Joined: 28 Apr 2005
|Posted: Sun Mar 19, 2006 5:06 am Post subject: Rolling Stone magazine November 15, 1969
|Jimi Hendrix: I Don't Want To Be A Clown Any More
The guitar king, out of the spotlight, rethinks the ride Liberty,
New York -- Records, film, press and gossip are collectively
ambitious in creating the image of a rock superstar. With Jimi
Hendrix -- as with Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison --
mythology is particularly lavish.
Unfortunately, it is also often irreversible -- even when it's ill
founded or after the performer himself has gone through changes.
Several weeks ago, Life magazine described Jimi as "a rock demigod"
and devoted several color pages to kaleidoscopic projection of his
face. Well, why not? The fisheye lens shot on his first album cover
shows him in arrogant distortion: on the second album, he becomes
Buddha. Lest anyone forget, Leacock-Pennebaker's Monterey Pop has
immortalized his pyromaniacal affair with the guitar. Rock-media
bedroom talk makes him King Stud of the groupies. Stories circulate
that he is rude to audiences, stands up writers, hangs up
photographers, that he doesn't talk.
What Jimi's really all about -- and where his music is going -- is
an altogether different thing.
For most of the summer and early fall, Jimi rented a big Georgian-
style home in Liberty, New York -- one of Woodstock's
verdant "suburbs" -- for the purpose of housing an eclectic family
of musicians: Black Memphis blues guitarists; "new music" and jazz
avant-gardists; "Experience" member Mitch Mitchell; and -- closest
to Jimi and most influential -- Juma Lewis, a multi-talented ex-
progressive jazzman who is now the leader of Woodstock's Aboriginal
The hilltop compound -- replete with wooded acreage and two horses --
was intended for a peaceful, productive musical growth period. But
hassles did come, sometimes sending Jimi off on sanity-preserving
vacations in Algeria and Morocco: local police were anxious to
nab "big-time hippies" on anything from dope to speeding; the house
was often hectic with hangers-on; pressure mounted from Jimi's
commercial reps to stay within the well-hyped image and not go too
far afield experimentally.
But with it all, growth, exchange and -- finally -- unity was
achieved among Jimi and the musicians, whose work-in-progress was
evidenced in occasional public appearances in the New York area (at
the Woodstock/Bethel Festival, Harlem's Apollo Theater, Greenwich
Village's Salvation discotheque, and ABC's Dick Cavett show) and has
been recorded for Reprise on an LP which will be released in
January. The name of the album, Gypsies, Suns and Rainbows,
epitomizes the new Hendrix feeling.
With close friends of Jimi, I drove up to Liberty on a quiet
September weekend. The melange of musicians and girls had departed.
In a few weeks, Jimi himself was to give up the house, woods and
horses for less idyllic prospects: a Manhattan loft and a November
hearing on the narcotics possession charge he was slapped with in
Toronto, May 3rd .
Photographs have a funny way of betraying his essentially fragile
face and body. He is lean. Almost slight. Eating chocolate chip
cookies on the living room couch in this big house furnished
straight and comfortable -- he seems boyish and vulnerable.
He offers questions with an unjustified fear of his own
articulateness that is charming -- but occasionally painful. "Do
you, uh -- where do you live in the city?" "What kind of music do
you li... -- would you care to listen to?" He is self-effacing
almost to a fault: "Do you ever go to the Fillmore? No? -- that was
a silly question, sorry." "I'm sorry, am I mumbling? Tell me when
I'm mumbling. Damn . . . I always mumble."
It becomes uncomfortable, so one says: "Jimi, don't keep putting
yourself down. There's everybody else to do that for you." He
attaches to that statement, repeats it slowly, whips out the
embossed Moroccan notebook in which he jots lyrics at all hours of
the day and night, and scribbles something down.
Fingering through his record collection (extensive and catholic;
e.g., Marlene Dietrich, David Peel and the Lower East Side,
Schoenberg, Wes Montgomery), he pulls out Blind Faith; Crosby,
Stills and Nash; and John Wesley Harding. The Dylan plays first.
Jimi's face lights: "I love Dylan. I only met him once, about three
years ago, back at the Kettle of Fish [a folk-rock era hangout] on
MacDougal Street. That was before I went to England. I think both of
us were pretty drunk at the time, so he probably doesn't remember
In the middle of a track, Jimi gets up, plugs in his guitar, and --
with eyes closed and his supple body curved gently over the
instrument -- picks up on "Frankie Lee and Judas Priest," riding the
rest of the song home with a near-religious intensity.
He talks intently to Juma and his girl. He cherishes real friends
and will do anything for them. They, in turn, feel protective toward
him. "Poor Jimi," one says. "Everyone's trying to hold him up for
something. Those busts ... Even the highway patrol exploits him.
They know his car: they stop him on the road between New York and
Woodstock and harass him. Then they have something to gloat about
for the rest of the day. Once a cop stopped me on the highway and
started bragging: 'Hey, I just stopped Jimi Hendrix for the second
On the bookcase is a photograph of a Fifties Coasters-type R&B
group: processed hair, metallic-threaded silk-lapel suits, shiny
shoes. The thin kid on the far left in a high-conked pompadour,
grinning over an electric guitar: is it -- ? "That's okay," Jimi
smiles at the impending laughter. "I don't try to cover up the past;
I'm not ashamed of it." But he is genuinely humble about the
present. For example, he'd been wanting for some time to jam with
jazz and "new music" avant-gardists, but worried that such musicians
didn't take him seriously enough to ever consider playing with
him. "Tell me, honestly," he asked a friend, "what do those guys
think of me? Do they think I'm jiving?"
We are listening now to the tape of such a session, the previous
night's jam: Jimi on electric guitar, avant-garde pianist Michael
Ephron on clavichord, Juma on congas and flute. A beautiful fusion
of disparate elements, disjunct and unified at alternating seconds.
Now chaotic, now coming together. "Cosmic music," they call it. Ego-
free music. Not the sort of stuff the waxlords make many bucks off.
Not the kind of sound guaranteed to extend the popularity of a rock
"I don't want to be a clown anymore. I don't want to be a 'rock &
roll star,'" Jimi says, emphatically. The forces of contention are
never addressed but their pervasiveness has taken its toll on Jimi's
stamina and peace of mind. Trying to remain a growing artist when a
business empire has nuzzled you to its bosom takes a toughness, a
shrewdness. For those who have a hardness of conviction but not of
temperament it isn't a question of selling out but of dying,
artistically and spiritually. Refusing to die yet ill-equipped to
fight dirty, many sensitive but commercially lionized artists
withdrew. I watch Jimi quietly digging the pictures of faraway
people and places in a book, The Epic of Man ("South America . . .
wow, that's a whole different world. Have you ever been there?") and
I wonder just where he will be and what he will be doing five years
We crowd into Jimi's metal-fleck silver Stingray ("I want to paint
it over -- maybe black") for a sunrise drive to the waterfalls. ("I
wish I could bring my guitar-and plug it in down there.") The talk
is of puppies, daybreak, other innocentia. We climb down the rocks
to the icy brook, then suddenly discover the car keys are missing.
Everyone shuffles through shoulder pouches and wallets. "Hey, don't
worry," Jimi says. "They'll turn up. No use being hassled about it
now. Jimi's taking pictures and writing poetry. "I want to write
songs about tranquility, about beautiful things," he says.
Back at the house, he pads around, emptying ashtrays, putting things
in order. "I'm like a clucking old grandmother," he smiles. "I've
just gotta straighten things out a little." It's 7 AM and he has to
be at the recording studio in Manhattan at 4 in the afternoon.
After a few hours of sleep, Jimi floats into the kitchen looking
like a fuzzy lamb unmercifully awakened and underfed. He passes up
the spread of eggs, pork chops, crescent rolls and tea; breakfast,
instead, is a Theragran and a swig of tequila in milk. "Jimi, you
never eat..." Juma's girl worries aloud.
We pile into the car for the two-hour drive into Manhattan. Passing
two Afro-haired guys in an Aston-Martin, Jimi turns and flashes a
broad grin, extending his fingers in a peace salute. We turn up the
radio on Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour"; groove on Neil Diamond,
Jackie DeShannon, the Turtles. Everything is everything: We're
playing with a puppy, grateful for clear skies, clear road, clear AM
station. What more could a carload of travelers in an inconspicuous
blue Avis ask?
We pull into a roadside stop. No giggly bell-bottomed young girls in
sight, Jimi gets out and brings back chocolate milk and ice cream
for everyone. Truckers pay no attention. Middle-aged couples glare
The talk is of the session. They'll record at a studio on West 44th
Street, then go somewhere else to mix it -- maybe Bell Sound of A&R -
- because Jimi says the recording studio they're going to "has bad
equipment ... likes to take advantage of so-called longhair
Downtown traffic on the West Side Highway is light at rush hour. The
fortresses of upper Riverside Drive are handsome in the sun, but the
air has lost its freshness. Getting off the highway at 45th Street,
it's 4:45. The session, costing $200 an hour, was booked to begin at
4:00. But delay couldn't be helped; no hassle. A car full of
teenagers alongside us -- has the radio turned up loud on "If Six
Was Nine" -- the cut being used as part of an advertisement for Easy
Rider, I ask Jimi if he's seen the film; he doesn't answer.
Turning around, I find him stretched out on the back seat, legs
curled up embryonically, hands clasped under his cheek. Sleeping
(RS46 - November 15, 1969)