*Disclaimer – skip the first half of this article if you don't want to waste your time hearing me go off like a machine gun on a rant about Everyman and want to get to the part about the Electric Church.
I've spent the last six hours on a motorcycle and the splattering of insects on my visor as I straddled the bike and balanced between speed limits/cameras for that time has left a bad taste in my mouth. On the M-roads leading me to London I open up the throttle taking me towards the gospel of a new Jimi Hendrix documentary entitled Electric Church and make it just in time for the press screening. 'That'll be £5.80' I'm told after being, from what I presumed, offered a complimentary beverage (a beer of which I wasn't asked my preference of type/brand) at the Everyman Cinema on Baker St. The bad taste in my mouth was compounded after the pint turned out to be a bottle, 'sorry' the bartender shrugs. Wanting to distance myself from the experience I find a seat near the DJ who is to his credit spinning a most excellent selection of classic and rarely heard Hendrix tunes. I sit back and start sipping on a not-for-every-man extremely indulgent beer.
What I can only assume is one of the hosts/curators walks over to the DJ and says, 'can you turn this up? I want to create a more lively atmosphere in here, it's a party' to which his response is, 'seriously?' as he's forced to reluctantly comply. I'm sitting in what was the only available seat (15 minutes before the start of the event not the film) below a speaker next to the DJ booth and as there are no other available seats in this very small lobby/reception of the basement boutique cinema turned cacophonous noise chamber I'm forced to remain here. The place is full, but it's far from a party. Fortunately I carry ear defenders with me wherever I go as most of those places are gigs. I can just about tolerate the thrashing my eardrum is receiving when we start being herded (more of a visual cue as no one can hear themselves speak or think) into the screening for the documentary. 'Do you know what this is for?' I'm asked at the entrance to the screen by an employee putting lanyards with plastic tags over people's heads offering three months of free Apple Music whether you liked it or not. 'Yes' I reply, 'it's the press screening for the Jimi Hendrix documentary Electric Church.' 'That's right' she says as she puts the lanyard over my head. I'm shown through and select my seat, front row, by the screen so I can write my notes using the light from the screen on paper rather than ruining the documentary for everyone by being on my phone.
'I think that's my seat' says a 70 year old man in a panama hat and seersucker suit. I'll forgive the fashion choice for the event as it's an unseasonably warm May. 'Pardon me' I say, 'but are you here for the press event as well, I didn't know they were doing assigned seating?' 'I don't know what you're talking about but I bought this ticket, here look.' He was right and I was embarrassed, I quickly apologize and just as quickly vacate my seat to him. I marched back up the aisle to confront the lanyard distributor who says, 'oh yes, I forgot to ask, here you are on the list' she crosses off my name and points me to the second last row at the back of the cinema where I'm seated behind a three-headed obstruction I can't see over. Super. Did no one think to ask where, in an unannounced assigned seating event, I'd like to sit? What if I was near/far sighted or had special needs? Next to me are sat what I can only assume are some Vlo/Bloggers or just poorly mannered/specimens of the human race because throughout the entire film it's just loud talking, instagraming and just after the halfway mark the pair leave loudly.
I'm not sure what sort of quasi-press event, 'party' or Music Film Festival this was or who over at Everyman organized it but it was a uniquely terrible experience. That being said, even this steaming pile of garbage I was handed wasn't enough to deter me from what was a truly a sensational documentary and pre-film talk. Let me set the stage for you, it's a weird time in America in the '70s, but when isn't, am I right? To be fair, it's always a weird time everywhere I've discovered living and traveling abroad but I digress. The Vietnam War is raging a world away and the draft lottery has come into effect in America. This financially bankrupt, corrupt, lottery marches its way across the states undeterred by distance or barriers. It seems the only obstacle it can't or won't overcome is a socio-political one. This climate adds a layer of cold sweat on the backs of young men throughout America, mostly the poor, disenfranchised and uneducated though. If you're in school, meaning you can afford by pedigree financially one way or another due to your race or class, you're cool to chill.
Segregation has been abolished for years now but someone forgot to tell the South by which I mean the government and law enforcement in Alabama are pretty lax about enforcing those civil liberties by law. Even though the nation was largely asleep pivotal cats were clued up and wanted to wake others up but how? Musicians, gonzo journalists and silver tongued event organizers who could get their hands on (other) people's money began leading the charge. They started by questioning politics, the policies of their government and even the media. Enter Alex 'shit disturber' Cooley. Cooley, self proclaimed leader for the anti-establishment, decided to detonate a cultural atomic bomb in the middle of the Deep South of Alabama in a small town 100 miles outside of Atlanta called Byron. Cooley, now, is a very an-assuming character in a loose fitting green jumper sprawled out on a dimpled smoker's parlor brown sofa but back then he was determined to plant a seed he knew would sprout into an idea. Alex states "It's not that there wasn't a plan it's just that 500,000 people messed it up"; he's talking about his bomb, otherwise known as The Second (and final) Annual Atlanta Pop Festival to be held on America's Independence Day, July 4th 1970.
This documentary takes us through the events running up to and during this festival before one of the most memorable performances by Hendrix I have ever seen. Not only that but for most of this event there was ZERO power or facilities of any kind for any one but they managed to have just enough light for Steve Rash and his film crew to direct and record this seminal performance. Shot on 16mm in a super low light environment the footage has been restored, after being abandoned in a barn for 40 years! What's been produced are some of the most vivid images I've seen of Jim performing live with massive July 4th fireworks exploding in the background as his guitar splits the night wide open. Yes, visually the doc is spot on but is that all? No, that is not all. It's got substance and I particularly appreciate the structure, check it. The first half is a standard chop job of archival footage with interviews but it's the subject and people that help solidify the backstory, civil unrest/terrified locals, and what could be on the horizon of America's as of yet to be written future. Electric Church gives us interviews with warm locals from Byron then AND now who lived through it. They even track down the chief of police who served back then. There was one policeman he states during the 500,000+ event and zero crimes reported. They've also tacked on Some A-list musicians like Metallica's Kirk Hammett and Paul McCartney who's musical career eludes me at present as it was short-lived and obscure without much notoriety. We're even given first hand accounts by Bobby Cox and Mitch Mitchell who played that set with the man himself. I think what I liked best though outside of the expert insights from professional musicians were the interviews with the festival's technical staff, ground crew and that crazy chief who got a biker gang (the Wandering Geese, tough as nails them lot) to keep the 'long-hairs' in place.
The film then goes right to the meat of it, Hendrix's performance. We're dropped into an eight song uninterrupted set including some of my personal favourites like: 'Hey Joe', 'Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)', 'Purple Haze', 'Straight Ahead', 'Freedom', 'Room Full Of Mirrors', 'All Along The Watchtower' and a proper rendition of 'The Star Spangled Banner', not that shit from Woodstock. Eddie Kramer mixes the music for the set and in the words of Mia Wallace, 'I said GAWD-DAMN...God DAMN', solid work my son. About the only thing the cinema did right that night was crank the volume up, RIGHT up. Living in London loud volumes and hi-fi's, these are luxuries most like myself don't posses. Truly satisfying coupled with Nash's crisp footage.
What of the man himself, Jim, I hear you ask? Shit, he's one smooth cat, man I tell you what. Listen to him talk, hushed smooth whispers, never raises his voice. Every issue in this film in that time, of these people pertains to him, he doesn't bust a sweat (outside of shredding it on stage). Former paratrooper, bi-racial, musician, thinker, philosopher but that's not the focus of the piece. It's addressed but as for what Jimi has to say about it? His music does the talking. I think I clued up to Jim under different and lighter circumstances, Wayne's World came out and they blasted 'Foxy Lady' as Wayne got a glimpse of Tia's curves. For me, Hendrix has always been the Cheshire cat smile floating in the darkness, mysterious and all knowing without a mean bone in his body. The film drops a couple of primo interviews into the mix before his performance, one in particular when he's on the Dick Cavett show. He broaches the subject of the Electric Church (god I love when they use the title of the movie IN the actual movie!) how everything is electrified these days, they play electric guitars and that, 'we plan for our sound to go into the soul of the person, you know, and see if they can awaken some kind of thing in their minds because there are so many sleeping people, hah, you can call it that if you want to.' This documentary isn't a story about the man and where he came for, his politics, where he was going we already know all that and the short version is poverty love and death. This was about the man's message, what he stood for and how he delivered it and I think it's the underlying theme and drive of this whole documentary, purity and love. Kirk Hammet says, "he took a fairly pedestrian guitar and turned it into a lethal weapon" fuck-yes he did and he slayed the shit out of everyone back then and to this day all while plucking the fucking axe with his god damned teeth. The only victims? Poor taste and ignorance, to which I say good riddance to bad trouble. He proved that 500,000 people of all denominations and ages could get together, think and preach without a single act of violence or crime committed. They blew the whistle on the establishment that claimed the ongoings were catastrophic to Byron from the 3-5th of July 1970 calling the place a disaster zone not to be entered.
Final thoughts? Question this article, question everything. I walked out of this documentary thinking and in the end isn't that a sign of any work of merit? I walked away with three questions in particular. 1) Jimi Hendrix was categorized as 'Pop-Music', that's fucking wild. 2) We, the human race, have made a lot of good and bad decisions and depending who you talk to the scale tips in either direction. Believe me when I say this but perhaps the most profound blunder we've made collectively as a people is sending the Golden Record on Voyager into the infinite beyond of the cosmos with the sounds of whales and thunder on it instead of Jim's performance at the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival. 3) Learning more about the man through his ideals and music I really wonder what would the world I know look like with Jimi Hendrix still in it? That one put me in a loop like taking acid and looking into a mirror. Okay, maybe 4) Would I recommend the Everyman Cinema Music Film Festival? Hard no on that one, in fact I'd go so far as saying FUCK-NO. Give it a WIDE berth. I would however say you'd be remiss and doing yourself a mighty disservice as a Hendrix fan or human being if you skipped over entering Jimi Hendrix's : Electric Church though.