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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Fire" reflects its title through the raw energy of the Jimi Hendrix Experience

Is it pyromania? No, but it's a frantic and psychedelic trip that makes you feel like something's burning inside you.

You may be wondering why I decided to make my ultimate pump-up song the topic of yesterday's post, considering the Big Game isn't until Saturday. Why not save it for the day before?

The answer: tonight was the annual Bonfire Rally, and I want a song that fits the occasion.

In an odd-numbered year, when the Big Game is down at Stanford, the Bonfire Rally is the premiere event of Big Game Week to take place in Berkeley. So many of the week's traditions come to a head at the rally, which features a plethora of spirit groups and is now highlighted by a sustainable 'bonfire' structure which greatly limits carbon emissions in substituting for the burning of wood.

In capturing my excitement at the rally finally arriving and the Big Game being so close, today I call upon Jimi Hendrix and his rapturous "Fire" to set the mood. A feverish, soulful take on psychedelic rock, "Fire" embodies the wild heat of its title subject, as well as other energies often ascribed to it.

From the first moments of their debut record Are You Experienced, the Jimi Hendrix Experience firmly inhabited the psychedelic rock realm, but also showcased a pronounced blues flavor. The eighth track of the album on both the British and American versions, "Fire" most definitely fits the above description in all its frenetic flair. It's a track that simply never sits still, always moving in multiple ways and seemingly ready to burst through with a massive sonic explosion. With its title in mind, I equate the song to a fire with some gasoline being poured on it at varying speed, with its greatest bursts of energy in the chorus. As much as Hendrix's singing does in the verses, the backing vocals singing "Let me stand next to your fire" ramp up the energy in the chorus as much as any other instrument, while also nailing down the lyrical theme.

Instrumentally, as much as Hendrix's guitar drives the vast majority of discussion around his catalog, "Fire" might just be the Hendrix track in which I'm interested in the main man's instrumental work the least. Don't get me wrong, he does cool things and he's got an intense albeit brief solo section, but I also was just interested by other things. More than anything, I find myself really drawn to Mitch Mitchell's drumming. With the song's sparse arrangement in the verse, Mitchell is often the only player behind Hendrix's vocals, and he uses the space he's given to craft some downright funky beats. Some of you may say it's just a backbeat, but it's awfully rare it stays that way for more than a few bars at a time. His snare drum-driven variations make me think of Clyde Stubblefield's work with James Brown on faster numbers — it's the kind of drumming that's insatiably danceable, and it makes you want to land on those snare hits like your life depends on it.

Between its repeating main lyric and its drum-driven energy, "Fire" is a track whose raw energy reflects that of its title. As the bonfire structure gleams and burns tonight, I'll probably hear it in my head as I take in all the amazing work that goes into putting on such an event. Then, we'll all look forward to tomorrow and the event that will bring in the evening.


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