In 2003, Julius Davis, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s director of educational programming, was fired for showing a group of fifth-graders a video of Jimi Hendrix serenading a partially topless girl with an explosive rendition of “Foxey Lady." Many were upset that the drug abusing, high school dropout was being put forward as a role model by the Hall of Fame, but any serious discussion as to the fitness of exposing young people to the revolutionary Hendrix was trumped by that naked breast.
Now, six years later, a more interesting side of that debate has been picked up off of the table by Carlos Garcia, a San Francisco superintendent, whose new district guidebook features images of Hendrix and challenges its educators to revolutionize education the same way Hendrix revolutionized music:
“Garcia told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was simply trying to ‘revolutionize’ the district and felt comfortable with Hendrix’s controversial image because, ‘Hey, we’re in San Francisco.’”
Nevertheless, forty or so years later, Jimi Hendrix as role model is still dicey territory. Yes, even in San Francisco. Obviously, Paul Allen is free to spend his own money on as many Hendrix shrines as he’d like, but when it comes to public funding, is Hendrix age appropriate?
I’ve always been personally fascinated by the subject of Rock and Roll and education. Do they mix? Should they mix? After all, the very thing that drew me to the music as a teen was that the music and its leading personalities were by their very nature subversive and rebellious.
I always thought that the battle line would form around the Beatles. The group’s catalog is universally beloved by both young and old. Surely, kids are much better off singing “Yellow Submarine” and “All Together Now” than whatever tripe Raffi and the Disney Channel are peddling. I was of the opinion that it was impossible to tell the story of the Beatles without acknowledging the fact that drug use was at the very core of their life and work, but I was wrong. Due to the fact that none of the Beatles perished due to their drug use (and, after all, what more benign lifetime drug user exists than Paul McCartney?), society has seemingly been able to embrace the group’s message of love and leave the more complicated subjects to experimentations of the college years.
That doesn’t appear to be possible when the subject is Jimi Hendrix.
I graduated from high school in 1984. It was the middle of the Ronald Reagan era. Nostradamus had nothing on George Orwell, who couldn’t have picked a better icon to mark the year of his predicted reckoning than “the great communicator.”