Forty-two years ago this month, the legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix mesmerized a crowd of devoted and hypnotized fans, at the Berkeley Community Theater in California, on May 30 th , 1970. I was one of those fortunate spectators in attendance that evening, and his performance changed my perspective of not only music and culture; but it corrected my confused spirituality as well.
His lyrics to his last title performed that evening are fittingly dauntless:
" If I don't see you no more in this world, I'll meet you in the next one, and don't be late".
He was born in Seattle, Washington in 1942, and named Johnny Allen Hendrix, a name I was not familiar with at the time. I also did not know I was attending his last performance in California; he died unexpectedly in London three and a half months later.
The astonishing truth about Hendrix was that he was left-handed, and at an early age he acquired a right handed guitar; and taught himself to play the guitar upside down- and backwards. This astounding capability led way to the capturing of a distortion of sound effects that were manipulated by the unequaled artist; light years ahead of his peers, and able to seduce the observer into a spellbinding trance. Jimi ultimately perfected this exceptional gift into an ostentatious result that was unprecedented in the music industry.
I was 15 years old when I witnessed the art and passion of the greatest guitarist of all time; and I have never been able to replace that experience with a comparable appreciation of surrealistic musical talent -- and I don't think I ever will.
Perhaps it was a fusion of my adolescent craving for a purpose as a survivor of clergy abuse - and my intrinsic hope for an escape to a spiritual world of grandeur. Whatever the reason, or the psychological diagnoses; I was transcended magically into a world of euphoria, intoxicated by the genius who used his guitar to propel me into the atmosphere.
Illusion or not, it makes no difference; for some of us, our memories as adults defy time when we are able to recall those moments in youth when we discover that music is able to define our perception of emotional significance. When fascination and excitement oscillate with our five senses; we can relive those experiences when we are able to fall into the bliss of hypnotic sight and sound; and the medium - the artist who controls us -- enables us to enter another dimension.
Jim Hendrix was that medium for me, and when I step into yesterday, whether in a dream, or in a recollection; I am able to leave this planet with ease, and set aside all the earthly concerns that bind me. His tragic departure from this earth, like many eccentric iconic musicians before and after him - still confuses me. But it also lends credence to the testament that those who have impacted art and culture in our society the most -- are rarely forgotten. As linear time passes, those treasured icons still have the capability of consuming our hearts and souls relentlessly. They eerily possess us with the bittersweet desire to turn back the clock, prompting the realization that life is temporary -- and prove that the dissolving key to the escape of mortality may very well be hidden in the memories of youth that we cling to.
Jimi ended his concert with the tantalizing creation of a haunting melodious ecstasy - "Voodoo Child"; and a part of me hasn't left the Berkeley Community Theater since that night in 1970.
Nor do I wish it to.
The key to my survival as an abused teen was the ability to travel with Hendrix into the future, away from the claws of anxiety and pain, and into a safe world of music and fantasy; arguably a psychologically elusive voyage- but a successfully deserved one.
And now that forty-two years have passed, I realize that undefined time travel may be sporadically and conveniently insignificant; and that memories and early perceptions can be beautifully altered as an eternal self-medication. I believe that Jimi Hendrix may well have been the prescription for others like myself -- people who can drift away into a sanctuary of musical enlightenment; and escape the demons who are unable to disappear into that magical safe place in the atmosphere in harmful pursuit.
I can't count how many times I escaped the predatory world that surrounded me in the past; I can only say that the marriage of music and memory are insurmountable -- and I survived the injustices that fate had dealt me, without fully understanding the complexity of the nature of the source as a child. And as a survivor, I will always carry that appreciation with me; resulting in a spirituality that was born from a sacred and enchanted musical sound.