Homework and Hendrix
A school project introduces a fourth-grader to the breathtaking music of rock legend Jimi Hendrix.
My 9-year-old son Andy is sitting at his desk listening to "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix, and he loves it. It was written and first performed more than 25 years before he was even born, but somehow Andy relates to it. It all started with Black History Month.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In fourth grade, the assignment was to choose an African-American from history, do some research, and make a presentation to the class. Andy had just started learning to play the French horn, so we skipped down the list of suggested people and went right to the musicians.
Let's see... Dizzy Gillespie? What did I know about Dizzy Gillespie? Puffy cheeks, funny tilted trumpet bell? Andy didn't bite.
Next on the list was Jimi Hendrix. In 1969 when Woodstock, the legendary hippie fest of music and mayhem, took place, I was 8 years old. I never went to Woodstock. I watched "The Brady Bunch" on TV. But I knew that Jimi Hendrix had captivated the crowd there by playing a radical, electric guitar version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
I also knew Hendrix had died young – something to do with drugs? I was afraid there would be a "teachable moment" in the project somewhere, but it was too late. After I briefly tried to explain Woodstock, Andy was hooked. He chose Jimi Hendrix.
A trip to the library yielded a lengthy photo-filled book, "My Son Jimi," penned by Hendrix's father. Andy enjoyed looking at the crayoned pictures of fast cars and fighting soldiers, drawn by Jimi as a little kid. I flipped through the book ahead of him, trying to find the part about how he had died. Maybe if I got a jump on the information, I could explain what I knew was going to be grim news.
"Jimi always loved his dad...."
"Dad never saw any sign of drug use...."
"Last visit home was two weeks before he died. Everything was fine...."
Then, there it was. Hendrix's death was related to foreign sleeping pills that his German girlfriend had given him while they vacationed in Britain. His father wrote that he was sure it was a terrible accident. His son was unfamiliar with the dosage of the European pills and would never commit suicide. He had not been on drugs at the time.
I would have to explain the dangers of drugs – again. In the meantime, I bought Andy a Hendrix CD, and he was busy getting to know "Purple Haze," "Hey Joe," and "Foxy Lady."