Alaska Notebook: You can put Hendrix on a letter

Purple Haze

The postal service has put Jimi Hendrix on a stamp. Hard to believe, but there he is, long hair, hippie garb, playing his guitar.

Conservative handwringers like Newt Gingrich and George Will, who deplore the impact of the Sixties on American culture, must be wondering if it's tomorrow or just the end of time.

Jimi Hendrix, who rocked Woodstock with his feedback tortured version of "The Star Spangled Banner," celebrated by the government? What next? Timothy Leary on Mount Rushmore?

The Americans honored when I was a young stamp collector 50 years ago were almost exclusively white men. Presidents (Abraham Lincoln), brilliant scientists (Albert Einstein), victorious generals (Ulysses S. Grant), path breaking physicians (the Mayo brothers), and brilliant inventors (the Wright Brothers). I learned more American history from stamp collecting than from school.

As I grew older, the post service began to diversify the faces on stamps. Black heroes (Martin Luther King) appeared. So did sports icons (Joe DiMaggio), writers (Eugene O'Neil) and musical legends (Frank Sinatra).

In 1993, the postal service put Elvis Presley on a stamp after a contest that allowed the public to vote on which image of Elvis they wanted the government to use, young Elvis or older Elvis (older but not the hunka, hunka fat Elvis). The young king won out, and the Elvis stamp became one of the popular commemoratives in the history of the postal service.

In honoring Hendrix, the postal service called him "one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. Combining influences from rock, jazz, soul and the blues..." He also was a remarkable innovator as his version of Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" demonstrates.

The Hendrix stamp validates the man and his music. It also validates the passion that engulfed his fans when he took the stage. As a guitar player, he had no peers.

As for Newt Gingrich and George Will, best they prepare for another shocker. Next year, the postal service will have a stamp for James Brown. Owwwww!

-- Michael Carey