RENTON, Wash. — Anyone arriving at Greenwood Memorial Park cemetery this sunny day could be forgiven for concluding that the ponytailed rocker, standing by the Harley in the parking lot, was also on a pilgrimage to the memorial where legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix lies buried.
Grey-haired, but still cool in his denim shirt and leather chaps, the biker could be Joe of Hey Joe himself, on his “way down south, way down south to Mexico way.”
At the very least, he’s the kind of rocking dude who would have seen Hendrix headline at the Monterey Pop Festival in ’67 or Woodstock in ‘69.
But no, it’s not the hippie on the hog who is here to see Hendrix.
It’s the Ellis family from Spokane, who have just completed a five-hour drive in their mini-van across Washington state to Renton, located about 21 kilometres southeast of Seattle.
Ken and Marla grew up listening to the guitar hero.
They may be unlikely looking rockers now, as they settle into family life and middle age, but they’ve passed along their love of Hendrix’s guitar stylings to their 14-year-old son.
Ben has worn a T-shirt decorated with electric guitars for the trip and, when asked, names Voodoo Child and Foxy Lady as his favourite Hendrix tunes.
“He can’t play them yet but he’s trying,” says Marla.
“Suddenly, ‘70s musicians are cool again.”
Over the course of a Saturday afternoon, dozens of fans pull up to the circular granite shrine to Jimi Hendrix, some from as far away as Vancouver, a 2 1/2-hour drive to the north.
Hendrix died at the age of 28 in London on Sept. 18, 1970.
He asphyxiated on his vomit in the Nottinghill flat of his girlfriend, Monika Dannemann.
Some reports say he had taken nine of Dannemann’s sleeping pills after drinking oceans of red wine at a party the night before but there remains an air of mystery to his premature demise.
In a new book, former roadie James Wright claims that the musician was murdered by his manager Michael Jeffrey for the insurance money.
The pilgrims snap photos of themselves next to life-sized images of the Seattle-born rock star playing his Fender Stratocaster guitar.
Oddly, the guitar is shown right-side up on the Hendrix headstone. Hendrix, who was left-handed, played it upside down.
Some fans pay homage to Hendrix’s legendary lifestyle.
They swig beer and deposit the empties next to the geraniums in the memorial’s flower pots.
One has left an empty mickey of cheap U.S. vodka, with directions to the grave from Vancouver rolled up inside.
(Hendrix lived for a time with his grandmother in Vancouver when his parents divorced and he and his band played a gig in the city.)
Built-in ashtrays surrounding the dome are teeming with butts and at least one sports a burned-out marijuana roach.
Today’s fans miss none of this and, whether young or old, nod in understanding when they notice the empties. No judgment, and a tinge of awe and nostalgia.
One of the photos of Hendrix in concert has red and pink lipstick kisses plastered all over his cheek a tribute perhaps to the line “I kiss you when I please” from You Got Me Floatin.
Someone has placed 36 American cents — a quarter, a dime and an Abraham Lincoln penny — on the polished granite tomb along with the pod of a lily.
The change could be code for the song If 6 Was 9, from the 1967 album Axis: Bold as Love, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Thirty-six cents (three plus six equals nine), add the six (the second numeral in the 36-cent gift for Jimi) and we have a cryptic nod to the Hendrix classic that made the soundtrack of Easy Rider. Maybe yes, maybe no.
In fact, over the years so many people have wanted to pay their respects to the man who couldn’t read music — but could pick out a tune with his teeth — that his body had to be exhumed 30 years after he was laid to rest and moved to this more exclusive and accessible spot.
Hendrix’s father Al, who bought him his first guitar at the age of five to replace the broom he loved to play on, had the dome built. Al is buried on the monument’s grounds himself, as is Jimi’s grandmother Nora Rose Moore.
There are still 50 plots available to surviving generations of the Hendrix family.
And, for anyone else who would like to spend the sweet hereafter with Jimi Hendrix, a sign on an adjourning lawn advertises “space available in this garden.” Get yours while you can.