As of Wednesday February 10, 2016, the lucky public will be able to pay a £7.50 fee for the privilege of walking around Jimi Hendrix’s former apartment in Brook Street, London. They’ll be able to paw at his old Bakelite telephone and gawp at a bottle of the Mateus rosé he was so fond of drinking with his steak and chips, all the while basking in the vintage-sixties decor that has been faithfully restored by the museum’s curators. Everything has been meticulously recreated to evoke him and his genius, from the lyric sheets casually placed on bedside drawers to the turntable neighbouring records by Bob Dylan and the Beatles.
Yet, for all its commendable attention-to-detail, the museum neglects the most important thing about Jimi Hendrix. Namely, it misses the fact that the guitar legend wasn’t the kind of person who paid money to walk deferentially around the renovated flats of his idols and inspirations. Sure, he had his influences and heroes, but he was great because he didn’t pay them too much respect, because he strove to go beyond them. He was a trailblazer who pursued his own distinct identity and individuality, who wasn’t satisfied basking in the glory and renown of his peers but was determined to obtain glory and renown of his own. This is why visitors to ‘his’ museum will fail to experience perhaps the most essential facet of his personality, since they will be too busy losing themselves in the aura of his hat and his bed.
If they want a more intimate and revealing picture of what he was like, they’d do well to reacquaint themselves with footage of Hendrix playing guitar with his teeth, or setting fire to his guitar, or turning the Star Spangled Banner into a protest against itself. Or they could just listen to his music, a tumultuous marriage of blues and psychedelic noise that far outpaced many of his contemporaries for invention and intensity. It would be here that they’d rediscover his essence: a fervent desire to express and distinguish himself, to be the best he possibly could be in his particularly field. This doesn’t come from visiting a commoditised shrine to someone else’s celebrity, and neither is it available for consumption in the particular shrine dedicated to him.
It isn’t available, which means that visitors to the new museum will be confronted with a space that collects many of the outward signs of his talent, but harbours an empty inner core. However, the point here is that the very erection of a museum dedicated to worshipping his personal effects is in direct contradiction of this core or spirit, making its resuscitation and recreation by the public all-but impossible. It’s arguable that, by being attracted by his traces and images, people will be distanced from the very attitude and temperament that made him the singular person he was. For a museum to do this would be something of a betrayal of its own mission, a darkening of music history rather than its illumination. Then again, so long as its customers remember that Hendrix was more than some fancy rugs, and that his pioneering spirit probably wouldn’t have enjoyed consumerist hero-worship, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t go down to Brook Street and see those rugs for themselves.