’s dangerous, man! It’s erotic. Taboo. It makes them feel alive. It’s that freedom from our physical being that comes when we climax and catch a glimpse of the creator, dig?
That’s what I would try to bring out every night through my music. You ever seen footage of one of my live performances when I would take the guitar and approach the amps as they howled with feedback, and I would start driving myself into the guitar and the amp?
I wasn’t making love to the music, man. There was no subtle innuendo, Ok? I was f**king those amps! Dig? (How else can you say it?)
That’s what you have to do in your work, man. Whatever you do. You got to stir up something deep down in people that resonates on the most intimate level, the place where we all share that divine connection. You have to ignite all the senses, dig?
You have to show them the truth.
20. Become a beacon
MH: So how can you know when you’ve crossed over and are walking with the gods, Jimi?
JH: I don’t really know, man. Those are things that get decided later by the Wind and the Earth and the Sky long after you’re gone.
Allow the creator’s message to shine through you. Become a beacon for all humanity to see and navigate by. Become that perfect mirror that reflects the extraordinary potential in each and every soul that walks the Earth.
To dare to be different and stand up for what you believe in a world that prefers conformity and maintaining the status quo, you run the risk of being shunned or looked at as an outsider. Hang out there and welcome that place, man.
Life begins on the outside. That’s where you will find your truth. And you would be in good company too.
That’s what I did, man. I hope you do too.
Blow people’s minds. Do something dangerous. Be misunderstood.
You just might be on your way to becoming immortal.
Dig, every one of you has been given this incredible gift. Life. Don’t squander it, man. And please don’t forget your assignment, if this content marketing thing is what you’re in to.
Shine your light. We’re counting on you.
About the Author: When not channeling rock and roll demigods, Mark Hermann is a music producer, writer and guitar player. He's toured the world with genuine rock stars, produced Grammy nominated artists and has been featured on CNN, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Mix and Wired Magazine. Read more of his stories about how to discover your own personal legend at Rock and Roll Zen.