Friday, May 2, 2014

No. 34 – Stone Free

Performer: Jimi Hendrix
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Smash Hits (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)*
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: Live at the Fillmore East, 1999.

* Stone Free was released originally as the B side to Hey Joe in the United Kingdom in 1966, but it didn’t make its official U.S. debut for two more years.

Live at the Fillmore East is the extended version of Band of Gypsys. It’s worth buying entirely for the near-13-minute version of Stone Free, which features one of the top five guitar solos I’ve ever heard. The solo really kicks in after the 3-minute mark of the song when Hendrix hits a pedal that makes his guitar sound like it’s on strobe. It has to be heard to be believed, let alone appreciated.

I’ve had periods where I listen to Hendrix all the time followed by long gaps where I don’t. I’m currently in the latter, due to my general sentiment to not give the money-grubbing Experience Hendrix any more of mine.

Not that it’ll ever stop putting out music to try and make a buck, but let’s face it: One can buy only so many albums that have the same songs on them. I think I’ve reached my saturation point. Not that my respect for Hendrix is any less than ever, but there’s no more new music—only variations on what I know. That’s interesting for only so long, or at least, it’s worth paying for only so long.

Live at the Fillmore East wasn’t the last Hendrix album I bought, but it was at the end of a long Hendrix run. Actually, I really listened only to Stone Free, because it was a song I didn’t know that well. It continued to be a regular play on my Walkman at the gym for the next year, during which an incredible thing happened. I’ve mentioned that Laurie calls me St. Will of Assisi. Debbie did, too, and the following is why specifically I got that moniker.

One night in February 2000, Debbie and I were finishing up post-dinner activities. We had a full bag of trash that had to be hauled out. Trash day was the next day, and our barrel was already out by the street. I took the bag out the front door, not bothering with a coat to make the sprint to the barrel. As I hustled out the front door, I felt something zip past me, and as I closed the door, I heard Debbie make a sound of surprise in the background.

When I got back inside, I found out why: A bird, a house finch had flown inside. That’s what I felt zipping past me.

What was a house finch doing flying around at night, and why did it fly into our house? Debbie liked to put seasonal wreaths all year round on our front door. It was obvious that this finch had taken up roost on the heavy pine wreath we had on the door, and when I opened the door suddenly, the startled finch flew into the house instead of away from it.

The finch frantically was trying to fly out the huge overhead light we had in the kitchen, thinking the panel was a window, and it kept banging its head against the ceiling. Our ceiling had spackle, with its ridges and peaks, and the finch must have hit one hard, because it was bleeding. Whenever it bumped into the overhead light, it left a small red mark on the fixture. This was no good.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much we could do while the finch fluttered about in a panic. It found a wall hanging over the doorway to the dining room to perch upon. (The wall hanging had sprigs of various grains on it.) OK, we had to try and catch it somehow while it rested and let it loose back outside. I grabbed a trash bag.

However, as soon as either one of us—and by us, I mean me—approached, the finch started another futile flight around the kitchen light, banging more into the ceiling. Finally, the finch flew to the other end of the great room to the bookshelves next to the hearth and chimney, where it was no easier to catch. We inevitably chased it back to the kitchen and the light and its newfound perch … and back.

I had visions of this lasting all night, but I noticed that when the finch flew to the great room each time, it flew lower to the floor. By the third time, it landed on the hearth. OK, the finch was getting tired. I retrieved a small stepladder and set it up under the dining room door wall hanging. The next time the finch flew back in this direction, I’d get on the ladder and capture it in the bag.

We chased the finch from the family room, eluding the plastic bag (ARGH), before it lighted on its doorway perch. This time it didn’t move any further. I started to climb the stepladder and held open the bag, so when it flew, it had almost nowhere to go but into the bag. It didn’t fly.

I now was at the top of the stepladder, and I was eye to eye with the finch. When it let me get this close, I saw that the finch knew the game was over. It kept blinking its black eyes but doing nothing more, not making a peep, just sitting there. It was exhausted, and I could tell that the finch knew that whatever was about to happen to it, it couldn’t do anything about it.

I didn’t think I could reach out and grab the finch successfully. A sudden movement might cause it to fly away again, and we’d played this game long enough. So, I started talking to the finch, soothing it, telling it it was OK. I held out my finger and slowly, carefully slid it next to the finch, creating a new perch for it to step on.

Debbie later said that when she saw me do that, she was about to say no way the finch was going to go for that. She never said that, because as soon as I stuck my finger next to the finch, it clamped onto my finger with one foot.

I kept talking to the finch, trying to soothe it as well as my own nerves, because, again, any sudden movement probably would be a setback. I moved my finger a bit to try and encourage the finch to put its other foot on there, and, sure enough, it did. OK, now I have to get down the stepladder … slowly.

I was focused totally on the task at hand, talking to the finch, trying to keep it calm, moving as slowly as possible, but my emotions reflected Debbie’s wide-eyed silence. Can you believe this? I have a wild bird perched on my finger! What backyard birder doesn’t aspire to that level of communal with nature?

Finally, I reached the door that Debbie opened as soon as I began to walk with the finch, and the finch still was on my finger. I’d made it! Now it just has to fly away. I said to the finch “OK” and shook up my finger into the air, so it would fly up and away. It didn’t move. “OK.” Nothing. I stood there for about 30 seconds trying to flick the finch off my finger. Finally, it regained enough strength, or took the hint, and disappeared into the night.

Well, Debbie and I were in an uproar after that. Did that really just happen? Debbie said she didn’t want to grab her camera, which was on a table next to the back door, because she was afraid the sound might startle the finch, so no photographic evidence exists, but we agreed: It definitely happened.

Of course, there was a practical matter to consider—clean up. I sponged the blood off the light fixture, and there seemed to be no bird doo anywhere, which was a surprise as well as a blessing.

Debbie told me the next day she happened to look out the front door and saw two house finches in the crabapple tree in front of our stoop. She said it probably was the bird from last night telling the other what happened. Or maybe it was just warning, don’t sit on that wreath. Either way, that once-in-a-lifetime experience wasn’t repeated.

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