In September of 1970, a week before Jimi Hendrix died at the age of 27, he was interviewed by British journalist Keith Altham in London. They touched on everything from freaky hairstyles to the future of audio-visual displays to raging against the establishment. PBS’s animation series Blank on Blank recently got a hold of those tape reels and turned the conversation into a six-minute animation.
The full interview was over an hour long and was digitized and released last year by Rock’s Back Pages Library, an online treasure trove of archived music journalism. Blank on Blank’s producer David Gerlach and animator Patrick Smith collaged together the best chunks, bringing back to life the man the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame calls “the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
In his supremely chilled-out voice, Hendrix fantasizes about waking up and plopping into an indoor swimming pool (“Is that luxurious?” he asks) and muses on the nature of reality: “You have to use fantasy to show different sides of reality; it’s how it can bend. As a word, reality is nothing, but each individual’s own way of thinking,” he says.
“We don’t do Pixar-style or even editorial cartoons where you’re trying to make an exact replica of the person,” Gerlach tells Co.Design. “Instead, we give a visual cue to tell you that this is Jimi Hendrix. In all the footage we sifted through, Hendrix wore this purplish, burgundy velvet jacket, a rich color that really stuck with me.” Blank on Blank’s animations have always stuck to black-and-white, but animator Patrick Smith decided to drench this one in Hendrix’s trademark purple haze. The animation is almost more captivating than on-camera interviews. “It brings your mental images to life,” Gerlach says. “You can go on YouTube and watch tons of on-camera talks with this rock God,” Gerlach says, but it’s rarer to see a humanizing cartoon of Hendrix shaving in a mirror, or basking in his dream pool.
Hendrix laughs a lot and talks about the future in this laid-back chat–will we one day all have extra rooms filled with colorful lights where we can “jingle out our nerves?” It’s a heartbreaking listen, given his looming fate. “When things get too heavy just call me helium–the lightest known gas to man,” Hendrix says.