Wild Thing: The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix

Philip Norman. Norton, $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63149-589-2

In this rollicking biography, Norman (Paul McCartney) follows the electric guitar god from hardscrabble Seattle boyhood to enormous fame and his 1970 martyrdom to rock-star excess. (The author’s lengthy postmortem considers conspiracy theory suspects—his manager, the mafia, the CIA—before returning to the official line that he overdosed on sleeping pills and drowned in his vomit.) Norman styles Hendrix as a great Black crossover pioneer who founded heavy metal with his flamboyant stagecraft and use of feedback and other effects in his virtuosic solos, which saw him play guitars with his teeth and behind his back and then hump, burn, and smash his instruments in ritual sacrifice. (Offstage, Hendrix is more shy naif than rock demon in Norman’s telling.) Norman combines colorful, energetic picaresque—“It might have been a brilliant duet had not [Jim] Morrison been helplessly drunk and ruined the recording by shouting ‘I want to suck your cock’ at Jimi until Janis Joplin subdued him by breaking a bottle over his head”—with lush evocations of Hendrix’s sound. (One solo “resembles a thrillride through some extraterrestrial cityscape, each gush of the slide like a glowing elevator, sibiliantly ascending or descending.”) Norman’s entertaining, psychedelically tinged portrait shows why Hendrix made such a deep impression on rock ’n’ roll. (Sept.)