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Jimi Hendrix: "I Don't Want to Be a Clown Anymore"

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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 time today.'"

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" avantgardists, 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, avantgarde 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 superstar.

"I don't want to be a clown anymore. I don't want to be a 'rock and 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 from now.

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 a.m. and he has to be at the recording studio in Manhattan at 4 in the afternoon. Everyone's exhausted.

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 disdainfully.

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 musicians."

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 carful of teenagers alongside us has the radio turned up loud on "If Six Was Nine" – the cut being used as part of advertisment 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 soundly.

This story is from the November 15th, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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