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Authors: Jimi Hendrix

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BOOK: Starting At Zero
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I
REMEMBER A NURSE PUTTING A DIAPER ON ME and almost sticking me. I must have been in the hospital sick about something, because I remember I
didn’t feel so good. Then she took me out of this crib and held me up to the window, and she was showing me something up against the sky. It was fireworks – so it must have been the
Fourth of July. That nurse turned me on, being high on penicillin she probably gave me, and I was looking up and the sky was just …

 

 

S s s c h u u s s s S c h u s h

Our first trip there!

 

 

I also remember when I was small enough to fit into a clothes basket. And I remember when I was only four and I wet my pants, and I stayed out in the rain for hours so I would get wet all over
and my mom wouldn’t know. She knew though.

Dad was very strict and levelheaded, but my mother used to like dressing up and having a good time. She used to drink a lot and didn’t take care of herself, but she was a groovy mother.
There were family troubles between my mother and father. They used to break up all the time, and my brother and I used to go to different homes. I stayed mostly at my aunt’s and
grandmother’s. I always had to be ready to go tippy-toeing off to Canada.

My grandmother’s Indian. She’s part Cherokee. There’s a lot of people in Seattle that have Indian mixed in them. It’s just another part of our family, that’s
all.

I used to spend a lot of time on her reservation in Vancouver, British Columbia. There’s a lot of them on the reservation, man, and it was really terrible. Every single house is the same,
and it’s not even a house, it’s like a hut. It’s just a really bad scene. Half of them are down on skid row, drinking and really completely out of their minds. And they’re
not doing anything. I used to get so mad that I just … just didn’t pay too much attention when the teacher told us that Indians are bad! I mean, in other words, “All Indians are
bad because they’ve got the clap!”

Now my grandma lives in a groovy apartment building in Vancouver. She has a television and a radio and stuff like that. She still has her long silvery hair though.

When I was little she used to tell me beautiful Indian stories, and the kids at school would laugh when I wore the shawls and poncho things she made. You know, the regular sob story. She gave me
a little Mexican jacket with tassels. It was real good, and I wore it to school every day in spite of what people might have thought, just because I liked it. I liked to be different.

[AL AND LUCILLE HENDRIX DIVORCED IN DECEMBER OF 1950. JIMMY AND HIS YOUNGER BROTHER LEON REMAINED WITH THEIR FATHER. JIMMY SAW HIS MOTHER FOR THE LAST TIME IN JANUARY
OF 1958. SHE DIED THE FOLLOWING MONTH.]

There’s a dream I had when I was real little about my mother being carried away on these camels. It was a big caravan, and you could see the shadows of the leaf patterns across her face.
You know how the sun shines through a tree? Well, these were green and yellow shadows. And she was saying to me, “Well, I won’t be seeing you too much anymore, you know, so I’ll
see you.”

About two years after that she died. I always will remember that one. I never did forget. There’s some dreams you NEVER forget.

 

M
OSTLY MY DAD TOOK CARE OF ME. He was religious, and I used to go to Sunday school. He taught me that I must respect my elders always. I
couldn’t speak unless I was spoken to first by grown-ups. So I’ve always been very quiet. But I saw a lot of things. A fish wouldn’t get into trouble if he kept his mouth
shut.

My dad was a gardener, and he’d once been an electrician. We weren’t too rich! It got pretty bad in the winter when there wasn’t any grass to cut. He used to cut my hair like a
skinned chicken, and all my friends used to call me “Slick Bean.”

I used to be really lonely. I’d bring a stray dog home every night till my pa let me keep one. Then it was the ugliest of them all. It was really “Prince Hendrix,” but we just
called it dawg! I used to have cats too. I love animals. Deer and horses are the prettiest. I used to see a lot of deer around Seattle. One time I saw this deer, and something went through me for
one second, like I’d seen him before. I mean it was like I had some real close connection with that deer for one split second. I said, “Wait!” and then it just went away.

 

I went to school in Seattle, then Vancouver, British Columbia, where my folks came from. Then back to Seattle, at Garfield High School. On the whole my school was pretty relaxed. We had Chinese,
Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Filipinos … We won all the football games!

At school I used to write poetry a lot, and then I was really happy. My poems were mostly about flowers and nature and people wearing robes. I wanted to be an actor or a painter. I particularly
liked to paint scenes on other planets –
Summer Afternoon On Venus
, and stuff like that.

The idea of space travel excited me more than anything. The teacher used to say, “Paint three scenes,” and I’d do abstract stuff, like
Martian Sunset
, no bull!

She’d say, “How are you feeling?”

 

and I’d say something kind of spacey like,

 

“Well, that depends on how the people on Mars are feeling.”

 

I just didn’t know what else to say to her.

 

I got tired of saying, “Fine, thank you.”

She told me,
“Well, you go to the front for that.”
So I’d go into the little cubbyhole, just like the Gestapo motorcycles – the driver sits on
the motorcycle and the commander sits in the cubbyhole. I never could sit with everybody else. My teacher sat next to me in the third grade and said, “Now this is an example!” and at
the same time she was touching my kneecaps under the table.

They said I used to be late all the time, but I was getting A’s and B’s. The real reason was I had a girlfriend in the art class, and we used to hold hands all the time. The art
teacher didn’t dig that at all. She was very prejudiced.

She said, “Mr. Hendrix, I’ll see you in the cloakroom in three seconds please.” In the cloakroom she said, “What do you mean talking to that white woman like that?”
I said,
“What are you, jealous?”
She started crying, and I got thrown out. I cry easy.

[J
IMMY DROPPED OUT OF
G
ARFIELD
H
IGH
S
CHOOL IN
O
CTOBER
1960,
AT THE AGE OF SEVENTEEN
.]

I
REMBER WHEN

THEY THREW ME GENTLY OUT OF SCHOOL.

T
HEY SAID
I
DON’T MEAN NO GOOD …

AND
I
FELT SO PROUD THAT
I
SCREAMED

SO LOUD,
“G
O TO HELL,

OUT OF STYLE SCHOOL!”

 

Y
OU WAIT
&
WAIT, STILL NOTHING

COMES TO SAVE YOU FROM THIS

BORING FATE OF LIVING LIKE AN ANGEL.

Y
OU’RE ALWAYS DOING RIGHT, NEVER HAVE

TO FIGHT, NEVER GET AN APPETITE

FOR TAKING YOUR FIRST STEP

AROUND THE CORNER.

I left school early. School was nothing for me. I wanted something to happen to me. My father told me to look for a job. So that’s what I did for a couple of weeks. I worked for my father.
I had to work very hard. We had to carry stones and cement all day, and he pocketed the money. He didn’t pay me. He just kept all the money for himself. I didn’t want to work so hard
for so little money, so I started bumming around with the kids.

Sometimes, with a couple of friends we’d hit a cop, and we’d have a helluva fight a half hour later. Sometimes you’d end up in jail, but you’d eat very well. Most of the
cops were bloody bastards, but there were also some very good ones. They were more personal – they wouldn’t hit you so hard, and you could eat better then. But it all got very boring
after a while.

Lots of kids have it tough. Jesus! I couldn’t stand it at home. I ran away a couple of times because I was so miserable. Once I ran away after a blazing row with my dad. He hit me in the
face, and I ran away. When my dad found out I’d gone he went pretty mad with worry. But then I didn’t really care about other people’s feelings. I came home when I realized my dad
was upset. Not that I cared but, well, he is my dad. I don’t think my dad ever thought I was going to make it. I was the kid who didn’t do the right thing.

T
EARS BURNING ME

T
EARS BURNING ME IN MY EYES

W
AY DOWN, WAY DOWN IN MY SOUL.

TEARS BURNING ME IN MY SOUL …

 

W
ELL,
I
GOTTA LEAVE THIS TOWN

GONNA BE A VOODOO CHILE

A
ND TRY TO BE A MAGIC BOY.

C
OME BACK AND BUY THIS TOWN

C
OME BACK AND BUY THIS TOWN

A
ND PUT IT ALL IN MY SHOE

MIGHT EVEN GIVE A PIECE TO YOU!

When I was upstairs at home the grown-ups had parties, listening to Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf and Ray Charles. That sound was really not evil, just a thick sound. I’d
sneak down after and eat potato chips and smoke butts. The Grand Ol’ Opry used to come on, and I used to watch that. They used to have some heavy cats, heavy guitar players.

The first guitarist I was aware of was Muddy Waters. I heard one of his records when I was a little boy, and it scared me to death because I heard all those sounds. Wow! What was all that about?
It was great. I liked Muddy Waters when he had only two guitars, harmonica and bass drum. Things like
Rollin’ And Tumblin’
were what I liked – that real primitive guitar
sound.

My dad danced and played the spoons. My first instrument was a harmonica, which I got when I was about four, I suppose. Next it was a violin. I always dug string instruments and pianos, but I
wanted something I could take home or anywhere, and I couldn’t take home a piano.

Then I started digging guitars. Everybody’s house you went into seemed to have one lying around. One night my dad’s friend was stoned, and he sold me his guitar for five dollars. I
didn’t know that I would have to put the strings ’round the other way because I was left-handed, but it just didn’t feel right. I can remember thinking to myself,
“There’s something wrong here.”

I changed the strings ’round, but it was way out of tune when I’d finished. I didn’t know a thing about tuning, so I went down to the store and ran my fingers across the
strings on a guitar they had there. After that I was able to tune my own.

I was about fourteen or fifteen when I started playing guitar. I played in my backyard at home, and kids used to gather ’round and said it was cool. Then I got tired of the guitar and put
it aside. But when I heard Chuck Berry it revived my interest.

I learned all the riffs I could. I never had any lessons. I learned guitar from records and the radio. I loved my music, man. I’d go out to the back porch there in Seattle, because I
didn’t want to stay in the house all the time, and I’d play guitar to a Muddy Waters record. You see, I wasn’t ever interested in any other things, just the music. I was trying to
play like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. Trying to learn everything and anything.

 

WHEN I WAS SEVENTEEN I FORMED THIS GROUP with some other guys, but they drowned me out. I didn’t know why at first, but after about three months I realized I’d have
to get an electric guitar. My first was a Danelectro, which my dad bought for me. Must have busted him for a long time. But I had to show him I could play first. In those days I just liked rock and
roll, I guess. We used to play stuff by people like the Coasters. Anyway, you all had to do the same things before you could join a band. You even had to do the same steps. I started looking around
for places to play. I remember my first gig was at an armory, a National Guard place, and we earned thirty-five cents apiece and three hamburgers.

It was so hard for me at first. I knew about three songs, and when it was time for us to play onstage I was all shaky, so I had to play behind the curtains. I just couldn’t get up in
front. And then you get so very discouraged. You hear different bands playing around you, and the guitar player always seems like he’s so much better than you are.

Most people give up at this point, but it’s best not to. Just keep on, just keep on. Sometimes you are going to be so frustrated you’ll hate the guitar, but all of this is just a
part of learning. If you stick with it you’re going to be rewarded. If you’re very stubborn you can make it.

 

I used to see the numbers one, nine, six, six in my dreams. I had very strange feelings that I was here for something and I was going to get a chance to be heard. I got the guitar together
because that was all I had.
Oh Daddy, one of these days I’m gonna be big and famous. I’m gonna make it, man!

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