Purple haze all in my brain
"Purple Haze" has long been seen as a defining song of the psychedelic drug culture of the later '60s, but Jimi Hendrix always said that the song was inspired by a dream, not by drugs.
The dream that Hendrix had (that he was walking under the sea) recalls an excerpt from a book that he had read—Philip J. Farmer's Night of Light. The book, a science fiction novel, even uses the words "purplish haze."
As definitive as this source for the imagery may appear to be, many listeners continue to assume that it is all a drug reference. It is now long-established urban legend that "Purple Haze" referred to a variety of LSD Hendrix was fond of; in more recent times, younger listeners have assumed the song referred to the "purple haze" variety of cannabis (which is actually almost certainly named after the song, not vice versa).
Some stories are apparently just too good to go away, even if they aren't true.
'Scuse me while I kiss the sky
This lyric is frequently misheard as "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy."
"'Scuse me while I kiss this guy" is perhaps the greatest mondegreen in all of modern pop music. A "mondegreen" is a misheard phrase that gives new meaning to a lyric.
The word "mondegreen"—in our view, one of the greatest words in the entire English language—was coined by the writer Sylvia Wright in the 1950s; as a child she had misheard the lyric of an old Irish ballad called "The Bonnie Earl O' Murray," turning the actual line "They have slain the Earl O' Murray / And laid him on the green" into the somewhat more comical "They slain the Earl Amurray / And Lady Mondegreen." As Wright wrote, "The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original." The word stuck; you can now find it in all your better dictionaries.
So, kids, don't let anyone tell you that you can't make up an awesome new word.
Anyway, back to the point: "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy" has stuck around in the popular imagination because, as Sylvia Wright wrote, it's better than the original. The mix-up is perfectly understandable; the /k/ sound in "the sky" and the /g/ sound in "this guy" are almost indistinguishable in spoken English. (The same g/k mix-up is the cause of one of our most commonly misspelled words, "significant" as "signifigant."
More importantly, "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy" is simply a more arresting line than the actual lyric. Hendrix himself used to play around with the lyrical confusion; in a few live performances, he could be seen pointing at bandmates Mitch Mitchell or Noel Redding while jokingly singing "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy." In other performances, such as Woodstock, Jimi clearly points to the sky, perhaps to make the line more clear.
Don't know if I'm climbin' up or down
The disoriented lyrics of "Purple Haze" have undoubtedly contributed to the popular idea that "Purple Haze" refers to LSD.
Some effects of LSD use include dizziness, an altered sense of time, and the breaking of barriers between senses (users have reported that they could see smells when using LSD). Each of these effects shows up in the song. Dizziness: "Don't know if I'm climbin' up or down." Altered sense of time: "Don't know if it's tomorrow or just the end of time?" Confusion of touch and sight: "Purple haze" itself.
Despite all this, as far as we can tell "Purple Haze" really isn’t about an acid trip. Hendrix reportedly used LSD for the first time six months after recording the song. This isn't to say LSD wasn't a big part of Jimi's world, though. LSD had been legal in the United States prior to the end of 1966, and its wide availability—particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area—has often been identified as a key force in creating the hippie movement that grew up there.
The exact source of the term "purple haze" for a type of LSD comes from the story of Bay Area amateur chemist and LSD enthusiast Augustus Owsley Stanley III, or just Owsley. By the mid-1960s, Owsley had grown a lab that began in his Berkeley basement into the nation's largest LSD production operation. One variety that Owsley distributed was known as "Monterey Purple," named for the Monterey Pop Festival—the famous 1967 music festival that jumpstarted Hendrix's career in the U.S.
Though the history is fuzzy (shocker), we might speculate that because of Jimi's own associations with LSD (he was supposedly on the drug during his iconic performance at Monterey Pop) and the psychedelic sound of "Purple Haze," the name "Monterey Purple" morphed into "Purple Haze." Almost immediately this new name stuck; according to the accounts of some of Jimi's girlfriends, the man himself later identified certain varieties of LSD as "Purple Haze."
Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me
This line, more than any other in the song, suggests that the song is not about drugs at all, but instead this "purple haze" is a symptom of the mental confusion that results from sexual and romantic infatuation.
Of course, those who want this song to be all about drugs have an answer here, too.
"That girl," they say, is "Mary Jane," a.k.a. marijuana.
And there really is a strain of pot called "Purple Haze," but again, unless someone managed to turn their bong into a time machine, the reality is that "Purple Haze" (the variety of pot) was named after "Purple Haze" (the song)—and not vice versa.