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Tymon Smith

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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Footnotes: Jimi Hendrix

Forty-one years ago today a young man died after choking on his own vomit in a flat in Notting Hill, London. He was 27, born in Seattle and christened Johnny Allen Hendrix.

The world knew him as Jimi, guitar virtuoso and pioneer, rock star, acid head, legend in his own lifetime and beyond. Hendrix still inspires nostalgia and hero worship all over the world as fans debate whether he was the greatest guitarist of all time.

There are plenty of books about Hendrix, who Rolling Stone magazine put at the top of its 100 greatest guitarists of all time list in 2003. Here are a few: Journalist Sharon Lawrence, a friend of Hendrix, wrote her biography Jimi Hendrix: The Man, the Magic, the Truth in 2005, a sympathetic account focusing on his career more than his early life, which makes the claim that Hendrix’s death was a deliberate act “to confront fate”.

Charles R Cross’s excellent biography from 2006, Room Full of Mirrors, made use of never-before-seen documents, letters and extensive interviews to try to unravel the man behind the legend. Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky by poet and Hendrix friend David Henderson was originally published in 1978 and has been regularly updated with new documents, photos and letters.

Last year’s Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius by Steven Roy and Brad Schreiber pays much attention to Hendrix’s discovery of the blues and his stint in the US army.

There’s no denying Hendrix lived an electric life that lives on 41 years later and the world of music has been influenced by him in myriad ways.

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Footnotes: 9/11 Ten Years Later

Today marks a decade since the attack on the World Trade Centre. There are several collections and articles dedicated to the commemoration.

First of these is Britain’s hardest-working literary magazine, Granta. Issue 116 of the magazine is titled Ten Years Later and contains contributions from Nicole Krauss, Nuruddin Farah and Pico Iyer among others. Mixing fiction, reportage, poetry and photography and covering everything from the experiences of soldiers going to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan to the circumstances that make martyrs out of young Tunisians, and the experiences of refugees in Libya to the tale of a former detainee at Guantámo Bay – Granta‘s latest is a sterling example of intelligent, well written and multi-format commentary on one of the most influential and tumultuous decades in living memory.

Of course the Americans also have their own magazines with fine writers and clever ideas and perhaps the best example of these is The New Yorker, which has released After 9/11, a collection of their coverage of 9/11 and its aftermath. Described by editor David Remnick in his preface as “a premeditated act of mass murder that reordered and distorted the decade that followed”, this collection provides a fascinating look at the progression from the shock in the wake of the attacks to the decisions by the Bush regime and their aftermath.

Contributors include stalwarts such as Lawrence Wright, Adam Gopnik, the intrepid Seymour M Hersh, Jane Mayer, George Packer, Hendrik Hertzberg and Malcolm Gladwell and cover everything from investigations into Bin Laden and his past to the secret history of the US “extraordinary rendition” programme and a final piece detailing the events leading up to the assassination of Osama bin Laden this year. There’s also extensive coverage of the decade in The New Yorker‘s latest issue available at

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Footnotes: Milk-Man, Randy Shilts

Thirty years ago today the National Center for Disease Control in the United States announced a high incidence of pneumocystis and Kaposi’s sarcoma among gay men. These would soon be recognised as symptoms of an immune disorder that became known as Aids.

These events, and the consequences, as well as the early history of the disease and the political infighting that hampered decisive action, were recorded by San Francisco journalist Randy Shilts in his 1987 non-fiction book And the Band Played On. Shilts, who was openly gay, also wrote The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk and was recognised as “the first openly gay reporter with a gay beat in the mainstream American press”. And the Band Played On was made into a film in 1993 starring Matthew Modine.

Shilts took an HIV test while writing the book, but refused to be told the results because he feared it would be impossible to be objective while writing. In 1987 he discovered that he was HIV-positive, although he did not disclose this publicly until shortly before he died from Aids-related complications in 1994 at age 42.

In 1999 New York University‘s Department of Journalism ranked Shilts’s reporting on the disease for The San Francisco Chronicle between 1981 and 1985 (the period of focus of And the Band Played On) as one of the top 100 works of journalism in 20th-century US history. He is still recognised today for his dedication to changing public attitudes to Aids.

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