Goodbye Jim Hinde

Eat the State: Politics with Bite

June 26, 2008 – Jim Hinde was the real deal. He was born and raised in Ohio. He was a Vietnam Vet who rambled homeless and broke in the early ’70s, lived in the skid road missions, and rode the freights. He settled in Seattle as a father and musician, and wrote a whole bunch of songs. He became such a solid force in the Seattle busking scene that when he died unexpectedly the morning of June 9, the whole city gasped and half of the Pike Place Market went home early.

The wind blew real hard all that day. Jim didn’t like the hard winds because they reminded him of the typhoons when he was in the Navy. That was a time that haunted him. It kept him from sleeping and woke him up with night sweats–Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the shadow partner that Uncle Sam gives to his military veterans. Jim would spend the last years of his life pursuing his claim for service-related disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Not just for himself but for all vets. Maybe it wore him out.

Jim was one of the founders of the Pike Market Performers Guild, an organizing body of Seattle street performers. With his work ethic and background, he was an enormous asset for getting all the nuts and bolts in place to create and produce the annual Pike Market Busker Festival. Organized collectively, the Guild seeks to raise the profile and legitimacy of street performers, who by nature are a little outside the social norm. Jim could bridge that gap. The festival has now become an established part of the city’s culture, and busking a celebrated art form.

Jim Hinde loved the Pike Place Market and he spent a great deal of time there. One of his favorite sayings was, “If you’re going to milk the cow, you have to feed the cow,” meaning that if he was going to make his living there he was also going to support it. And he did. He won an Emmy for his work on the PBS documentary “Pike Place Market, Soul Of A City.” In his voice-over you can hear the love and connectedness. In many ways he was the voice of the soul of the city.

When the Iraq War kicked in, all the vets got a jolt of emergency adrenalin and Jim began his final campaign–countering the national jingo fever with songs of peace and social justice written from the perspective of experience. He knew because he’d been there. Songs like “Marching To the Border” where the singer says “no” to America’s war and heads for Canada, taking half the inductees with him; “Frank Dennis and Me,” about his old shipmates in Vietnam, and how marching to someone else’s gun kills the soul of a person; “The Perp Walk,” about the arrest of Bush and company for war crimes; and the great anthem “Shout Down the Wind,” a call for all of us to take to the streets and stop the machine in its tracks. Jim was a frequent presence at anti-war rallies and demonstrations in Seattle. As a member of both Veterans For Peace and Vietnam Veterans Of America he became a driving force for change. Before he died he was working as one of the main organizers for the national VVA convention. He never did anything he couldn’t give a hundred percent to.

When Jim began to work seriously on his PTSD claim he went to the VA hospital and was diagnosed with high levels of cortisol, a hormone in the blood which is a responder to stress. In combat situations this is the stuff that makes a person hyper-alert and helps them to survive. But over time it eats at the tissues of the heart, and in a PTSD veteran that hyper-alertness does not go away and the cortisol is always there. Jim died of a heart attack. A case can be made that Jim’s combat experience killed him 35 years later, like a real slow bullet.

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