I went a long, long time without listening all the way through Electric Ladyland. As soon as I discovered that two of Jimi’s greatest tracks, “All Along the Watchtower” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” were at the end I just listened to those, since the rest of the album was just too arty and unwieldy for me to handle when I was a teenager. I listened to the more straightforward Are You Experienced and final two Electric Ladyland tracks for several years before I bothered to listen to Axis: Bold as Love or the rest of Electric Ladyland. Even though I bought Electric Ladyland when I was in high school, I didn’t really sit down and listen to the whole thing until I had graduated from college and moved out to Los Angeles. A couple months after moving out here, I was driving home from where I was working in West LA, stuck on the 405 along with everyone else who was trying to get back to the San Fernando Valley.
I have a giant CD wallet that I keep in my car at all times (though all the CDs in it are burned copies — that way if they get stolen I don’t lose much), and I decided to put on Electric Ladyland. It was a few weeks after daylight savings had ended, so it was already completely dark, and if you’ve ever made the trek on I-405 from the West LA to the Valley at night, you’ll know that there’s very little light in that corridor through the hills. There are likely two reasons for this. One, they’re always doing construction (they’ve been at it ever since I moved out here a year and a half ago), so there’s very little that’s permanent along the entire highway, and two, it’s always so jammed with cars (six or seven lanes wide each way and getting wider — that’s what the construction’s for, at least ostensibly) that everyone’s lights collectively have to suffice. It’s one thing I notice whenever I visit back east: the highways are always fully — and evenly — lit. Maybe it’s just because California’s broke, but the streets are really poorly lit in LA. Driving 0n this dark freeway around the Hollywood ridge with such fractured, uneven light set to the album that defined ’60s psychedelia was quite an experience, to say the least.
Electric Ladyland was originally a double LP, sprawled out over 16 patchy tracks of uneven length, but thanks to modern technology they can all be listened to in one go, because like many double albums originally released on vinyl, all of Electric Ladyland fits on one CD. (Of course, even 80-minute CDs are being rendered moot in the iTunes/iPod age.) Electric Ladyland is one of those albums that reaches out of the darkness and messes with your sense of reality. There’s something about Hendrix’s superhuman playing that makes me just sit back and say to myself, “Jesus, we’ll never hear anything like this ever again.” It’s almost like he’s pulling the sound, bending it supernaturally beyond what is physically possible. Unfortunately for everyone, Hendrix died before releasing a proper follow-up to Electric Ladyland, but it’s hard to imagine Hendrix ever really topping this one. Are You Experienced may be more significant, but Electric Ladyland was easily his greatest accomplishment.