My Jimi Hendrix Experience – Woodstock, Guitar from Mars and the first day of summer
Ever have one of those moments of clarity where the truth hits you like a lightning bolt straight out of the sky? A pivotal moment in your life, which when looked back upon is seen to be the moment your world is forever changed, sending you on a path, a journey, a new life mission. Of course, you don’t realize the scope of this moment as it occurs, you just know something is forever different.
It was the summer vacation right before my sixth grade school year, a couple weeks before school started back, and a picture-perfect, warm, sunny day fell upon us. A bunch of friends sitting lazily around the man-made fishpond in front of the Sadowski home, music emanated from stereo speakers placed in a bedroom window. The mood was relaxed and cheerful, and although the chitchat drifted in and out, the strange music pulsing from the second-story window kept drawing us in like metal particles to a magnet.
“What are we listening to?” I asked innocently.
“Woodstock.” replied one of the Sadowski brothers. “It was the first big rock festival concert back in the 60s”.
The music was electric and raw and had a strange earthiness to it, blossoming imagery of another time and place. I was already familiar with some of the music of this generation, as my Dad frequently played records of Clapton, Santana, and many blues greats of that era, but this was different, the mega concert format depicting the best artists of that era in a peak moment of reckless abandon.
After the first couple album sides of mostly acoustic artists, the music started getting more intense and heavy. Following CSNY and the Who was this emotional roller coaster performance of “With a Little Help from My Friends”.
“Wow, who was that?” I asked.
“Joe Cocker. If you liked that, you’re really gonna like what’s coming up.” replied one of my friends.
The big guitar sounds of Santana, Ten Years After, and others, interspersed with strange announcements and crowd chants drifted from that mysterious bedroom window as my attention continued to deepen. Then all of a sudden it happened.
As funky and cool as so much of all of this music was, it instantly transcended into another plane as the final side of vinyl played on. The electric guitar seemed to pulse and dance amidst a rhythmic and visual soundscape, building and building, going higher and higher until suddenly the drums and bass fell away, leaving a lone guitar to sing her blues.
What’s this? Now he’s playing the national anthem? Of course he wasn’t just playing the national anthem; he was living it, the sounds from his guitar painting the most surreal imagery of all the strife and wonderment of our world across a cloudless blue sky. Interspersed within the melody of an age-old moment of remembrance were rockets, explosions, bombs falling from the sky, people crying, and chaos surrounded by a strange divinity, the guitar literally screaming in pain while simultaneously singing of unimaginable beauty and optimism.
The sounds coming out of that speaker in the window might as well have been coming straight from Mars. It was the deepest penetration of music into my being I had ever experienced in my 11 years of life on this planet. My friends informed me that I had just heard the music of Jimi Hendrix, and the mystery of this bold, cosmic messenger became instantly more elusive as I learned of his passing just one year after this magical performance.
I was forever changed from that moment. I didn’t really know what I had just heard or experienced, but I knew what I felt. I felt an awakening to a mystery. A mystery I wanted to live and explore. The world before me grew instantly larger, with infinite possibilities on the horizon. And although I had already begun learning how to play guitar the year prior, this was the real beginning of my life pursuits in music and beyond, a moment of clarity and truth, a new North star. For me, summer had just begun.
Last Tuesday I awoke to the heartbreaking news that my Dad passed away. After a long battle with cancer, he died peacefully in his sleep with family members by his side. His passing did not come unexpectedly and over the past months I did much to prepare myself, but we are never really that prepared for this kind of thing. He was an amazing man whom gave so much to all who knew him; I miss him more than words can say. It was his wish that all four of his children would give eulogies at his service. Here’s what I wrote for him.
What can I say about Dad. There’s so much to say. He wasn’t just a great Dad, he was also a great friend, mentor, bandmate, and probably my biggest fan. He was my hero. His departure has left a giant black hole in my universe. I was just talking to him the other day, sharing stories and laughs like we did often through the years, and now he’s gone.
But he’s not really gone. His physical being may have left this world, but all the goodness he embodied and the huge impact he had on his family and friends remain. A part of his spirit is still here and lives within all that knew him.
Dad had an amazing sense of humor, probably one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. If you knew him well enough to call the house, you might have occasionally been greeted with “Murphy’s pool hall”, or “Coles Barbecue, best butts in town”, or some other equally entertaining abstraction. My curiosity was always peaked when I would see a voicemail from him. Sometimes it was just to say hi, other times he would leave some sort of CIA spy jargon like “The camel has left the tent.”
His text messages could be equally entertaining. Sometimes I might get something like “your time zone is behind ours, therefore you must be an hour late for everything.” Or “what are you doing standing there looking at this text? Get back to work!”. He loved to laugh, and he loved to make others laugh.
Dad loved music, and this passion flowed out of him like a cool mountain spring. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of dad placing headphones over my infant ears to hear the music of Carlos Santana. He may not have been an actual hippie, but he was always playing music of the Woodstock generation back then, always eager to share it. His passion for music led him to become a great bass player, something he was able to do till the very end. He didn’t think he was a great bass player, that’s because he was humble. But he was great! - Solid, dependable, always holding down the fort. These words describe not just Dad’s bass playing, but his approach to life. I’m really not sure why I chose to become a professional musician. I would say that Jimi Hendrix is the reason I play guitar, but Dad is the reason I play music.
My relationship with Dad changed over the years. I looked up to him in my younger years, his calm, subtle exterior almost masking his pillar like strength. I battled with him as a rebellious teen, as my experimentation with nearly every drug on the planet most certainly attributed to whatever bouts of hypertension he may have had. I’m not sure when it happened, but some time well into my adulthood, I realized that he was one of my best friends. He always made time for the people in his life, whether you wanted to chat with him, ask him for advice, or just share stories or jokes - if this isn’t the definition of a best friend, I don’t know what is.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to endure in my life was living half a continent away from Dad and my family for the last 17 years. Little did I know that following my lifelong musical dreams, largely instilled by Dad, would lead me away from him for all these years. But in carving this path, I found myself, and did a lot to make Dad proud.
And Dad did a lot to make me proud. He was always there for his family, always finding a way to provide whatever we needed to have a good life. He would wholeheartedly take on any job or task that came his way, whether it be vice president of a regional bank, volunteer greeter at Exeter Hospital, or bassist and bandleader of Wind Spirit. Perhaps the biggest thing he was always there to share was his love - his love of life, his love of family, and his love of friends. If you became his friend, you basically became part of his family, otherwise known as “Team Normand”.
During these last few years I grew closer and closer to Dad. I would visit when I could, which never seemed often enough, but we talked on the phone all the time. He was always so totally present when we talked, that even from 1200 miles away I felt as if he was right there beside me.
I am grateful that I was able to introduce him to yoga in recent years, something which gave him great comfort and solace at a point when he really needed it. See Dad, you really went full circle, doing yoga and chanting Ohms - half way to becoming a hippie again!
Another great thing that happened in these last months was our “album club”. I’m not sure what started it, but for a while, each morning would start out with me texting him a record that he turned me onto when I was a kid. He would listen to it on Google music, I would listen to it, and then we would talk later in the day about how great it was. After a couple of weeks of this he texted me something like “I must of been ahead of my time. Did other Dads of that era listen to the smart music as I did?”.
All of these memories, and so many more I will forever cherish. For me, my mom, and my brother and sisters, Dad was a safe haven. He infused our family and anyone who was lucky enough to know him with love and kindness.
So while I’m sad with the immediacy of his loss, I’m so happy to have known him, to have been his son, and to be a part of team Normand. He gave this place 78 amazing years and that’s something we should all be happy about. The great thing is that his spirit still lives within us all.
So Dad, my good friend, if you’re listening, thanks for all the friendship, the music, and the love. And thanks for inviting us to the party!