Jimi Hendrix changed the face of rock and roll forever, and while you certainly know his music, there’s so much more to his story. In a new book, Hendrix’s younger brother details what it was like growing up with Jimi, including his interest in science fiction and space travel....
As young boys growing up in Seattle, Washington, Leon Hendrix and his older brother Jimi often dreamt of outer space and far off worlds. Early on, both became fascinated with Larry “Buster” Crabbe’s Flash Gordon science fiction film serials that played at the activity center where they lived. Jimi even insisted that friends and family call him by the nickname “Buster.” The boys’ other favorites included movies like The Thing and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
At night, Leon and Jimi would often lie on their backs and gaze up at the glistening stars in the sky. Jimi was enchanted by the origins of the universe and relayed stories about the different constellations to his younger brother. They both often wondered how many planets and galaxies existed. Leon recalls that off of the top of his head Jimi spouted stories about ice ages, burning planets, and the creation of the universe.
Because of their interest in the supernatural, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary to either of the boys when they spotted an object in the sky while playing in the yard one afternoon. Jimi pointed to the disk was hovering in the distance.
“Look at that,” Jimi said softly. “Do you see it?”
“Wow!” a young Leon shouted.
“Be quiet. Don’t make any noise.”
Remaining completely still, Leon stared at the hovering ship. At that point, lights started pulsating around its edges.
“Who are they?” Leon asked.
“I don’t know, but I’m gonna find out.”
As soon as Jimi took his first careful step toward it, the disk shot up into the atmosphere and disappeared.
“Where did it go?” Leon asked.
His older brother continued to carefully scan the sky, but there was no sign of what they had just seen.
“Don’t worry,” Jimi said, turning toward Leon. “I’m sure they’ll be back.”
During another encounter, Leon witnessed what he thought were two birds colliding in mid-air at a high rate of speed only to discover a peculiar looking metal ball left behind on the grass in the backyard of their house. He was startled to find what appeared to be a camera’s iris in the middle of the object. To this day, Leon has never forgotten the image of the devise opening and closing. After alerting Jimi of his find, the boys returned and realized the object had disappeared.
These experiences not only influenced Jimi’s childhood drawings of spaceships and intergalactic battle scenes, but also informed a great deal of his songwriting later in life. Futuristic thought and imagination flows freely in songs like “3rd Stone from the Sun” and “Purple Haze,” and there is vivid apocalyptic imagery in “1983.” In “Up from the Skies,” Jimi chronicled an extraterrestrial life form as it made its way back to Earth and witnessed the damage that had been done to the planet. The track “EXP” was essentially an interview between Jimi and drummer Mitch Mitchell concerning whether or not spaceships exist. These cosmic-and space-related lyrical references continued in many of Jimi’s posthumously released songs as well.
The brothers’ childhood encounters also had a lasting effect on Leon, who’s own artwork and poetry reflected the supernatural. The most heartbreaking example can be found in the last few lines of a poem he wrote for Jimi after his tragic death in September of 1970 entitled “Star Child of the Universe”:
He knew peace and love he’d find somewhere,
So he wrote the music to guide us there.
I know you are grooving, way out somewhere,
And when I’m experienced, I’ll join you there.
Adam Mitchell co-authored Jimi Hendrix: A Brother’s Story with Jimi’s younger brother, Leon Hendrix, out this week from Thomas Dunne Books. Adam lives in Los Angeles, California.