Jimi had talent, drive, initiative. He wouldn’t have been where he was without them. But the music business is business before music and usually talent and drive aren’t sufficient to dance with anything even imagined as success over the long run. The music business was controlled by businessmen, not musicians. Musicians were incidental contractors, or sub-contractors, readily replaced. Hit songs were manufactured in businesses called studios, promoted on businesses called radio and television and sold in businesses called stores. Real cash dollars were generated through the promotion of live performance in businesses such as clubs, halls and stadiums.
Mike Jeffery had owned some music venues, met lots of musicians and made himself a big name on the scene. His clubs, the Marimba and the Downbeat, in Newcastle-on-Tyne, burned down after they were closed for fire regulation violations, and with the insurance money he opened Club A’Gogo which turned into the gogo-to place in the North of Britain in the mid-60s. He took over management of the house band, Eric Burden and the Animals and then, with former Animals bass player Chas Chandler, took over management of Jimi Hendrix. Together they packaged him with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums as the Experience.
This was a new and unprecedented situation for Jimi, who played his rock-us blues and R&B on the US chitlin’ circuit throughout the south, prior to his life-changing trip to England. He had played to primarily black audiences with mostly black musicians. Now he was the black front man of a white back-up band with white managers, producers and audiences. He was a novelty.
Jimi had it made. But he knew, and it ate him inside, that he was owned by the white man. Every bit of his work that made him rich, made five, ten, who knew how many white men rich as well. Every dollar he made from his talent, hard work and musicianship was that much or more in hands that never touched an instrument, beyond an instrument of capital. The black man did the work, the white man got the profit – the only thing that had changed in a hundred years was how much certain black men (and women) had become worth on the open celebrity market. As this awareness dawned upon him, Jimi came to see himself as already dead – his work would always be another’s profit. A commodity.
The Animals, who blamed him for the band’s disintegration through excessive bookings and skimming profits, sacked Jeffery in disgust, which left him Jimi as his soul meal ticket. This became problematic as Jimi and Jeffery drifted apart, when Jeffery’s other connections moved in for the kill. Mike Jeffery was not just as he appeared and his secrets held life and death implications for Jimi. During the Second World War, he worked with British Intelligence and he had apparently maintained his ties there after that slaughter came to its ugly conclusion. As in the U.S., British intelligence agents commit remarkable numbers of crimes in the course of their crime fighting. Which, as in the U.S., puts them in frequent contact with underworld figures.
Jeffery knew the seamy underbelly of the music scene, exploited it with all the aplomb he could muster, and became rich and infamous owing to his machinations. But, as with the Animals, he toured Jimi endlessly, skimmed the majority of his earnings and sucked the love of music out of him. The reason Jimi had been in L.A. was to meet with his attorney, Henry Steingarten, to find a way out of his contract with Jeffery. Steingarten told him he was stuck.
“I need meaning!” Jimi shouted from the pool deck at Sid’s house over the flickering, blinking lights of L.A., blazing like a forest fire, “there has to be more…” His voice trailed away. We had been talking music, Jimi laying out his management problems. Kerri, one of the thus far unnamed party ladies posited, “You’re like the biggest star in rock.” It was true; he had found his moment and the light of the world shone upon him; in that glorious instant he was King Guitar. Eric Clapton wept, Jeff Beck considered chucking it, Jimmy Page made notes when Jimi performed – he was that good.
“The curse of the top is that all directions lead down.” I was philosophical, my head hyper-stimulated, clarity of perception acute. “Man, that’s deep,” Randy was quite high as well. He had achieved proficiency at an early age sufficient to make even Jimi sit up and take note: Randy played in Jimi’s band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, when he was 16-years old. With Spirit, he sought that peak of such dissatisfaction for his friend. I elaborated, “It is also the advantage for the journey down is easier than the journey up, because…” Jimi looked up: he got where I was going. “Because we already know the road. We traveled it getting up.” We all smiled with a common understanding of this simple truth.
“What’s with all the hidden meaning stuff on records and stuff? Like the Beatles?” It was Barbara, also pleased for a mention. Kim, a choir director from the Valley added, “Yeah, the backwards recording and that. You do that Jimi?” Jimi looked at them – they were both impossibly cute as I would trust you’d expect considering this so far – and offered, “I’m looking for meaning forward. Don’t need to hide it, man.” Randy agreed. “It’s a gimmick, like a prize in a box of cereal.” As one with a fondness for cereal and who grew up seeking those ‘gimmicks’ I couldn’t allow that to pass. “I like the comparison. Pop music is like cereal – tasty, sweet, crunchy, empty crap. A lot of marketing for a product filled with air.”
“What do you think this is, all this secret shit everyone’s looking for?” Jimi looked at me, curious. “It’s cereal, as Randy says. Even the best music, present company excluded, is nothing. They sing about nothing. Or complain, My heart is broken, the mill ain’t hirin’, cough from smokin’, my health expirin’.” This got a laugh or several and when we’d settled back in I elaborated, “We hunger for meaning in our lives – this can’t be all we get. There has to be more. Once we exhaust the usual places we go for succor, we seek outward. Rock offered us that meaning. Commerce took it from us. Best as I can tell, the meaning in songs comes from the audience, not the composer.”
“This some fucked up shit, man,” Jimi shook his head. We sat at the table at Shokan House, Jimi’s place in New York near Woodstock. The estate was a celebrity hide-away of impressive pedigree with pool and gardens and even riding facilities for those who liked sitting on huge ungulates, among whom Jimi did not number himself. Shokan chef, Claire Moriece, had just laid out food and we were chomping the carbs while chewing the fat. “People is fuckin’ crazy.”
Jimi was right. He set down The Times: Charlie Manson and his family had set off Helter Skelter in LA, not blocks from where we’d been staying. The murders were to be as grisly as the killers could bear it, with the Black Panthers to blame, the press to parrot. Charlie desperately hated black people and had hoped to create an expanding race riot/revolution, with him prevailing as Jesus, or someone equally unimpressive. According to some, the L.A. Sherriff’s Department knew he was up to no good, but confused by a typo, thought he was up to know good, so they left him alone with similar hopes for little Charlie’s Helter Skelter and the final solution.
The Manson Family killings took place about ten days before the massive Woodstock music fest, where Jimi was the highest paid performer and closed the show Monday morning with his new project, Band of Gypsys. Band of Gypsys was a bigger combo for Jimi; with friend Larry Lee on rhythm guitar, and additional percussion from Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez, it represented another first: Jimi fronting an all-black band. Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums became Jimi’s new power core. They had also more or less moved into Shokan House. I had found myself very prominently white again in a place predominantly less so.
This posed no obstacle between Jimi and me (neither of us had time for much racism), but as the other notable white guy around Shokan House was Mike Jeffery, my particular hue was in popular remission. I, as a result, spent more and more time in the City, popping in at the Factory and at some of the clubs in the Village, chasing down my old haunts. My final break with Shokan House came after Woodstock when Jeffery and a couple of tough guys pulled up in limos to talk with Jimi.
Jeffery had gotten himself in with the Gambino crime family through one of their businesses, the Salvation, a club on E. 32nd in Manhattan. It was originally on W. 32nd but as it was only doors away from the popular Salivation Club they decided to move to avoid confusion and personal injury lawsuits. Jimi had been a customer of the club and when they decided to open their new, less slobbery location, they asked Jimi to play. Jimi didn’t want to, as he saw bigger things for Band of Gypsys than playing mob clubs, hastening Jeffery and his thugs’ visit. Juma and I agreed that we had Jimi’s back if things got dodgy. But then Aldo, the barely literate wall of humanity that didn’t accompany Jeffery to persuade Jimi, alone there in his room, decided to occupy his time constructively. He pulled out a target, stuck it to a tree then started banging away at it from about 70 feet away with a .38, nailing the bull’s-eye with terrifying accuracy.
Suffice it to say Jimi and the Band played the Salvation. But he had another reason for disliking that particular club: his abduction from it. He’d been socializing with the denizens there one night when a couple of goombas approached him with an offer he was hesitant to refuse. He abruptly left with them and found himself held captive by some rent-a-thugs who ransomed him for his contract from Jeffery – sign over the contract or the musician gets it. He was eventually rescued in a thuggy showdown, orchestrated by Jeffery at Shokan. It was becoming increasingly clear why Jimi wanted away from him.
A big part of the pressure weighing down on Jimi came in the form of a drug bust at the Canadian border, which occurred the month before we met. Toronto was one of a multiple city assault on perverse and subversive rock stars in May of 1969: Lennon’s U.S. visa was revoked on the 16th; Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane was busted for marijuana on the same day while Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful were busted days later at their home. While all popular entertainers – made popular through the U.S. media for one, controlled by conservative millionaires – none of them were, musically at least, particularly revolutionary; the government was going after pop musicians.
Like the sober, Catholic, Motor-City Madman, Ted Nugent, Jimi actually supported the war in Vietnam; unlike Ted, Jimi actually served his country. As a military vet and millionaire he had little use for communists, likely one of the reasons he and the Panthers didn’t coalesce in the black empowerment movement. As the U.S.A.’s stated political ethos was anti-communist, going after rich, successful capitalists for their personal excesses was a stroke of law enforcement genius. In this way, pro-war multimillionaires could be painted as subversive and targeted, brought down and ruined. For God and country and all. A leaked U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence memo outlined the government’s approach to those they made their enemies:
"Show them as scurrilous and depraved. Call attention to their habits and living conditions; explore every possible embarrassment. Send in women and sex; break up marriages. Have [musicians] arrested on marijuana charges. Investigate personal conflicts or animosities between them. Send articles to newspapers showing their depravity. Use narcotics and free sex to entrap."
Jimi and the Band had been warned the day before about a bust in Toronto and were thus meticulous in making sure they were clean. Yet in the custom’s shed, the pigs came up with a metal tube which contained heroin and hashish. Not much, certainly not enough for a trafficking charge, but enough to offer the 26-year old black musician a 20-year long stay in a Canadian prison, eh. Jimi didn’t use heroin; like me, no stomach for the needle nor interest in the nod. Jimi was a stoner; he liked grass and the occasional entheogen. He didn’t even drink much, as when he got a snootful, he became Bad-Jimi, who people didn’t find as charming or pleasant. Jimi had been set up. He had joined the ranks of the FSI.
The FSI (Federal Security Index) is the governmentally sanctioned list of subversives to be detained (imprisoned) during a national emergency in the U.S.A. I was (am) on that list along with many other artists – the idea always more menacing than the gun. Nixon, Kissinger, LBJ, war criminals all, each with the blood of thousands if not millions of people on their hands, walked around with government mandated protection – don’t want anyone to harm our mass murderers – but Jimi (and so many others) faced 20 years in ass-rape hell for possession of drugs. Drugs not even his own. And now his name was associated with heroin.
Some suggested a set-up closer to home, looking at Jeffery who had conveniently traveled on to Hawaii to be closer to his money–excuse me, Jimi’s money. Some whispered of a million pound Lloyd’s policy with Jeffery as the beneficiary. He certainly controlled the lion’s share of the lion’s share and his behaviors made him increasingly difficult to trust. His secretary, Trixie, posited that a female fan, disgruntled at being rebuffed by Jimi, slipped the incriminating container into Jimi’s luggage, but how the fanatic would have access to Jimi’s luggage as well as how Trixie would know this, she did not say. Trixie and Jeffery would have both had that access.
Jimi’s trial was in December and he cleaned up and bought a suit, a far cry from his multi-colored bandanas and scarves, flowy shirt open to the waist, sartorial arraignment in May. He went in nervous, with a pill discovered on him – a source of considerable controversy only to be deemed legal – to knock him out had he been convicted. Facing 20 years, one could understand his tension. The Crown had to prove that Jimi knowingly put the drugs in his luggage, that they were his. After the usual courtroom terrifying boredom and massive expenditure of time, effort and money, the jury ruled that Jimi was still King Guitar and the Crown could stuff their pathetic drugs up their collective bum.
Jimi was ecstatic. Back in New York we hit the clubs frenzied and free, constrained only by the enamored throngs who wanted to bask in his reflected glory. It was like a snow flurry wherever we went; clubbites would spot Jimi, his joyous face smiling widely, one of the world’s great weights lifted from him, and the powder would fly. At Porker’s in the Village we grooved to the chaotic sounds of Bungdiddler, a back-up band from Memphis, while Jimi diddled a little Puerto Rican hottie named Stacy next to the unplugged juke box utterly powerless to stop them. At Mancy’s Dank Hole in Harlem, I was compelled to leave after getting too cozy with a number runner’s girlfriend named Etta and only through Jimi’s intervention did I avoid calumny.
During a show at the Clodslinger Ballroom in Brooklyn, Frank Zappa and the Mothers broke into a rousing rendition of “Purple Haze,” (“Scuze me while I kiss this guy…”) reminiscent of his Albert Hall tribute to Jimi with “Flower Punk” a couple of years earlier. Frank had seen us enter the venue and kicked it off as a nod to him. They had been friends for years and held a mutual respect for each other as musicians – Frank had introduced Jimi to the wah wah pedal. I asked Jimi to introduce me to him.
We headed over to the Holiday Out – the Holiday Inn was overbooked – and met Frank seated at a table by the window in the all night diner, Crunchies. “An excellent performance tonight, Mr. Zappa.” Frank looked at me and rather matter-of-factly, “Frank. It was acceptable.” Jimi sat beside him at the table and I sat across from him. He was drinking a cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette and reading The Times. “I appreciate your standards.”
He looked me over – I didn’t appear crazy or slur, babble, or giggle uncontrollably – I might be worthy of further consideration. He smiled at Jimi then set the paper down on the table. “Well, as the mean is mediocre composition performed competently–” I interrupted him, Jimi cautious at first then smiling widely –“Virtusoso.”
Frank took a breath then continued, “Virtusoso, very nice…Any deviation is seen as cutting edge.” Jimi jumped in, “The point is to keep it sharp, man.” I smiled at Jimi and continued, “Yeah, music’s cutting edge is played more and more with a blunt instrument.” Frank appreciated this. “Along with some tasty cymbalism.” I pointed to a couple of bucks Frank had set on the table. “Instruments of capital.” Frank looked at them. “Guess that would make us the players.” Jimi looked thoughtful. “Maybe so, man, but I feel like these instruments been playin’ me.” I shook my head. “We’re certainly not the composers. After they’re done with us, more like decomposers.” Frank smiled but Jimi looked grim. “So many motherfuckers with guns.” I thought of Shokan House.
“Commerce, the commercial for Capitalism.” Frank considered me. “You a communist?” I smiled sardonically as Jimi checked out the approaching waitress. “I’d hope we not degrade to name calling this soon.” Frank was diplomatic. “Oh, I don’t care, just trying to get a read on you.” I offered him another glimpse. “In the congregation of currency, I am non-denominational.” This pleased him and Jimi looked at me curiously as the waitress assailed us. “Can I get you boys anything?”
After requisite orders were offered and taken by the bubbly Louise, Jimi explained me to Frank. “Art is kind of a free spirit.” Not wishing to sugar coat it I offered the more realistic, “I’m a bum. Not that I don’t work, I work very hard. Just not any place too long. Something about my mouth, but I suspect it’s more my brain.” Frank considered this. “What’s your interest?” My eyes twinkled. “Beyond the imperative pussy…” Frank smiled. “The pussy imperative?” I returned the smile. “Precisely. I have been doing some composing and movie work back in L.A. I love music but I’m grooving on some shit that makes it not seem like a good place to make money.” Jimi nodded knowingly and Frank offered, “It’s a great way to make money if money is what you want to make. The problem is that for real musicians, music is what they want to make. So they get managers and accountants and lawyers and consultants and before you know it your music is paying for fifty fuckers you’ve never seen.”
Jimi knew this to his bones. “I love this, playing music, makin’ music, man, it’s my life. But this business shit really beats me down, brothers. It hurts my soul. I’m the luckiest motherfucker that ever walked out of the hard side of America, I appreciate what I got ‘cause I know most brothers ain’t got shit by comparison. I should be happy, but I’m scared. Fuckin’ business man.” We both felt Jimi’s dilemma; he was a good man, a simple man, made into a rock god and ordinary men with extraordinary talent are exploited and cast asunder as a matter of course in business.
He was Jimi fucking Hendrix, the biggest star in the world, the highest paid musician, let alone black performer, on the entire planet and he couldn’t access his money; it was all tied up by businessmen. Corrupt businessmen, gangsters and thugs. He may have had less actual real money than Frank Zappa, one of the lowest paid successful performers in the world. Frank was rich, make no mistake, but he wasn’t millionaire rich, more musician rich, which is for the most part being able to keep the lights on, some weenies in the fridge. Between the audience and the musician are so many hands, grabbing, clutching, gathering. What the fan gives to the musician, the musician sees only a miniscule percentage of – a $10 album maybe giving the artist 25 cents, probably less. While his white hot blues put Jeffery in the black, Jimi saw red that it didn’t provide him more green.
“Frankly, Frank, for the last few years Art has taken a serious trouncing. I seek to rectify that.”
I looked at him serious with my usual passion, but my gaze softened and Jimi and I smiled at each other. He was pleased to be at a table with white men who not only respected his position and artistry, but genuinely liked him. He knew we didn’t want anything from him.
“You gonna fix it?” Frank was sardonic, knowing what anyone who would make such a proclamation would face. I knew of Frank, he was a sharp thinker and I could learn much from him if I offered him the proper respect. I remember Wilhelm pointing out the futility of fighting the grand forces that run this human mulching machine known as civilization, the Quixotic warrior cannot but appear foolish to those who wear their virtue as a sacred crest. “The Art I am concerned with preserving is at the table with you. I doubt the communal baptismal of art can be salvaged, certainly not by me. Industrial waste and backwash.” Frank considered this. “You seem to hold a pretty low opinion of your field of interest. You considered plumbing?”
I smiled. “I’ve done it. At least there the sewage isn’t masked by empty sentiment and feedback.” Jimi looked hurt. “Not into feedback?” I realized I was slinging shit at two artists I did actually respect. It seemed more tact was called for. “Not where it’s used to mask ineptitude. You guys are exceptions; you use sound to enhance musicality. With amazing results. Just seems like a lot of bands use it to feign talent.” This was well received as it was clear I wasn’t bagging on the form, more its function as applied. I wasn’t being disingenuous: I did like both of their work; they both were bad asses musically. Zappa held a more perverse appeal because of his overt socio/political commentary and crude sense of humor, but Jimi was easier to get close to.
Frank played to the fact that he wasn’t one of the beautiful people – he formed a band of uglies he called the Mothers and played ugly music in ugly little beer halls full of hopeless and ugly people. His music eschewed up and spit out melodic convention, employing rapid tempo change, poly rhythms and non-traditional key signatures, muscling through songs, often without a break between them, disallowing the audience to assimilate what they have endured. He mocked the convention he was becoming a part of, using the very means and seeking the very results of the vapid pop he vilified. He would be famous for being infamous.
“You gotta understand that commercial music is like commercial anything – crap. At least where it’s not shit. Music isn’t on radio because it’s good, it’s on it because it sells.” Frank was very matter-of-fact and lit up another cigarette as he spoke. I considered this. “S’pose that leaves us to question what it sells. And why.” Jimi and I were quite high and this led us to ponder the subject as Frank posited, “It sells a life style, a social ethos. Peace and love.” This caused me to suggest, “Odd that a system predicated on hatred and violence would proffer peace and love.” This got Jimi going, “The system doesn’t write the songs, the musicians do. I do. Frank does. You do.”
I was honored to be included in such company but could not let my point be lost. “We compose whatever we want, within our limitations. If what we compose is good enough we might get a record deal. But it has to be safe enough to make it on the air.” Frank knew this well. “And it has to make it on the air for the record company to support it.” Jimi looked at Frank. “You sell out shows all over the place, man, got a huge fan base.” Frank knew where the money for musicians came – live shows. They were lucky to see those pennies on the dollar for every album they sold. “Don’t know if I’d call it huge, especially in your company. But we can still sell out shows in some places. Supporting a band is a huge expense which would be lessened by selling more albums. Which I can’t do because radio won’t play my music.”
I fixed him with a serious stare. “Because you insist on saying something with your lyrics.” Highly aware of Jimi, whose lyrics had made his management rich and were played all over the everywhere, I sought a modifier. “You mock their convention, warts and all. You make fun of flower power. For that, I salute you.” I hoisted the beer I had been drinking clandestinely in salute, “Mulch!” taking a final slug. All the coke was making my mouth operate faster than my brain, which at that point was operating particularly sluggishly. This amused Frank, which kind of cut the edge with Jimi and the whole lyric thing. He looked at me seriously. “So, Art, what are your songs about?” Jimi interjected, “I’ve heard him play, he’s pretty fucking amazing.”
Frank looked at me seriously. “What do you play?” I was a little overwhelmed but a lot drunk which always works well for me in social interaction. “Keyboard, piano mostly. I don’t know. They’re all different. My first song was about my friend’s murder, the impact it had on me watching him die.” This made Jimi wince. “That’s some heavy shit.”
I continued, “I tend toward social commentary or stuff that makes me laugh. No love songs.” Frank was all business. “Not into love?” I sat back, placing the empty bottle on the empty seat beside me. “Oh I love love, as we’re all reminded to all the time. Just don’t feel I can add anything of substance to that particular dialogue. There’s plenty to write about. Neither of you want for material.”
Jimi thought about this, what was he really saying? Frank had well defined his targets: social hypocrites, crooked businessmen, corrupt politicians, phony hippy freaks, plastic society, religious impiety. The common subject we all delved lyrically into was sex – we loved singing about sex. I was right there, not even slightly above the low rabble – I love sex. The taste, the smell, the sensation, the look, the sounds, all of it. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. I never have sex without love because I love sex. While I’ve written the odd weepy lamentable love song dreck, those are my lyrical embarrassments, not the songs I offer to the public at large. The sex songs though…Everybody loves a good sex song. Those should be played publically and loud – you want to feel your sex song.
“Listen,” when Frank Zappa said listen, I listened, “I’ve got my own imprint over at Warner’s, Bizarre Records. We’re always looking for good material to promote. You sound interesting; I’d like to hear what you can do, what you’ve done.” I was astounded and Jimi smiled at me widely. “I’m back in L.A. beginning of February. Give me a call at Intercontinental Absurdities and we can sit down, see what ya got.” He tore off a corner of the paper and scrawled his number on it, sliding it over to me. He looked at me, considering my state of intoxication. “If you mislay this, just talk to Jimi. He knows where to find me.” I was flabbergasted; I had finally written myself a winning ticket. If Frank fucking Zappa couldn’t find the virtue of my work then I might as well return to plumbing, head first down the bowl then out to sea, splurgin’ on the sturgeon. I took the paper and carefully folded it, placing it in my pocket. “I’m honored, I’m fucking amazingly honored right now. Thank you, sir. Thank you.”
Jimi looked at Frank, pleased by his creative largess. Glancing out the window, he turned back to Frank, resting his hand on Frank’s shoulder, concerned. “I can’t help but note a palpable sense of distance between you and the Mothers.” I looked out the window: across the parking lot in the diner of the Comfort Out – the Comfort Inn was closed for rodent reduction – crowded around a single table, sat Frank’s band, The Mothers, all looking back at me, Jimmy Carl Black with a single teardrop rolling down his face.
Frank looked at Jimi. “Ya think? I’m reassessing the whole band situation. It’s amazingly expensive providing for so many people.” He looked at me. “We actually disbanded months ago, but agreed to do the show to help you round out this chapter.” I smiled at him warmly. “It’s a welcome addition.” Frank looked at me pleased. “Glad to help where I can.”
1970 rolled in cruel and relentless, driven by many of the very motherfuckers who made the ‘60s such a blood soaked love fest. Hoover’s minions went in hard for the Panthers in Chicago, murdering Fred Hampton and body guard Mark Clark, while in L.A. just missing Geronimo Pratt, who slumbered on the floor beside his bed when they burst in shooting, killing his blanket and pillows but missing him completely. His mattress was taken in for questioning, but was sprung without charges when it turned out one of the assault team had erroneously removed the Do not remove under penalty of law tag.
FBI Special Agent Gregg York had this to say about Hampton’s assassination: "We expected about twenty Panthers to be in the apartment when the police raided the place. Only two of those black niggers were killed, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark." Owing to the fact that it was an official assassination, no one was charged with a crime (beyond the Panthers they wounded and arrested for interfering with police bullets). Murdering a 21-year old man for feeding poor children was not a crime in the latter half of the 20th century, as long as he was black. And being a black nigger, well, really, who could blame the authorities?
In the Whitey House, Nixon and his crew of criminals and reprobates slaughtered civil rights through the expanding Prison Industrial Complex, with the same aplomb they slaughtered the indiginoids of Southeast Asia by the millions. The government of the U.S.A. waged war everywhere it turned and it turned and turned. It turned humans to mush and cities to shambles, it turned desolation and despair into profit and it turned a bewildered population against itself defending the high crimes of a government run amok or condemning those who stood beside the only thing that held them up. The anti-war movement continued to become more strident, unyielding – the U.S.A. was at war with itself and the world. Capitalism flourished.
The last time I saw Jimi was at the Winter Festival for Peace at Madison Square Gardens at the end of January. I’d been staying with some friends, Crissy and Lisa, in the Village and heard that Jimi was on the roster. I’d secured a ticket back to L.A. for the 2nd of February and, owing to my couch/bed/dining-table hopping, I’d stashed my bindle and its highly illegal contents in a locker at the bus terminal at Confederacy Station to be secured when I journeyed again Westward. The show was fairly predictable until Jimi came on.
He seemed strangely disjointed, uncomfortable. He slammed a female fan who demanded “Foxy Lady” then broke into a wild improv of Earth Blues seated upon the drum riser, offering, “This is what happens when the Earth fucks with space.” After working out on it a while, he abruptly left the stage and that was that. I ran into drummer Buddy Miles backstage. “Motherfucker!” He was furious and his outburst caught me by surprise. He realized he had startled me and wanted to be clear I wasn’t the particular motherfucker he was incensed with in that instance. “Motherfucker fired me.” I looked at him puzzled. “Fired you?”
He looked at me exasperated. Buddy and I had a tenuous relationship but he was of a need to vent and I was a familiar face. “Yep.” With all of the hubbub it was still hard for me to process, especially after Jimi’s bizarre performance. “Jimi?!” Buddy glanced around suspiciously, “Naw, fucking Jeffery.” He looked at me disgusted with the world. “Motherfucker dosed him.” I considered this. Jimi had been disjointed before the show; he sat alone on a green room sofa, his head in his hands. The performance had been a disaster and represented the death of Band of Gypsys. Billy quit immediately afterward.
“Are you telling me Mike Jeffery dosed Jimi?” I wasn’t surprised so much as outraged. Jeffrey wasn’t beyond doing anything far as I could tell. But drugging your meal ticket before he performed seemed counterintuitive. Buddy was certain. “Motherfucker loaded him up on acid. You saw how he was on stage.” There was little doubt Jimi was way out of it and not in the usual fun, playful way he got on good drugs. This was closer to the way he got on bad drugs.
It is one thing to knowingly ingest a substance with the deliberate intent to alter your perception; this is akin to looking both ways before stepping into traffic with the full intent of stepping in regardless. This is known as choice. We cannot control the world, but with choice we can navigate it in a manner beneficial to us. When another makes a decision that eliminates our voice in our choice the results can be unfortunate where not disastrous. The come-on of LSD is powerful and intense, even for experienced acid eaters, and to experience such a sensation when one isn’t aware they have ingested the drug could lead to the concern that the effect has become permanent which would be understandably disconcerting, even when sober. Which, when one is coming on to LSD, one is most assuredly not.
“Why would he do that? It’s fucking stupid. And dangerous.” I was feeling Buddy’s fury: dosing someone, going onto stage no less, is hard behavior and Jeffery was a bad man. Buddy shook his head, pissed. “Motherfucker! The motherfucker wanted to break up the Gypsys. Didn’t like Jimi runnin’ with the brothers. I called his lyin’ ass on it and the motherfucker fired me.” I felt disgusted. It seemed inevitable that Jeffery would ruin Jimi; it was merely a matter of time and method. I looked at Buddy, disheartened. “Mother fucker.”
As I left the venue I juggled mixed emotions with a bowling pin and a chainsaw. I felt awful for Jimi, on top of the world on the bottom of Jeffery’s shoe. At the same time, I was going to L.A., where it wasn’t so fucking cold, to work with an artist I respected and admired – I finally had a break. I would make something of myself. I walked up 34th Street toward the subway at 8th. Behind me I sensed a flurry of footsteps. “Edgar sends his regards,” then the hood and blackness.