In this rollicking biography, Norman (
Paul McCartney) follows the electric guitar god from hardscrabble Seattle boyhood to enormous fame and his 1970 martyrdom to rock-star excess. (The author’s lengthy postmortem considers conspiracy theory suspects—his manager, the mafia, the CIA—before returning to the official line that he overdosed on sleeping pills and drowned in his vomit.) Norman styles Hendrix as a great Black crossover pioneer who founded heavy metal with his flamboyant stagecraft and use of feedback and other effects in his virtuosic solos, which saw him play guitars with his teeth and behind his back and then hump, burn, and smash his instruments in ritual sacrifice. (Offstage, Hendrix is more shy naif than rock demon in Norman’s telling.) Norman combines colorful, energetic picaresque—“It might have been a brilliant duet had not Morrison been helplessly drunk and ruined the recording by shouting ‘I want to suck your cock’ at Jimi until Janis Joplin subdued him by breaking a bottle over his head”—with lush evocations of Hendrix’s sound. (One solo “resembles a thrillride through some extraterrestrial cityscape, each gush of the slide like a glowing elevator, sibiliantly ascending or descending.”) Norman’s entertaining, psychedelically tinged portrait shows why Hendrix made such a deep impression on rock ’n’ roll. (Sept.)
"Philip Norman is the accomplished author of more than 20 books, including biographies of such members of the rock peerage as Buddy Holly, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, and the real value of his book lies in the almost casual comments he offers about Jimi’s one-of-a-kind brand of rock ’n’ roll."
Wall Street Journal - David Kirby
"A balanced look at Hendrix’s life and music. . . . Interesting stories include Hendrix’s work as a sideman on the chitlin’ circuit and for Little Richard and the Isley Brothers. Hendrix’s final few days are outlined in chilling detail."
Vintage Guitar - Bret Writer
"The most thorough and insightful biography of McCartney to date."
"Philip Norman, in a brisk and efficient accounting of a brief life, explores the theories that accompanied the death of someone who stood apart, not just in terms of his obvious talents but in his ability to seek to fuse rock with jazz and even funk, and who had the divine touch of infecting others’ songs . . . with something both personal and spectacular. . . . Norman, with the proper responsibility of the assiduous biographer, goes over the fateful day [of his death] and talks of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes.’ But there was a weary inevitability to the death of the guitarist. . . . Norman is a practiced biographer of rock legends. . . . It is wonderful to be reminded of how small was that world of popular entertainment in the USA."
"Nothing less than thrilling. . . . [T]he definitive biography—comprehensive, intelligent, sensitively written and exhaustively researched."
"Devotees will relish the new information, while casual readers will find a familiar story told more truly than ever before."
"Groovy . . . Where
Wild Thing succeeds, sometimes spectacularly, is in its retelling of the Hendrix fairy tale: the story of little motherless ‘Buster’ Hendrix, pigeon-toed from years of too-small shoes, rising out of deprivation and the blue-cold Seattle winter to storm the spires of rock and roll. The details have a strange glimmer . . . And a sadness sets in as one reads the last two chapters of Wild Thing. It’s the sensation of Hendrix slipping out of the story, out of this world."
The Atlantic - James Parker
"A fascinating exploration into the man, the myth, the legend that was Jimi Hendrix. . . . Part celebration, part investigation,
Wild Thing is the most boundary-pushing Hendrix documentation yet and is sure to get music lovers and pop culture enthusiasts talking as the anniversary of his death nears. Philip Norman has established quite the reputation himself. . . Wild Thing is another masterstroke from the Londoner."
Beat Magazine - Tom Parker
"Jimi Hendrix seemed to have it all, including an origin story fit for a Greek tragedy, one skillfully narrated by the prolific Philip Norman. . . September 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of his untimely death at 27, and much has already been written about his tragic life. But in Norman’s hands, that life becomes even more astounding thanks to an abundance of rich details. . . . Norman is strong when writing about race."
New York Times Book Review, "The Best Books to Give This Year" - Lauretta Charlton
Wild Thing is] an almighty great read . . . like taking a step back in time. The characters are so well-depicted that I could remember traits and mannerisms from fifty years ago. I was totally transported into the milieu and now am sort of haunted by the tragedy of it all."
"A mammoth, haunting, terrific piece of work."
Wild Thing celebrates the life of a musician whose star shone all to briefly. . . . No other artist embodies the mythologies of rock ‘n’ roll like Jimi Hendrix. Philip Norman chronicles the life and times of this trailblazer and explores the contradictory personas that make up this inimitable figure in 20th-century music."
James Marshall Hendrix (1942–70) will be forever remembered as one of the key figures in rock music.
Rolling Stone magazine is not alone in ranking him "the greatest guitarist of all time." Sadly, he is also a member of the 27 Club, those memorable musicians including Robert Johnson, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse who all perished at that young age, and it's that tragedy that informs Norman's ( Paul McCartney: A Life) book as much as the extraordinary musicianship of his subject. Norman weaves artistic achievement, personal struggles, and management difficulties together, making the tragic outcome seem if not acceptable then at least understandable. Occasional suggestions of what Hendrix might have been thinking notwithstanding, Norman avoids sounding overly sensationalist and draws heavily on his revered biographies of other key figures of the time for context and color. Readers searching for complete details of Hendrix's recorded work will need to look elsewhere, as this is by no means a definitive catalog of his output. But as a biography of the legendary ax man, this is the one. VERDICT There will be much interest in all things Hendrix on the 50th anniversary of his death this September. As his chronicler, Norman is, most definitely, experienced. Essential for music collections and anyone interested in Hendrix or music of the 1960s. [See Prepub Alert, 4/15/20.] —Bill Baars, formerly with Lake Oswego P.L., OR
A perceptive look at the rock superstar.
Norman has created a successful niche for himself writing first-rate biographies of rock musicians, including John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Elton John, and Buddy Holly. Add to that esteemed list James Marshall Hendrix (1942-1970). Sharon Lawrence, a former reporter and a close, “platonic” friend of Hendrix’s, was a consultant, and the title of the book ostensibly refers to Hendrix. However, born in Seattle to alcoholic parents, Jimi wasn’t all that wild—until he got on stage, playing his guitar with his teeth, something he learned from a band mate, or smashing and burning it. Norman describes a poverty-stricken, shy youth whose aunt gave him the $5 he needed to buy his first guitar at age 15. Left-handed, he turned it upside down to play. “From that moment on,” his brother recalls, he “lived only for the guitar.” Hendrix dropped out of high school, did a stint in the Army, and played backup for the likes of Ray Charles, the Isley Brothers, and Little Richard. His big break came thanks to Chas Chandler of the Animals, who was interested in trying management. Much impressed by Hendrix, he brought him to London in 1966 to perform, later signing him up. Chandler also found his band mates for the Jimi Hendrix Experience: bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. Norman does a fine job recounting the remaining whirlwind years of his subject’s life, discussing individual songs; the admiration of fellow guitarists; his stunning American debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, which turned him into a flamboyant fashion icon and a legend in his own time; and the “bizarre” tale of his plaster-cast penis. The author goes into detail about the days and hours before Hendrix’s death in London from an overdose of sleeping pills. "Jimi’s death,” writes Norman, “would be replayed over and over, with as many variations, and improvisations, as one of his guitar solos.”
An intimate, accomplished biography of a peerless musician.