Purple Haze Songwriting
Zero in on the lyrics for deeper meaning.
The lyrical landscape of "Purple Haze" is a sparse one. With only twelve lines of verse, a guitar melody for a chorus, and undoubtedly improvised background vocals filling any gaps, there is not too much to see here. While the song was intended to be much longer—with nearly 1,000 lines!—the lyrics as they appear in the final version are very bare. That is not to say that they are poor—in fact the lyrics add much to the song's sense of confusion and disorientation.
In its structure, the song is quite orderly: It's composed of three equal-length stanzas, which each contain two rhyming couplets, the first of which beginning with the song's refrain—"purple haze." But in its imagery, the song is entirely chaotic. Perhaps it is more fitting to say that the lack of imagery is chaotic, and that reality itself is undefined in the lyrics. That is, the lack of visuals, the sense of psychological distress, the upending of space, and the disordering of time all contribute to a lyric of psychedelic confusion.
Psychologically, the speaker is "actin' funny," and he "don't know why." The juxtaposition of the contrasting emotions in the question, "Am I happy or in misery?" emphasizes the total loss of self-knowledge. With respect to time and space, not only is the "when" of the song questioned, but the very existence of "when" itself is doubted when the speaker suspects that it may be "the end of time." Like time, an understanding of spatial orientation that we all take for granted—up and down—is lost as well with "Don't know if I'm climbin' up or down." The lack of lyrical orientation in space and time fits when you consider Hendrix's statement that the song was inspired by a dream that he was walking under the sea. Visually, nothing is certain except for the "purple haze," which is itself rather unusual; who's ever seen a real purple haze before? Even light is indistinct, with no distinction between "day or night."
Without the knowledge of time or space, reality is utterly confused. The abstract is physical—"'Scuse me while I kiss the sky"—and the emotions are scrambled. The experience is at once euphoric and frighteningly confusing. Welcome to the purple haze.
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