Monday, 25 August 2014

Letters and Songs Jimi Hendrix Shrine Vancouver

While collecting material for some songs based on the Downtown East Side, the sign for the Jimi Hendrix shrine caught my attention. I'd seen the sign many, many times before, but somehow it never seized my attention long enough to look further at what the sign was pointing to; finally it did. Although Jimi Hendrix has never been on my top ten list, his contribution to music is indisputable and knowing his connection to Vancouver now makes him and his work all the more meaningful. 

The small shrine is located on Union Street just off of Main Street and is definitely  worth visiting. Don't expect some fancy tourist attraction, it isn't that at all. It is a small, oddly decorated building steeped in history and love for the man whose music and memory are being honoured there.  The building is what remains of the restaurant known as Vie's Chicken and Steakhouse. Jimi's grandmother cooked at the restaurant which was visited by legends such as:Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday,and B.B. King to name just a few. Jimi would come up from Seattle to visit his grandmother and would play at the restaurant. Hendrix is quoted as saying "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens". It seems he likely had many influential musicians to listen to during his visits to Vancouver. 

The shrine has copies of handwritten letters and songs penned by Hendrix himself, as well as numerous photos of the great jazz, rock, and R & B singers who visited there over the years. Guitars are suspended from the ceiling and time itself seems suspended in this place. Strangely the experience of visiting this shrine reminded me a lot of visiting the small chapel at St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal founded by Br. Andre. While the comparison may seem an odd juxtaposition, for me it is not. The shrine also displays a picture of the Vancouver church attended by Jimi and his grandmother; so maybe the similarities between Br. Andre and Hendrix are not as great as  you think. Perhaps the suspended guitars reminded me of the crutches suspended at the Oratory Chapel, but I think it was something more than that. Both places remind us that people of humble origins can accomplish  great things with the talents they had been given and when witnessing those talents in use, people are often healed in some way. When we reflect on these humble beginnings, we might well wonder what greatness is currently taking root in a setting just as lowly. We stand in awe of our rock stars, our idols, our super heroes, and our saints asking how did they reach such heights? It seems to me the answer is they were willing to.   . 

Outside of the shrine Thomas Lavigne from Cape Breton played the guitar and sported a Hendrix wig. To his right in the photo is Luke Friis of Lawrencetown Nova Scotia. Friis was there to answer questions and knew a lot about the photos and artifacts they had on display. Both young men are travelling; somehow I think their summer spent working at the Jimi Hendrix shrine will be an important stop on their journey. Their East-coast hospitality added to the charm of the Hendrix shrine experience.  
Admission is free and donations are gladly accepted if you want to contribute. 

For more details check out the Jimi Hendrix Shrine Facebook page

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