Monday, June 13, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Jimi Sounds Like A Rainbow: a story of the Young Jimi Hendrix

Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi HendrixJimi Sounds Like A Rainbow: a story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. Clarion, 2010.  (review copy provided by the publisher)

When I mentioned there was a children's book about Hendrix to the teacher dressed like Jimi Hendrix for our "dress like a rock star" day at school a few weeks ago, everyone within earshot was stunned.
"A book for kids?"
The story of Hendrix's death has overshadowed his music. When one of the children asked the teacher if he was dressed as Michael Jackson, I wondered if any children at the school had even heard of Hendrix. 

Golio tells Hendrix's story with poetic language and imagery. 
With every sound, a color
glowed in Jimmy's mind
Blue was the whoosh of cool water splashing over rocks.
Orange and red, the crackling of a campfire.
Green, the rustle of a thousand leaves.
Did Jimmy really see the world in this way or is this poetic license?  This feels researched and informed  thanks to the extensive list of research sources,  the discography of music and videos, and website list included at the end.

Golio imparts a great deal of information about Hendrix's life without resorting to a dry narration of facts. We understand there is no mother in the boy's life through the descriptions of his relationship with his father.
At night, he'd listen to Dad croon along with
gospel, jazz or blues reconrds on the old
phonograph. A song by Muddy Waters--with
its wailing guitar and harmonica--set off
fireworks in his mind.
Jimmy was fascinated with all kinds of sound and his imagination saw colors in the noises and rhythms of the city and nature. The boy was also an artist, often sketching and painting.  A self-taught guitarist, his music took off in a whole new direction when he acquired an electric guitar and discovered how amps and guitar strings could be used to create a unique sounds.

Javaka Steptoe's artwork startles and compels the reader to look deeper into the pictures.  His illustrator's note describes his process of delving into the music and the neighborhood of Jimmy's childhood. For his canvas, he used plywood from the Seattle (Hendrix's childhood home) RE Store, an emporium of salvaged and reclaimed building materials.  These pictures are vibrant collages of plywood and paint and photo prints.  The rough texture and grain of the plywood plays under paint that is a translucent wash in some areas and a thick layer in others. On the last, two-page, vertical spread, Steptoe's boyish Jimmy evolves into Jimi and the final iconic image of Hendrix from posters and album covers,  He renders the musician in purple (Purple Haze?)

The author addresses Hendrix's death honestly and in a straight forward manner in the author's note. He focuses on substance abuse and addiction as a disease that people can recover from with help.  He draws on his own years as a counselor in the discussion and points to several websites that help families and children understand the issue and find assistance.  His comments would be a comfort and useful to young people who are facing similar problems themselves or in their family.

1 comment:

Gail Gauthier said...

I liked the outsider aspect of this story. Golio published another picture book bio on Bob Dylan this year that has that same sensibility.

I wondered if Hendrix's death needed to be addressed at all in the back matter, since the story deals with his childhood and how he was able to achieve what he did. Unfortunately, I think you're right and his death has overshadowed his music, a sad fate for any kind of artist, IMHO.

As far as your question about whether Hendrix "saw" color, there has been speculation that he experienced synesthesia, a condition in which one type of sensory stimulation is paired with another, unrelated sense.