(It always amazed me that Paul Allen was the only person in the Northwest that created a museum for Jimmy Hendrix. Many Seattlites have no idea he was from there….cd)
The other day my 3-year-old son, Oscar, was looking at the birds and planes when he said: “Dad, I want to fly into the sky.”
Moments like these are bittersweet. Sweet because such dreamy optimism is inspiring. Bitter because my 40-year-old mind imagines realities that may come between hopeful Oscar and his sky-high flight plan. Which explains why I was brought to tears by Seattle writer Charles Cross’ rich new biography on Jimi Hendrix, “Room Full of Mirrors.” The book, released yesterday, is the first to tell the story of the guitar superstar’s upbringing in Seattle’s Central District.
In the scene that got to me, Hendrix is 15. He roams the CD like “a stray dog,” Cross writes, lugging a guitar on his back and mourning his mom, who died from too much drink.
Late one night his aunt, Delores Hall, hears a noise and finds Jimi sitting on her front porch, gazing up into the night.
“One of these days, I’m going to astral project myself up into the skies,” he says. “I’ll be going to the stars and the moon. I want to go up to the sky, from star to star.”
Here’s a teenager raised in halfway houses and foster homes. Who scrounged for discarded hamburgers. Who had few of the advantages handed to kids like my son.
Yet somehow he keeps dreaming with foolish innocence. And pulls it off — astral projecting himself a few years later into one of the great musicians of the 20th century.
Seattle has been dithering for more than 20 years whether Hendrix deserves a proper memorial. A street in his name, a plaque, anything.
Some say he wasn’t a good role model for kids because he used drugs and died of an overdose of sleeping pills at 27.
All the city has done is install a heated rock with Hendrix’s name on it in the African savannah exhibit at the city zoo.
We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Cross’ book makes clear: Hendrix isn’t just a hero for his music.
He’s a hero because he overcame extreme poverty to realize a childhood dream. He did it in a way that bridged racial divides, even though he was a victim of racism.
He still resonates with teens today. Hendrix’s estate sells $8 million in records and merchandise yearly, much of it to fans who weren’t born when he died in 1970.
“The guy has been dead for 35 years, yet I’m always hearing from 15-, 16-year-old kids who have become fascinated with him and what he survived in his life,” Cross said.
It’s way past time for this city to honor Hendrix. Not just Hendrix the guitar god, but Hendrix the hometown kid.
I say we pick one of the parks Hendrix played in as a kid. Leschi, next to where he went to grade school. Miller Playfield, where he first played electric guitar. Or the fields at Garfield, his high school.
Call a part of it Jimi Hendrix Meadows. Post details on his life, from Cross’ book. Put up a statue, something to climb on, whatever. It hardly matters.
Just make it a kids’ place, where young people can wander by to look at him. To hear his story. And then to sit and gaze dreamily up at the sky.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com.