November 27, 2018
It struck me this morning that this past August I let the 25th anniversary of the day I first quit th' job and hit th' road slip by unremarked upon—August 12, 1993.
I realized it today because today is the 25th anniversary of November 27, 1993, nearly as important a day in my personal canon. I slept the night of November 26 in my car in a rest area outside of Tacoma, WA, as I'd been doing for the better part of a week, and after my customary free cup of morning coffee courtesy of the local VFW post volunteers at the rest area, I headed over to the Last Exit On Brooklyn cafe in Seattle's University District, as I'd been doing every day for the better part of a week.
Someone down in Yosemite had recommended the Last Exit to me, so I spent a few days hanging out there, meeting people, getting a feel for the town, and waiting for further inspiration to strike. November 27, however, I did something different. Halfway through the day, I had an idea.
Before I left NY in August, one of my stated goals for what I then thought was going to be only a 6-month road trip was to make a pilgrimage to Jimi Hendrix's grave, which I knew to be in Renton, not far from Seattle. So, sitting in the Last Exit on November 27, 1993, I decided that rather than spend another afternoon soaking up the atmosphere there, I'd go out and scratch that goal off the list. I hopped in the car and headed south to Renton.
If you visit Greenwood Cemetery in Renton today, Jimi's grave has a massive stone pavilion. Not so in 1993. Before the new memorial was built in 2002, Jimi had a small, flat headstone embedded into the ground, as most gravestones in the cemetery are, that simply had his name, dates, "Forever in our hearts", and a stratocaster engraved into it. You literally could not see it unless you were standing directly over it.
I didn't have a hard time spotting it, though, as a group of people were already standing around it when I got there. For an afternoon I hung out there, talking with fans, drinking a little and occasionally blowing hits of weed into the earth beside the stone.
More people showed up and a bit of commotion grew. A guy showed up and began asking a lot of people nosy questions. A woman showed up with some small children and lingered around. After a while, I heard her pointing out other graves to the kids. "That's grandma, and that's grandpa." Eventually a black car pulled up and a man who must've been in his 70s stepped out, carrying a wreath, and wearing a denim jacket with an incredibly cool black and white painting of Jimi airbrushed on the back panel (remember airbrushed paintings on denim jackets?)
I found out what had happened. After months of planning, in the loosest sense, to make a pilgrimage to Jimi's grave, I had, through sheer blind luck, chosen to go on November 27—Jimi's birthday. The nosy guy was a reporter from Musician magazine, there doing a story. The woman with the kids was Janey Hendrix, Jimi's half sister. The cool 70-year-old was Al, Jimi's father.
Al Hendrix didn't stick around very long. He laid his flowers, stood in silence for a few, and took off. But everyone else stayed quite a while.
Later on, as the crowd dispersed, I decided to go to my car to get my guitar, and on the way back bumped into Janey Hendrix as she was leaving. We got into quite a long conversation, mostly me grilling her, actually. A few times she seemed to lapse into habitual recitation of things she'd probably said a million times before, like talking about how he died, but that seems understandable, and for the most part we had a pretty good conversation. I finally told her how nice it was of a family member to oblige talking to a fan after this many years, and she said, "Well, we're just glad people still remember." I much later found out from a friend of Noel Redding's that Janey didn't really know Jimi, she was much younger and only met him a handful of times, but it was a nice conversation anyway.
I talked to the reporter for a while too. I looked for the article in Musician Magazine for the next few months but never saw it.
After a while the sun set, and I was alone there. I can't recall specifically, but I probably played a few songs on the guitar. I slipped one of my favorite Tortex purple guitar picks into the dirt besides the stone just to be sentimental. I had brought some charcoal and paper, and before I left made some rubbings of the grave stone as postcards for a few friends, writing on them, "STONE FREE! Greetings from the road, November 27, 1993 —Mike" but they all got stolen from a hostel I was living in a few months later, before I'd gotten around to mailing them. Obviously I stood a few minutes in quiet reflection over the stone, too, and that moment I do still recall with great clarity.
The attached photo isn't mine, I just found it on the internet, because any photos I may have taken of the event are right now under a bed 3000 miles away. 25 years later, to the day, I'm on the road again—never having completely gotten off it, in my own mind, for better or worse.
Forever in my heart.
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