Room Full of Mirrors
by Charles R. Cross, reading at Powell's, 1005 W. Burnside, Tues Sept 6, 7:30 pm
Former Rocket editor Charles Cross wrote the definitive biography on Kurt Cobain, Heavier Than Heaven, and now he's turned his attention to Seattle's other famous rock icon who died at 27, Jimi Hendrix. The guitar god's short, tragic life has become a genre in and of itself, and there are already a ridiculous amount of Hendrix biographies to date—but Cross' Room Full of Mirrors places among the best, simply because it's so well researched. Cross interviewed over 300 people for the book, including Hendrix's family members and childhood friends, many of whom who have never gone on record before.
There are a few new revelations—such as Hendrix faking he was gay to get out of the army—but for the most part, Cross retells a story already very familiar to those who like Hendrix. He puts a fresh and clear spin on the sad story of a boy born into obscene poverty to neglectful parents, a boy who grew up too fast and never really at all.
Hendrix is incredibly sympathetic in Cross' telling, despite the many negative stories included. Generally known as a kind and gentle person, Hendrix could become violent when drunk, sometimes beating his various girlfriends. Cross doesn't shy away from these episodes or excuse them, but offers up Hendrix's own alcoholic, abusive father as an explanation. He's equally even-handed when discussing Hendrix's drug abuse: the details are extensive, but not salacious.
Room Full of Mirrors doesn't get mired in the juicy gossip about Hendrix, or the half-remembered anecdotes of former groupies. Cross gives Jim Hendrix, the man, the kind of attention he deserves, acting as a reliable guide through an outrageous life. He gives Hendrix credit as a musical genius, but without stripping him of his identity, as many do, and turning him into a golden icon.
The tragedy continues today, with various family members embroiled in lawsuits over the Hendrix estate. After reading Room Full of Mirrors, you understand why the family continues to be such a mess, just two weeks shy of the 35th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's death.