[14 October 2011]
The promotional material for Jimi Hendrix: The Dick Cavett Show wants you to know that this freshly-released DVD contains “every appearance” that Jimi made on the eponymous program. What isn’t mentioned is that “every appearance” is another way of saying “two appearances”. Jimi was a guest on Cavett’s summertime program in July 1969, and again in September. That’s it. That’s every appearance.
The shows are engaging enough—Jimi sat and talked to Cavett for a few minutes each time, and played a song or two. “Hear My Train a-Comin’”, from the first show, is powerful but too short at under three minutes, and Cavett’s band provides adequate though not outstanding accompaniment. There are better versions out there, notably on the 1994 Blues compilation.
The second appearance brings the whole Experience to perform a medley of “Izabella” and “Machine Gun”. Again, the songs are fine, nothing astonishing. It’s especially tough to witness the epic “Machine Gun” reduced to a two-and-a-half-minute burst, but hey, this was network TV, and nobody was about to give the Experience the full ten or 15 miniutes the song warrented.
Besides the performances, Jimi sat with Cavett for brief but entertaining interviews. The interactions between the two provide the most fun and engaging moments on this disc. In large part this is because of Jimi himself, a shy man who relied on dry wit and an untra-cool demeanor to navigate the shoals of superstardom. But Cavett plays his role, too—he is the anti-Jimi, a geeky white nerd wearing horrific leisure suits who plays off the superstar’s image and manages to poke fun both at his own lack of cool and, very gently, at Jimi’s surfeit of it.
When Cavett asks earnestly, “Do you consider yourself a disciplined guy, do you get up every day and work?” Jimi replies in a lugubrious drawl, “Oh, I try to get up every day.” The crowd loves it, and Cavett does, too—he knows when he’s got a star on his hands.
But that’s all you get. The performances total roughly ten minutes, and the interviews another 15 or so. That’s all. The interviews are a treat, and Jimi gets off some good lines, but a viewer might wonder why, exactly, this disc was released with such a paltry offering.
These segments are padded out with Cavett’s opening monologues, which are interesting ina time-capsule sort of way, referencing as they do a host of politicians and issues which seem as distant as King Tut’s tomb. They have little to do with the man on the cover of the DVD, however, and add nothing to our understanding of Jimi as either a guitar player or a media figure.
The producers of the DVD, perhaps knowing that viewers are going to feel shortchanged by ten minutes of Cavett monologues and ten minutes of music, seek to round out the package with an hour-long documentary track, which fills the bulk of the disc’s 94-minute running time. This is the worst sort of padding, as it contains nothing new about Jimi at all, merely replaying the two Cavett episodes we’ve just sat through, interspersed with talking-head commentary from numerous people, including Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox and Cavett himself. These are fine folks, but what they do more than anything else is tell us how terrific Jimi was.
Note to producers: we know this already, or we wouldn’t have bought the disc. There is also a fair amount of rattling on about Woodstock, about Cavett’s TV career, about Jimi’s galvanizing effect on popular music and so forth. Nothing here is particularly interesting, surprising, or new.
Extra features are practically irrelevant on a disc like this, whose main body is itself an extra in the absence of actual substance. In any case, the “extra” here consists of a photograph of Jimi’s handwritten notes that he made while waiting to go onstage for the show. Like the rest of the disc, it is an underwhelming offering.
For nostaligic Jimi fans, the recently reissued DVD of Blue Wild Angel, Jimi’s Isle of Wight concert performance, is a far superior disc. It even contains multiple snippets of Jimi’s appearances with Cavett, cherry-picking the most memorable moments and working them into an opening 20-minute montage before the set proper. These bits will satisfy all but the most diehard of Jimi fans, and they have the added attraction of 100+ minutes of concert footage immediately following. (Actually, more than 100 minutes, if you include the alternate camera takes for half the songs.) Jimi is great, but Jimi Hendrix: The Dick Cavett Show is a document that you can safely miss.