Baltimore artist and symbologist Bob Hieronimus has a knack for moving occult and obscure subjects into the mainstream. Now he’s bent on altering the mainstream’s perception of a counterculture hero.
With the same enthusiasm that carried him through many an art controversy in Baltimore 40 years ago, Bob has been working with Janie Hendrix to promote a new understanding of her older brother, Jimi.
Part of his efforts will come to fruition tomorrow (March 6) when the “Experience Hendrix” tribute tour debuts at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, its only Northeast venue.
Top-flight musicians such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Buddy Guy, Dweezil Zappa (son of Baltimore-born Frank Zappa), Johnny Lang, Brad Whitford, Noah Hunt, Keb’ Mo’ and Billy Cox will perform classic Hendrix songs, including “Little Wing,” “Purple Haze,” “Voodoo Chile,” “Foxy Lady,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Hey Joe.”
Hieronimus not only helped get the Experience Hendrix tour booked at the Hippodrome Theatre in 2010, but he is hatching a scheme for a Hendrix symphony to be performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
“The music has already been written, but it needs to be notated for the whole symphony,” he says enthusiastically.
The idea is not as outlandish as it may appear. Bob is married to the former Zohara Meyerhoff, granddaughter of Joseph Meyerhoff, for whom the symphony hall is named. The 68-year-old artist has some powerful connections. And he’s very persuasive.
His skill at placing himself at the right place at the right time was illustrated when he found his way from working-class Baltimore, where his dad ran a laundry and his mother labored at Lever Brothers, to New York in 1968.
Even Guitar Heroes Once Said, “Far Out”
A year before Hendrix caused an uproar at the 1969 Woodstock Festival, Hieronimus said he made his acquaintance while doing some album-cover work for Elektra Records. This gave him entrée to The Scene, an after-hours club in Manhattan a few blocks from Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland Studio.
I’ll let Bob tell the story:
“At The Scene, I had pulled out my large drawing journals and set up a little studio at my table surrounded by my pens and pencils, and A Dictionary of Symbols.
“When Hendrix finished jamming, he came over and asked me what I was doing, very curious about my journals and the Dictionary of Symbols.
“He was very direct in a quiet way and softly spoken. I remember him picking up the dictionary and saying it was ‘far out.’
“I told him I was a student of American symbols, and especially the eye in the triangle over the unfinished pyramid, known as the Reverse of the Great Seal of the United States.”
Bob was surprised that Hendrix was familiar with the symbol, not only from the back of a one-dollar bill. “I found I was not introducing him to something he didn’t already know, but we shared ideas about its mystical and magical potential,” he said.
Jimi the Patriot
Over the course of some intense conversations during the summer of 1968, “We both concluded this symbol revealed that America indeed has a spiritual destiny, and we also speculated about Atlantis, reincarnation, astrology, UFOs and the paranormal. But our most meaningful sharing concerned our national coat of arms.”
The reverse seal was adopted by Congress in 1782 as an unfinished pyramid, consisting of 13 layers to refer to the 13 original states, with the eye of Providence watching over it. The top motto signifies that God approves of the nation and the bottom words, taken from Virgil, were Latin for “a new order of the ages.”
Because of its supposed Masonic symbolism, the reverse seal was suppressed through much of the 19th and 20th century.
Hieronimus said his interactions with the musician (“we never talked about music”) influenced his own life and career, which eventually included the opening in Baltimore of the first state-accredited school of esoteric arts and sciences, the Aquarian University of Maryland (AUM), a 306-page doctoral dissertation on the history of the reverse seal, and a trip to the White House to meet President Gerald R. Ford.
When Hendrix died in 1970, Bob says he was trying to create music that was “pure magic” and forge a philosophy far removed from his hedonistic image. “He was a kind soul surrounded by some unkind controllers.”
His feedback-drenched “Star-Spangled Banner” mimicked the bombs bursting over Fort McHenry in homage to the country’s destiny prefigured by the reverse seal.
With the celebration of the bicentennial anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner coming to Baltimore this year, Hieronimus says he’s eager to promote the flag and long-dead rock star.
Both, he says, should be viewed as different ways “for Baltimore to experience palpable spiritual energy.”
The three-hour “EXPERIENCE HENDRIX TRIBUTE TOUR” kicks off Tuesday, March 6, at 8 p.m. at the Strathmore Music Center, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Tickets are $64.95 – $137.80. Call (301) 581-5100 for information.