Castles Made of Sand: Remembering Jimi Hendrix

Friday, September 17, 2010 - 02:13 PM

40 years since the death of Jimi Hendrix. It’s really astounding to imagine that he’s been gone that long. It’s not surprising that Hendrix’s music lives on. Hendrix created the whole Fender Stratocaster power chord distortion mystique for the electric guitar. He made magic. He mesmerized audiences. He died young. His narrative is the allegory of the mid 20th century where a curtain came down hard on a show that seemed to be just getting started.

I was not yet a teenager when I first heard Hendrix. Of all the rock and roll I listened to, it was Hendrix who turned me on to the potential of this new music. I didn’t like much rock in the 60s. The Beatles didn’t get to me until "Sgt. Pepper." I hated the Stones and preferred Sly and the Family Stone. I liked Motown. But Hendrix put the blues through this crazy Beethovenian, Lisztian virtuoso romantic mystical lens and I saw far into this new genre.

For me Hendrix was the first rock that was not pop but was way beyond popular. Years later as the century turned, I was writing my second book. It was a novel about the Pacific Northwest and there was a cop character in it from Seattle, who was a crazy Hendrix fan. I used this Hendrix lyric in the book: “And so castles made of sand, fall into the sea eventually.” It was a statement about the impermanence of the huge hydroelectric dams on the Northwest’s Columbia River. I could imagine Hendrix writing about those monstrous mystical dams as a Pacific Northwest native himself. But even to use any quotes I had to get permission from the Hendrix estate back in 2000. They refused for months. Through an attorney I learned that however legendary Jimi Hendrix was, his surviving family was a litigious paranoid bunch who thought of his lyrics as their own personal checkbook.

Not surprising I suppose. But I wasn’t exactly asking to release my own Hendrix bootleg album and there was no question that the lyric would be credited to Hendrix. That was it’s only value. We argued for months about lyrics and outrageous demands for money or percentages of the prospective sales of a novel by an unknown author. It was anything but the effortless feel of a Hendrix solo. Jimi Hendrix left no will when he died in 1970. His estate was still in court in 2004. There are lawsuits pending even today. A few years ago the Hendrix estate was worth more than 80 million dollars, money Jimi never saw. His estate has released more Hendrix albums than the artist made while he was alive. Death has been very good to the people who have been living off of Hendrix’s legacy ever since. In the end, the Hendrix estate just stopped fighting and allowed me to use the fully attributed line and a few others in my 2001 novel A River out of Eden.

And so castles made of sand (or lawyers for that matter) fall into the sea eventually.

Miss ya Jimi.

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