I am a fan of Jimi Hendrix (since 1966!), and have also read widely about him; I am currently writing my own book which explains factors about him that have been over-idealised. Given the BBC’s record in mangling history, I therefore looked forward with some trepidation to a BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast earlier this week about this musical genius by the lefty singer-turned- broadcaster Tom Robinson. As I feared, it was mostly a car crash. Robinson spent a good deal of time telling us that Jimi was a supporter of the Black Panthers, and his overall message was that he was at heart a leftist sympathiser and sometime activist who supported – albeit sometimes covertly – every liberal cause around in the 1960s, including being resolutely against the Vietnam war. There were some qualifications to this picture, but the overall thrust was very clear: he was lefty icon and hero. Mr Robinson also disgracefully told us that the Black Panthers were virtually an unmitigated force for good, carefully omitting any reference to their many acts of violence.
The reality of Jimi’s life is very different and much more complex. I believe he did not condemn the Vietnam war outright because at the very least, he was ambivalent about it, having served as a member of 101 Airborne, and he had chums like thbe bassist Billy Cox who were also ex-servicemen. Nor was he a rabid supporter of the Black Panthers; the reality was that he knew that if he crossed them they would make his life hell in that they specialised in creating crowd troubles at selected events. Charles Cross, Hendrix’s most recent biographer, makes this very clear, and in fact mentions the Panthers only seven times in his 500-page analysis, virtually as footnotes. The real evidence suggests that if anything, Jimi – despite his showmanship – was by instinct a social conservative. But at any rate, his powers of analysis and capacity to become involved in any movement were severely limited by his drug addiction.
I could go on, but I think I have made the point. Yet again, here was a full-scale BBC effort to tailor historical reality to fit their own extreme world view – and to cheer, en route, for the Black Panthers. Shameful.