When I started looking through the songs on Jimi’s First Rays of the New Rising Sun to decide upon a song to write about, I didn’t think about what was going on in my life when I first heard this fantastic collection of music. Every song on this album is perfect, but there are three that I consider favorites: “Dolly Dagger,” “Belly Button Window,” and “My Friend.” I knew my choice today was going to be between one of the latter two songs, so I thought I should play each of them to help me pick. I listened to “My Friend” first, and I immediately knew that was the one.
Jimi Hendrix recorded a lot of music in his short time on this planet, and thank God for that! We’ll have “new” music from him for decades to come, thanks to not only Electric Lady Studios where he could record at his leisure, but also to his family who keeps his legacy alive. Jimi conceived the idea of First Rays of the New Rising Sun as a double album that would highlight not only his evolution as an artist but as a human being just trying to move through life and make an impact. Unfortunately, he left us before he could complete the album exactly as he wanted, but I cannot imagine a better tribute to his creative genius than this.
First Rays was released in 1997, and when I really got into it mid-year my best friend and I had just broken up. I have always taken solace in music when bad shit happens, and this album was a great friend to me then. But I don’t think much about that situation with my friend when I listen to it. All I think about his how much I love every fucking song, how I still remember all the words, and which songs get stuck in my head and randomly appear to me when I wake up in the morning.
I definitely played “My Friend” a lot while driving around in my car back then. I’m sure I thought about my ex-best friend, because we really were inseparable for three years.
Sometimes it’s not so easy,
‘specially when your only friend
Talks, sees, looks, and feels like you
And you do just the same as him
The style of this song is boozy and bluesy and funky. It sounds like Jimi’s making up the lyrics as he goes along, just a few musicians chillin’ in a bar and having a good time drinkin’ and singin’. Some of the lines don’t make a lot of sense, but they are so poetic that you know how perfectly they fit into this song about friendship. I love everything about it, and I get especially loud when I sing this part:
I just got out of a Scandinavian jail
And I’m on my way straight home to you
But I feel so dizzy
I take a quick look in the mirror
To make sure my friend’s here with me too
I also love the lines “my coat that you let your dog lay by the fire on,” “a lady with a pearl-handled necktie tied to the driver’s fence,” and “I just picked up my pride from underneath the payphone/ and combed his breath right out of my head.” I mean, come on! Who writes like that? Jimi loved Dylan, and this song showcases that.
How much more could Jimi have achieved? “My Friend” makes me wonder. But at least I have that song, and it’s so fresh to me every time I listen to it. There are so many layers to his work, so much to hear and feel and think about. Jimi will never not be important.