Oddly, Norman also makes no reference to Hendrix’s enduring influence on future guitar-rock icons such as Slash, Tom Morello, Jack White, Matt Bellamy and his most obvious heir apparent, Prince. That said, Norman’s instinct for reportage serves him well in addressing Hendrix’s death. Although Hendrix had a prodigious appetite for drugs, he never succumbed to all-consuming addiction. A troubled sleeper, he accidentally asphyxiated on his own vomit after taking too many sleeping pills. Wild Thingforensically pieces together Hendrix’s last 24 hours alive, comparing and contrasting various published accounts with medical reports and police records.
The admission that it all began when a “superlative research associate” alerted Norman to the 50th anniversary of Hendrix’s death does not inspire confidence. Norman’s research is diligent but overly reliant on previously published material (including many of his own earlier books), with just a smattering of original interviews – mainly with characters who are overly familiar from their own Hendrix memoirs. The tragedy of Hendrix’s life is that he battled against the odds to reach the top of his profession only to be overworked, oversexed, overindulged and over way too young. The tragedy of his afterlife is that his art has been exploited by so many who never cared for him while he lived.
Norman is best, though, turning his narrative skills to Hendrix’s death, carefully reconstructing his final hours with Dannemann. He raises the conspiracy theories — he was murdered, he killed himself — but what comes through clearest is how exhausted Hendrix was, how isolated from people who cared. This wasn’t a cosmically ordained conclusion (Norman does unfortunately refer to the hackneyed schmaltz of the “27 Club”) — it was a messy human tragedy. Once Hendrix was asked what it was like to make a parachute jump. “It’s almost like blanking and it’s almost like crying, and you want to laugh,” the 101st Airborne veteran answered. Wild Thing can’t quite match the dazzling velocity of Hendrix’s life, but at best it catches flickers of the man in motion, sometimes falling, often in flight.