The cursor on the screen blinks at me with a dull ferocity Impatient, impersonal and aloof, it demands words to fill up the great white expanse. The few words I do have seem disconnected as unrelated to each other as I to Jimi Hendrix. I’ve actually had a few people ask if we were related. Blame my maiden name for this question: Hendricks. While I entertain the idea that almost anything is possible, I’m pretty certain that the great Jimi and I are not cousins. I can’t play a lick.
Jimi was born ten years before me. For twelve years, our lives overlap. I knew who he was but I really didn’t understand him. His rock and roll world was as removed from my German-Catholic, small-town experience as the earth is removed from the Valleys of Neptune. He could sing about “risin” all day and I still wouldn’t get it. I am afraid of what I don’t understand. Jimi is still scary to me. Silly isn’t it?
There was something oddly hypnotic about his music. His life was troubled. The adults in my small childhood world saw him as a “crazy, drug-abusing hippie.” There were few things worse. He was a rock and roll bogey man. I couldn’t look away. Childhood was filled with music from Mancini, the Monkees and an occasional Beetle who were also on the crazy long-haired hippie list but didn’t instill the fear that electric Jimi always did. The Monkees were just labeled “idiots” and our parents tolerated them as necessary to our childhood. They were like a case of the chicken pox.
Years later, I would track down an old poster as a birthday gift for a co-worker. Jimi larger than life was unmistakably visible in an electric psychedelic haze in the center of the poster. Something about him frightened me still. When he died in 1970 few were surprised. Jimi was our Amy Winehouse and Lindsay Lohan rolled into one. He was also a talent most rare. He played his guitar left-handed and upside down. There was something otherworldly about him from the start.
When Jimi suddenly became the topic of the day, I looked up his bio. In the not-too-distant past, his last name was changed from Hendricks to Hendrix. Reading this I felt an odd chill. My fear of Jimi is real. Why? Did I receive a traumatic shock at the foot of a Jimi Hendrix poster? Did someone dress up as the great guitarist and chase me through streets of darkness?Did he bear some uncanny resemblance to a picture of a demon once spied in the pages of a dated catechism? Or is my fear just based on the fact that I didn’t understand Jimi Hendrix, his music, his lyrics, his background, his color, his hair, his everything?
Apparently, my Jimi response was burned on my soul prior to the discovery that I didn’t have to understand something to enjoy or appreciate it. Could Jimi and I be distant cousins after all? Maybe that’s where my fear lives. Maybe, I look into the psychedelic depictions of a man who reflects something back to me that I don’t want to see. He represented an age, a style of life that was frightening in its intensity and potential for destruction. His spirit was so free that he was hopelessly imprisoned. Drugs became his way out.
The music he played pierces through the veil of normalcy and decorum. He flaunted all the moral values that bounded my life. He was the obvious black sheep in a world of sheep who were of an only slightly lighter color. Few of us could see how closely he resembled the people we really were underneath all the external guards and protections. His music gave a voice to our confusion. We didn’t understand it in the same way we didn’t understand ourselves. Our neat and orderly world was not neat or orderly underneath. We shuddered when reminded of this. Ours was a denial most profound. He was our terrifying poster boy and we could not claim him.
These are the words that fill the great white expanse this beautiful autumn Sunday morning. I am as surprised as you are. Rest in peace, Jimi. We are not distant cousins. We are brother and sister.