September 18, 1970
I have to squint to focus on this memory but it is there, sitting in the bright sunrise of my childhood psyche. I am ten years old, playing under the mango tree in my Hawaiian back yard when I hear my stepdad calling from the little room off the living room. The whitewashed room where he normally sat for hours in front of the squelching short wave radio on a plywood ledge, the radio huge and black with blinking lights and static voices as he fiddled with the dials and called into a handheld mike, “This is Raider One, do you copy?”
“Jimi Hendrix died,” my stepdad said through the window in the radio room, or maybe I just overheard him announce it to someone through that black microphone. I did know, even at ten, who Jimi Hendrix was. I was surprised my dad knew. Maybe he didn’t know and was just passing along news to those trucker type people he communicated with outside of Hawaii, in that mysterious place called “The Mainland.”
I was kind of cool for an awkward, shy, stuttering kid. Cool because I liked rock ’n roll. I had a best friend (my only friend) and her older sister listened to rock ’n’ roll, so that was the influence. At ten years old I already owned my first album: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, and had an ever growing stack of 45’s by Badfinger, the Beatles, the Kinks. And I was saving my allowance to buy Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant. These records, to my mother’s dismay, having recently displaced The Jungle Book soundtrack and Snoopy’s Red Baron.
But I didn’t own any Hendrix. My best friend’s sister’s tastes were more light rock, emerging rock, and there was no Hendrix in her collection, which my best friend and I rifled through when she wasn’t home. But the teenagers who met up at the corner of our yard each morning before turning down the street to Kailua High School sometimes wore Hendrix t-shirts and t-shirts with peace signs on them as they smoked cigarettes and pot (before my parents chased them away) so I knew he was a cool guy.
And now he was dead.
September 18, 1972—First Month of Seventh Grade
A solemn day in my high school, the two-year anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death. There was a deep love for Hendrix by the students here and what appeared to be a deep indifference by many of the teachers. This is because three years before I entered this private 7-12th grade school on the slopes of Mount Haleakala, my high school was featured in his movie, Rainbow Bridge. The upperclassmen, who had been here during the time of the filming, wore the experience proudly and surreptitiously played Hendrix albums in their dorms. The teachers did not speak of that time, although one quietly mentioned once that for the filming, Cooper House had been redecorated with Indian blankets, reeked of incense, and this was not what the Headmaster had bargained for. The young students like me? Well, we were just like, duh-wow!
September 18, 1979—Portland, Oregon
I lived with a rock band while attending college. Of course I did! Tripping over a drum set in the living room while my boyfriend, Jon, taught himself to play drums while singing. (A singing drummer, like in the band Spirit, he proudly proclaimed.) Roomie Todd played base, roomie Chris, lead guitar, while Jon played everything. Now drums too. On the nine-year anniversary of Hendrix’s death, the local midnight theater took a break from Rocky Horror Picture Show to show Rainbow Bridge. I had never seen the movie that had backdropped my high school years. And I felt VERY cool that I had gone to the school where much of the movie had been filmed. I’d even smoked pot at Rainbow Bridge where they filmed the concert! So when the film got through Dolly Dagger and the California scenes, and the panoramic view of the reflection pond in front of Cooper House washed across the movie screen, I stood up and yelled, “That’s my high school!”
Which was not very cool at all, based on all the stoned hushes and shhhhh’s I received.
September 18, 2005—Sarasota, Florida
A few years after my second divorce, I was engaged to a very special man with three sons. Three sort of blue-collar, baseball-loving boys, compared to my one, thespian artsy girl. Trying to find common ground with each other’s kids was challenging. But his middle son, I learned, worshiped Jimi Hendrix. Ah, I thought, an opportunity to come off as cool, right? That first Christmas I bought him a sketch portrait of the guitar master. The following Christmas I gave him a DVD of Rainbow Bridge. Points for me, right? Maybe it’s because the movie is such a terrible one, the fact that it’s filmed at my high school didn’t give me enough of a cool factor. Or maybe I’m just a bitch of a stepmom. I only know that the allure of the dead man who taught himself to play guitar on a common straw broom wasn’t enough to connect me and the middle kid.
September 18, 2015—Sarasota, Florida
I never woke up on forty-five years of September 18th’s and said, oh, this is the day Jimi Hendrix died. But this year, I was driving ––something I do a lot for my job ––when the radio DJ made the announcement of the anniversary of Hendrix’s death, then played Purple Haze. I turned the song up to blast mode and I thought of the mango tree, and my stepdad in the white radio room in that house on Oahu. I thought of my high school and the Indian blankets and incense and sunny, though somewhat stained childhood of beaches and Hawaiian magic. I thought of the midnight showing of Rainbow Bridge and the rock band I lived with and my boyfriend Jon and how, to me, being cool was everything, although I certainly was not at all cool, especially when I embarrassed myself in that theater. I thought of my husband’s middle son, who I still do not know, and I wondered if he still worships Jimi Hendrix and if he ever watches that terrible movie I gave him. I thought of a bunch of other stuff, too.
And then I thought…
Geeoood, I am so fucking old!