The Past is Burning Up


A red-headed Jewish-American vixen , dear friend to one of the most famous legacy rockers (of color no less) and Woodstock (generational) heroes of all times, Nancy led a unique life.  Yet it was very much like everyone else’s in many ways, not surprisingly. Yes, she was Jimi Hendrix’ comrade in creation and art.  The life she shared with him was full of sparkle and wonder, larger than life artistic personalities, and exceptional talent.  Yet like my own life, and that of most everyone in human skin, Nancy’s life was given to moving in waves, high ones followed by low ones, fulfillment followed by disappointment, excitement, boredom, and satisfaction, followed by dullness and discontent.

In the end, what is a “good life?”  Must the good times outnumber the bad ones, or the good ones be more good than the bad ones are bad?  Does quantity matter more than quality?  These are, in the end, silly unanswerable questions.  For me at least, lifelong learning is what matters most. 

Nancy seems to question existence at every turn, in every phase of her relatively short life.  She ceaselessly wondered what was needed to make for a happy heart, and what were the conditions that led to her not infrequent feelings of being lost and left outside in the cold.  One always hopes that the answers to these questions serve the purpose of helping one to navigate the currents of life in order to salvage some measure of satisfaction and peace from the wave-motion of time, regardless of whether one is up or down.

After Jimi died, Nancy struggled to renew her passion for life.  Still, as I wrote early on in the introductory background post for this blog, Nancy’s endless ability to find humor and value in life’s ups as well as its downs, tickled me endlessly and piqued my desire to explore her life in order to know her better. Yet as the 60s drifted away, further into her past, and the mood of the country became less tolerant of her generation’s liberal values and its transcendence of convention, Nancy’s mind state seemed to sink lower, even while her questioning continued at a steady pace.  As she wrote in her diary:

It’s when the world gets so small, and opportunities so limited, and self-image is so destroyed….things get so dark and close, and cruel.
But it’s in the very same world, and in the very same geography, if not psychology, where before all was light and open and endless and creative and blossoming and beautiful.
And that becomes so confusing.
Is it all still going on around me?
Can I reach it?
Don’t I want it?
Have I used up my share?
Have I forfeited my chances?
Am I damaged irrevocably?
But I’m still alive, I can tell.
I’m breathing.

When I got back from Jimi’s funeral, I felt so frustrated by the thwarting of creation.
The coffin.  The cage.
I tried everything.
I thought maybe I had used up the creativity of my left hand, right brain thoughts.
So I tried to draw right handed.
I tried using colors in such a way that they’d suddenly disappear and leave the page white.
Mike had once told me that when your consciousness changes, it’s just like ‘this’.
He snapped his fingers.
He sounded like he knew what he was talking about.
I longed for ‘this’.

Jimi’s passing was part of Nancy’s continuing poetic narrative, and a catalyst, not surprisingly, for more questions.  His death, like her life, meant more to her than perhaps she ever intended it to.  He was indeed larger than life, and his demise meant that Nancy imagined the conditions that were essential for her own happiness and fulfillment were actively draining from her existence, dooming her to a life without essential color and vigor.  Ageing teaches us all the importance of resisting the dramatic tides of destructive nostalgia.  The here and now is of course not what it once was, but it can be exciting none the less.

I’ve always thought of my life as a continuing poem.
Always representing something, but not something, itself.

It felt like we were litter in an ashtray
of a bygone day.

We went too far out on the tender petal of the flower.

Then, as if to excuse herself and her compatriots of the times, she writes:

It was the era of the idiot-savant
The runaway child
The reluctant soldier
The unfaithful troubadour
The rock and roll geisha

In February of 1999
A two-part mini-series on TV called ‘The 60s’
Made me realize how much of that era
Had to do with ‘burning things’ to symbolize
Or make a point

burning bras
burning draft-cards
burning guitars
burning bridges
burning foreign villages
burning ones own neighborhood
burning the candle at both ends
burning flags
burning churches
burning Beatles records

and then
burning out!




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