As we rapidly approach “that” time of year – yes, Jim Hendrix’ November 27th birthday – it might be time to relate a funny story about the master guitarist from Seattle born on Thanksgiving day (well, one of them)…
My good friend Calvin knows very little about popular music. He was raised on the Irish Rovers and Peter, Paul, & Mary. Music that any kid with hopes of being cool in school would not admit listening to.
When we were in high school during the 80’s, Cal somehow missed out on the rock music trend that swept like wildfire through the nation’s high schools. AC/DC, Tom Petty, Rush, Led Zeppelin, The Who. Instead he got mixed up with songs like Safety Dance and Puttin’ on the Ritz (by a band called Taco, no less. Wonder where they are today?!). Undoubtedly a result of his early (and apparently damaging) exposure to the Irish Rovers.
But Jimi Hendrix slipped through Cal’s pop-culture filter and in a big way. Not Cal’s music filter – because he didn’t know any Jimi Hendrix songs, unless “Purple Haze” had been covered by Peter, Paul, & Mary (It, of course, never was) – but the filter that lets certain words or phrases through without additional context. Maybe Jimi’s name just sounded cool, kind of like like “Starland Vocal Band” or “Rage Against the Machine”.
All of this might explain why Cal came to believe that Jimi Hendrix was not just a famous guitarist from the Rainier Valley in south Seattle, but the man who discovered America, the first astronaut to land on the moon, and the founder of Microsoft!
You see, whenever a question was raised in any situation during our years in high school, Cal’s answer was almost always “Jimi Hendrix”. According to Cal, the only subjects Jimi Hendrix wasn’t an expert in were math and physics. In just about every other setting when any other question was raised, an answer of Jimi Hendrix was appropriate – at least to Cal.
Things didn’t get any better when Trivial Pursuit became the most popular board game on the planet and the maker of this game issued a variation called “Rock and Roll Trivial Pursuit”. You can imagine there might be one or two cards in this edition of the game where an answer to a question could be “Jimi Hendrix”. But as I recall it, pretty much every answer Cal gave during the one time we played the game was “Jimi Hendrix”. Turns out that George Plimpton had nothing on Jimi Hendrix! (at least in Cal’s eyes).
It probably didn’t help matters that many rock lyrics at the time were unintelligible (ok, it’s still true today), with the “Jimi Hendrix Experience” being a great example of this. One of the universally least understood lyrics of all time comes from the Jimi Hendrix song Purple Haze when he says, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky“. This is news to a lot of people, as people who are familiar with this song regularly insist that this lyric is instead “Excuse me while I kiss this guy“. Just a slight shift in context!
This lack of clarity in lyrics certainly wasn’t going to help Cal any. He already thought that Credence Clearwater’s “Bad Moon Rising” contained the lyric “There’s a bathroom on the right” and the Fifth Dimension’s song “Aquarius” contained the words “This is the dawning of the age of Asparagus!”. Musical artists singing about veggies? Really?!
I do like to make fun of Cal’s lack of musical aptitude; however, it’s crazy to think that even though he was clearly born without the music gene, his academic skills were quite excellent in the areas of math and science, enabling him to eventually become quite literally a rocket scientist (but perhaps no better at understanding this classic Starland Vocal Band lyric: “Sky rockets in flight! Afternoon Delight!”).
Not all of us are born with the music gene, but at this time of year we should be thankful that we’re each born with a unique set of attributes that can be put to good use in any number of ways. Some are born to be artists, while others with hard skills can design and build great stuff, like skyscrapers, airplanes, rockets and even the equipment used to record awe-inspiring music from the great artists of our time.
Jimi Hendrix has been gone from us for 40 plus years now; however, Jimi (or his estate) is still releasing music, including some previously unreleased material recently in 2013, and he’s as popular as ever. With such great staying power, Cal was on to something about Jimi. After all these years, maybe Jimi is the answer!