You won’t believe this. Guess what day it is. Before I tell you, promise you’ll believe me when I say I didn’t set this up. Promise? Cross your heart?
Today is Hendrix’s birthday.
Yeah, I know, you think I planned this all along. Not true. In fact, I didn’t even realize it until the radio dude announced it on my way into work this morning.
Nov. 17, 1942.
The summer of 1990, a year before I wrote the initial version of this tome, the family spent a week in Washington State. The last day of the trip, we had some time to kill before our flight. I knew I was in Hendrix country and toyed with the idea of visiting his grave. We were told he was buried in Renton, a city nestled on Seattle’s southeastern shoulder (of course this was well before the Experience Music Project was built in Seattle). We drove there but saw no signs or markers. Reluctant to stop and ask, I nosed around a few blocks hoping to see something. What, I don’t know. “JIMI HENDRIX BURIED HERE. GET YOUR POPCORN, PEANUTS, SOUVENIRS. SPECIAL TODAY ONLY ON FLAME-RETARDANT STRATOCASTERS.” Uggggh.
I was reluctant to ask for two reasons. I didn’t want to encounter the look of, “My God, you must be an old hippie to ask a question like that.” Worse, I feared “Jimi who?”
We pulled into a gas station where I saw a guy in his late 20s, early 30s saunter by. A likely candidate.
“Hendrix? Sure, he’s buried up on that hill,” the guy said, pointing to a well-populated rise about a mile away.
“You get many people who stop and ask?” I wondered, trying to get a measure of my weirdness.
“People stop all the time. It’s kinda like Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. People there all the time. When I was there we saw two guys who came to the grave every day. Said they’d been coming there for years. They’d sit there and get stoned every day.”
Hmmm. I hoped nothing like that awaited at Hendrix’s grave, but my heart sank when another guy at the station said, “Hendrix’s grave—I think it’s got this great big pink guitar that makes it easy to spot.”
Wonderful. How tasteful.
Dreading what I’d find, we climbed the hill and turned into what I thought was the right cemetery. Wrong. We circled slowly, looking for some marker, then stopped to ask some Oriental guys, obviously groundsmen with shovels and stuff.
“Is this the cemetery where Jimi Hendrix is buried?” I asked. The oldest man, probably in his late 40s, gave me one of those “Can’t you see I don’t speak the language?” looks. “J-i-m-i H-e-n-d-r-i-x,” I repeated slowly.
The light bulb clicked on. “Oh, yes, Jimi Hendrix. Not here. Go up hill, one-half mile, turn right, next cemetery.”
We found the grounds and again circled, looking for something obvious, hoping it wouldn’t be some gargantuan tacky pink Strat. After once around in vain, I stopped to ask a guy with a wheelbarrow next to a mound of dirt. I didn’t have to ask twice.
“It’s kind of hard to find,” he said. “See that obelisk? You walk to that, then turn around and face the entrance to the cemetery. Then you’ll see a couple of markers flat on the ground about 15 yards away. Walk toward those, and you’ll see one that has a bare spot in front of it. That’s his.”
“Do many people come here to see it?”
He looked at me as if to make sure I was asking a serious question. “All the time. You know, it’s funny. We’ve tried everything to get grass to grow in front of that marker. Tried all kinds of seeds. Tried putting sod down. But nothing lives. You see, so many people come to that marker that when they turn around to leave, they grind the grass down. And we can’t get anything tough enough to stand up to that. Wish we could.”
I thanked him and left. Due to the bare spot, we had no trouble finding the marker. It was a very simple, tasteful plaque, maybe a little wider than an album cover. “J.A. ‘Jimi’ Hendrix, 1942-1970.” In one corner was engraved a Stratocaster, strung upside-down just the way the man played it. And in the center, “Forever in our hearts.”
I didn’t feel particularly emotional. Certainly not choked up with nostalgia. Certainly not like a pilgrim at some shrine. I didn’t hear strains of “Voodoo Child, Slight Return” or “Purple Haze” pounding in my brain. This was a cemetery—peaceful, sunny, a gentle breeze caressing the flags in the distance.
I did, however, smile inside at the inscription, because I knew he—and all the wonderful music of that era—was indeed forever in my heart.
And as I turned to go, I felt a pleasant tug knowing that I, too, was keeping the grass from growing.