The Jimi Hendrix Enigma
“Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”
After two days of torrential rain, tens of thousands of fans gathered on September 6, 1970 at the Love and Peace Open Air Festival in Fehmarn, Germany to see the legendary Jimi Hendrix perform. As Hendrix came to the stage, he was greeted by a chorus of boos cast by angry fans reprimanding him for cancelling the day before due to the weather. Hendrix retaliated “Boo, boo….I don´t give a f**k if you boo, as long as you boo in key….you mothers….!” (“Love and Peace Open Air Festival — Fehmarn, Germany 1970”). Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell took their places beside Hendrix on stage, and with the sun finally showing its face, the Jimi Hendrix Experience enchanted fans for the last time.
A self-taught guitarist, Hendrix’s music career began during his childhood when his father, Al, bought him his first acoustic guitar at age sixteen. His father encouraged his playing, and the following year Al bought him his first electric guitar, a right-handed Supro Ozark which left-handed Jimi had to flip around to play. Hendrix never stopped playing this way, and his upside-down guitar playing became one of the eccentric quirks fans loved most about Hendrix.
Despite his humble beginnings growing up in Seattle with alcoholic parents, Hendrix became the biggest superstar in the U.K. by the time he was twenty-four. After dropping out of high school and spending a year in the military, Hendrix found work as a session musician under the name Jimmy James. During his time as a session musician, Hendrix would meet Chas Chandler who would convince him to go to London.
Chas Chandler, original bassist of the Animals, became Jimi Hendrix’s manager and brought bassist Noel Redding, drummer Mitch Mitchell, and Hendrix together to form the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The group released “Hey Joe” in 1967 and it quickly climbed the charts in the U.K. Shortly after, the group’s debut album Are You Experienced? went double platinum and Hendrix secured his spot in rock super-stardom. Hendrix became a favorite in concert because of his natural talent and showmanship, and he continuously stunned audiences with his flamboyant dancing and tricks such as playing the guitar with only his teeth or behind his back. London adored Jimi Hendrix, but his fame didn’t spread to the U.S. until his flashy performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 when he burned his guitar on stage.
Over the following years, Hendrix’s fame only grew. Hendrix’s next two albums, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland, saw great success and topped the charts in 1968. He opened his own studio in New York, the Electric Lady, as a place where he could simply create music in an informal setting because he felt his creativity peaked in this environment. Although all seemed to be going well for the guitar legend, internal tensions between the members of The Jimi Hendrix Experience would soon stir up trouble.
Co-managers Chas Chandler and Michael Jeffrey butted heads over Hendrix’s experimental style, with Jeffrey’s disapproval being shared by the other members. Besides managerial issues, black activists put great pressure on Hendrix to form an all-black group and perform for all-black audiences, worsening tensions between Hendrix and his white band members. Noel Redding was the first to leave the Experience in early 1969, and by summer the group had completely disbanded.
At 9 am on August 18, 1969, Hendrix took the stage at Woodstock with his Fender Stratocaster and a makeshift band called the Electric Sky Church for one of the biggest performances of his career. The group had little musical chemistry, and the “Three Days of Peace and Music” that turned out half a million fans could have been a disaster for Hendrix. However, Hendrix got on stage in front of the crowd of mud-covered hippies and amazed everyone with his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which many consider the most memorable moment of the concert.
Hendrix went on to form the Band of Gypsys with Bill Cox, an all-black band that would only survive one performance — in the middle of which Hendrix walked off the Madison Square Garden stage. He would return to Madison Square Garden several months later when he performed with Cox and Mitchell, who would perform in Europe with Hendrix at the Isle of Wight and the Isle of Fehmarn. Two weeks after taking the stage in Fehmarn, Jimi Hendrix was dead.
“It’s funny how most people love the dead, once you’re dead, you’re made for life.”
The ambulance was called at approximately 11:00 am on September 18, 1970. At 12:45 pm, Jimi Hendrix was pronounced dead at St. Mary’s Abbot Hospital in London. The cause of death was listed as inhalation of vomit caused by barbiturate overdose. Hendrix was found in his girlfriend Monika Dannemann’s hotel room, covered in his own vomit (Henderson, 1–6). Immediately, Hendrix’s death became public and was quickly written off as a drug overdose, a common occurrence considering the opulent lifestyle of musicians and superstars. However, the coroner did not rule out suicide or foul play, and Hendrix’s death is still widely disputed.
There are many different theories on what actually happened the night Hendrix died. Some claim the FBI assassinated Hendrix in an attempt to eliminate influential black leaders; although, a more likely theory is that Dannemann was responsible for her boyfriend’s untimely death. The conflicting and changing stories of the people Hendrix was with that night and the muddled evidence gathered by the police and hospital workers leave the truth a mystery. The court could not determine an exact reason for Hendrix’s death and returned an open verdict. Eventually, Dannemann revealed a poem that Hendrix had written in her sketchbook the night he died. This poem, The Song of Life, was the last thing Hendrix wrote. The poem, possibly written to become song lyrics, sounds like the last words of a man coming to terms with death:
The story of Jesus
So easy to explain
After they crucified him,
A woman, she claimed his name
The story of Jesus
The whole Bible knows
Went all across the desert
And in the middle, he found a rose
There should be no questions
There should be no lies
He was married ever happily after
All the tears we cry
No use in arguing
All the use to the man that moans
When each man falls in battle
His soul it has to roam
Angels of heaven
Flying saucers to some,
Made Easter Sunday
The name of the rising sun
The story is written
By so many people who dared,
To lay down the truth
To so very many who cared
To carry the cross
Of Jesus and beyond
We will guide the light
This time with a woman in our arms
We as men
Can’t explain the reason why
The woman’s always mentioned
At the moment that we die
All we know
Is God is by our side,
And he says the word
So easy yet so hard
I wish not to be alone,
So I must respect my other heart
Oh, the story
Of Jesus is the story
Of you and me
No use in feeling lonely,
I am searching to be free
Of life is quicker
Than the wink of an eye
The story of love
Is hello and goodbye
Until we meet again
The lady death claimed his name, and Jimi Hendrix was free. Although the reveal of the poem raised speculation that Hendrix may have committed suicide, those close to him claimed he had no intentions to take his life and was, in fact, quite happy. In Dannemann’s retelling of the night Hendrix died, he had been exhausted and stressed from working, but insisted that it did not bother him. She then claims that while she was sleeping Hendrix took nine of her sleeping pills called Vesperax, an unusually strong barbiturate, because he wanted to sleep for several days. Hendrix was dead by morning, but Dannemann’s story didn’t quite match up with the facts.
Dannemann changed her story many times, and eventually claimed that she had checked on Hendrix early in the morning and that he was still sleeping peacefully. However, medical professionals stated that he had been dead for hours by the time he got to the hospital and that he was noticeably covered in vomit. Dannemann also claimed to have taken a sleeping pill at 7:00 am, but if this were true she would have been asleep for much longer than she was. Furthermore, it was later revealed that Dannemann had called several of Hendrix’s friends early in the morning, and that they had been in the apartment to “clean up” before the ambulance was called. If this wasn’t bad enough, Dannemann also claimed to have ridden in the ambulance with Hendrix on the way to the hospital, but the ambulance drivers who took him reported that he was alone the whole time and that the ambulance had been called from a public phone outside of the apartment (Henderson, 6–12). Nevertheless, no hard evidence was discovered linking Dannemann to the crime, and nobody was ever held responsible for Hendrix’s death.
The truth surrounding Jimi Hendrix’s death is as mysterious as he was, and all that is known for certain is that The Jimi Hendrix Experience came to an end too soon. Hendrix died at only 27, having spent the last years of his life watching his career explode. Hendrix was a leader and a lover; he was a symbol of peace and black power during a time of war and discrimination. Hendrix was a musical pioneer, changing the rock and roll scene forever by sparking the popularity of the electric guitar. 45 years later, people still worship the guitar God and idolize his life. Jimi Hendrix was more than a talented guitarist; he was a myth, an icon, and a revolutionist.
And if I don’t meet you no more in this world
Then I’ll, I’ll meet you in the next one
As Hendrix played the last song in his set at Fehmarn, the crowd moved with him. They had no idea this would be the last time the man they idolized, the man they had greeted with boos, would ever perform.
And don’t be late, don’t be late
’Cause I’m a voodoo child
The song was coming to a close, and the career of the greatest guitarist who ever lived was ending. A legend who overcame adversity, preached love, and inspired millions would soon be dead, survived only by his music.
Lord knows I’m a voodoo child
I’m a voodoo child
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