Resurrection for a baby boomer’s Woodstock memories

Kandi Maxwell wrote to us from her home in Northern California about resurrection. Her own. It started with the death of a rock icon. It hasn’t ended.

The word was out. Jimi Hendrix was dead.

How did we know this in our world without cell phones? What I remember is a fuzzy image of Steve Smith’s beat-up, brown van parked at the curb in the drop off/pick up circle at my Southern California high school.

Jimi Hendrix performs at Woodstock, August 1969.

As I walk past him, Steve calls out, “Did you hear? Jimi Hendrix died.”

“Yeah, right,” I say. Steve is a notorious liar.

“No. Really. Hendrix is dead. It’s all over the radio.”

A shadowed-someone in the passenger seat confirms the news. When I realize Steve isn’t joking, my heart thumps in my chest. How could this happen?

It’s September 18th, 1970, my final year of high school. The day is warm and breezy, and the sun blazes bright in the autumn sky. But Steve’s news changes the mood, catches me off guard.

Wasn’t it only a few months ago when my neighborhood friends and I piled into several cars, and drove to the drive-in to watch the film Woodstock? We packed a cooler, threw lawn chairs into the trunks of the cars, then drove to the theater where we parked in front of the large outdoor movie screen. We hung the car speakers facing outside of the cars so we could hear the music as we sat in our chairs in the warm summer night. We were electrified by the music of Woodstock: Richie Havens; the Canned Heat; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; and the finale, Jimi Hendrix. We sang the songs, yearned to actually be at Woodstock and dance naked at Yasgur’s Farm.

I remember Jimi’s rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, the sound of his guitar blasting out of the amplifiers, his signature wah-wah pedal, his blue-beaded leather jacket and the red bandana he had tied around his head. This memory has been reinforced over the years through iconic photos and music releases, but that night at the drive-in, it was fresh. Excitement sparked our spirits. We were fireworks bursting in the night sky. It was our light, the resurrection of a new world.

After hearing the news of Hendrix’s death, I go home and fortress myself in my bedroom. On the wall, there’s a collage I made using photos from LIFE Magazine: naked women bathe children in a silvery stream; hippies work in the garden; their funky, wooden communal home. I take comfort in these photos, in the possibility of people living in harmony with nature. With the death of Jimi Hendrix, a piece of that dream cracks. Is my sorrow for Hendrix, or is it for us, those who dared to dream of a different world?

A year later, hope returns. I hold onto the dream, following Joni Mitchell’s advice in her song “Woodstock”: “We are stardust, we are golden/ We are billion year old carbon/ And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.” I leave to find my garden.

Forty-five years later, I continue to live in mountains, grow gardens, and swim naked in silvery streams.

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