An Ode to Machine Gun

All the Soldiers Fighting

James Marshall Hendrix, a.k.a Jimi Hendrix, is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists. Jimi’s musical showmanship and style were influenced by Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Howlin’ Wolf, Curtis Mayfield, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Just as importantly, Jimi’s life experiences shaped his music. Having served in the U.S Army and rising to fame nationally and internationally during the tumultuous 1960s, his music reflected the times. One song stands out above the rest of Jimi’s extensive musical catalog. That song is called “Machine Gun.” It first appeared on Jimi’s final live album Band of Gypsys, recorded on New Year Eve 1969, a few months before his untimely death at the age of 27.

Let Your Bullets Fly like Rain

The apocalyptic “Machine Gun” stands out as one of the finest blends of blues, rock, jazz, funk, and fusion ever recorded and perhaps laid the foundation for heavy metal and funk due to the song’s dark and experimental percussive electric riffs, controlled feedback, and unique sound effects. It also was a stark departure from Jimi’s prior work with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He was evolving as an artist in a world that had drastically changed. While his previous work explored love, women, and the psychedelic realm, “Machine Gun” was rooted deeply in the times’ current affairs. Jimi would often start each performance of “Machine Gun” with the line, “This song is dedicated to all the soldiers Brotha Jimifighting in Milwaukee, Chicago, New York…oh yes, and all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam.”

The song’s an anti-war anthem in protest of the American war in Vietnam. The double meaning is rooted in the 1960s Black Power Movement. Jimi dedicated this song not just to the soldiers and Vietnamese people fighting each other halfway across the globe in the interests of those who Jimi Hendrix called “evil men.” “Machine Gun” is also dedicated to the Black Panther Party’s activism and radical politics, which reached its zenith by the end of the 1960s. The Black Panther’s rise to prominence and their shift to the political zeitgeist in America caused disruption to the American mainstream. The Panthers faced a severe and deadly backlash from the federal government and local police in cities across the country.

Machine gun
Tearing my body all apart
Machine gun
Tearing my body all apart

Evil man make me kill you
Evil man make you kill me
Evil man make me kill you
Even though we’re only families apart

Well I pick up my axe and fight like a farmer
You know what I mean?
Hey, and your bullets keep knocking me down
Hey, I pick up my axe and fight like a farmer now
Yeah, but you still blast me down, to the ground

The same way you shoot me down, baby
You’ll be going just the same
Three times the pain
And your own self to blame
Hey, machine gun

I ain’t afraid of your mess no more, babe
I ain’t afraid no more
After awhile your, your cheap talk won’t even cause me pain
So let your bullets fly like rain
Because I know all the time you’re wrong baby
And you’ll be going just the same

Yeah, machine gun
Tearing my family apart
Yeah, yeah, alright
Tearing my family apart

The lyrics highlight how, in war, our collective humanity is lost when we kill another without regard or regret. As a result, many men and women who’ve fought in war return home sometimes not with visible wounds but invisible ones. Even in the post 9/11 era, many service members from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have returned home suffering from PTSD, depression, and traumatic brain injury, leaving a piece of their humanity on the battlefield. In armed conflict, countless civilians are killed and are merely considered collateral damage. In America, thousands of black men and women protest and march in the streets in the name of reclaiming their shared humanity with the slogan #BlackLivesMatter, in the face of police brutality, racism, and mass incarceration. The wars and conflicts of Jimi’s era still echo in the American political psyche today.

Even Though We’re Only Families Apart

“Machine Gun” is Jimi Hendrix’s magnum opus. Each version of this song lasts between twelve to twenty minutes. It’s noted for having one of the greatest guitar solos in the history of rock music. Jimi’s pure musical genius shines brightly throughout this song about war, violence, humanity, and revolution. The mimicked sounds of battle, machine-gun fire, bombs, and screams resound throughout the song’s epic guitar solo, as Jimi’s simple but powerful lyrics paint a picture of a lone soldier’s journey into war. Today those soldiers are the men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the children of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, the LGBTQ & BlackLivesMatters activists. Jimi was right about all of us being only families apart. We are all part of the family of humanity. But, in a war, humanity is lost when a person points the barrel of their gun at another human being and lets their bullets fly like rain.



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3 responses to “An Ode to Machine Gun”

  1. James Marshal Hendrix is certainly one of the best guitarist to emerge from the second most consequential decade this country has experienced. The most consequential decade obviously being the 1860’s, both of these periods revolve around the salient issues of race and war. The beauty of Hendrix’s guitar phrasing mixed with the awokeness of His lyrics express a love for the blues while simultaneous showcasing his hope that Dr King’s dream will live on !


  2. Excellent article and analogy of my favorite Hendrix song. Jimi’s deep understanding and prescient lyrics regarding how soldiers would be treated will live on forever.


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