Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jimi Hendrix

In 1979 I was twenty-one, married to my high school sweetheart, & living not far from the Jimi Hendrix grave in a small cemetery in Renton, Washington. When we visited from time to time, Hendrix had a simple little ground marker etched with a Stratocaster Fender guitar, (drawn the wrong way as he was actually left handed & played it upside down). There were always a few bottles, joint or cigaret butts laying around, but I remember feeling glad he hadn't ended up in Pere' La Chaise Cemetery like Jim Morrison, with a rather embarrassing & graffitied head stone that still seems out of place in an otherwise beautiful setting. 

Jimi died in 1970 overseas in England when I was around twelve & he was twenty-seven. I certainly understood more about his talent & impact on the music scene by the time I was visiting his grave nine years after his death & married to a drummer, but instead of fading into the cultural wasteland, his genius & popularity has only become more legendary since his passing. We now have The Experience Music Project in Seattle, where he is showcased along with Curt Cobain, Pearl Jam & Quincy Jones, among over thirty other world famous musicians who also got their start in Washington.   

Imagine my surprise when I went back to visit 'Jimi' on my way home from a trip just a few days ago. I had a hard time even recognizing the now HUGE Greenwood Memorial Cemetery & the cottage industries that have sprung up around it over the last 30 or so years!
THEN I SAW IT.  Smack dab in the middle of the park is a massive Mausoleum I'd read about a decade or so back, with it's images of Hendrix, hand written lyrics & even his autograph etched in marble. About 20 small plain markers inside a circle of purple flowers & grass are waiting for other relatives to arrive, I presume. His mother, who died when he was quite young is there now, while his dad & stepmother are buried alongside Jimi underneath the main slab. I stayed for about 20 minutes, watching many young & older fans stop by to read the lyrics, pay their respects & pose for pictures. I kept waiting myself to feel some of the old nostalgia, but something just wasn't sitting right with me, even with the original marker now mounted into the middle altar. I actually felt slightly nauseated & so decided to do some research online regarding the Hendrix back story when I got home. The following is some of what I found:

"Born Johnny Allen Hendrix on Nov. 27, 1942, in Seattle, WA, Jimi was the first of five children born to Al Hendrix & Lucille Jeter. His parents met at a dance in Seattle in 1941 when Lucille was 16 & she married Al in March of 1942, while pregnant. Al Hendrix spent Jimi’s first three years away in the Army while Lucille struggled with raising her infant son who was mostly cared for by family members & others during this period. He did have some sense of continuity was his grandmother, Nora Hendrix.

Hendrix's father left the Army in Sept. of 1945 & retrieved his son from a woman in Berkeley CA. He legally changed his name to James, although he was known as "Buster" from birth on. After his return to Seattle, Al reunited with Lucille, but found it difficult to gain steady employment & the family was impoverished. Like Lucille, Al struggled with alcohol & there were frequent fights, causing Jimi to withdraw & hide in a closet in their home. Moving often, they stayed in cheap hotels & apartments around Seattle. Throughout his childhood Hendrix was often dropped off to be cared for by relatives, which had an imprint on him that would remain for the rest of his life. Hendrix was a shy & sensitive boy, deeply affected by the poverty & family disruption he experienced at a young age. In addition to instability of his home, Hendrix in later years confided to two different girlfriends that he had been the victim of sexual abuse.

He had two brothers & two sisters, all of whom had disabilities & were placed in foster homes. When Hendrix was nine, his parents divorced. His mother developed cirrhosis of the liver & died in Feb. 1958 when Jimi was 15.
Around this time, he acquired his first acoustic guitar for $5 & learned to play by practicing several hours a day, watching others play, getting tips from more experienced players, & listening to records. He did a brief stint in the Army at 18 instead of going to jail & from then on until his death almost ten years later, he devoted himself to music.

Hendrix synthesized many styles in creating his musical voice and his guitar style was unique, later to be abundantly imitated by others. Despite his hectic touring schedule & notorious perfectionism, he was a prolific recording artist leaving behind more than 300 unreleased recordings. Hendrix is ranked number 3 on VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Rock N' Roll, behind the Rolling Stones & the Beatles. He has been voted by Rolling Stone & Guitar World as the best electric guitarist of all time. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him number 6 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. Guitar World's readers voted six of Hendrix's solos among the top "100 Greatest" of all time: Purple Haze, Star-Spangled Banner, Machine Gun, Little Wing, Voodoo Child (Slight Return) & All Along the Watchtower. In 1992, Hendrix was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

When Al Hendrix died in 2002, his will stipulated that Experience Hendrix, LLC was to exist as a trust designed to distribute profits to a list of Hendrix family beneficiaries. A 2004 probate lawsuit challenged the will with charges from other Hendrix family beneficiaries that Janie Hendrix, Al's adopted daughter, was improperly handling the finances. Janie & a cousin of Jimi Hendrix paid themselves exorbitant salaries & covered their mortgages & personal expenses from the company's coffers while the beneficiaries went without payment & the Hendrix Memorial went uncompleted. In early 2005, judge Ramsdell handed down a ruling that replaced Janie & Robert's role at the helm of Experience Hendrix with an independent trustee. The Memorial in Renton remains unfinished."

 I'd say the moral to this story is, no matter how bad it gets, or who abandons you, there is still enormous potential in all of us who have a dream.. Even Jimi's death was circumspect & making someone a huge Mausoleum with THEIR money does not somehow make up for the neglect & abandonment when he was here. Rest in Peace, Jimi.  

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