Which way the wind blows is sometimes hard to tell. This might have been an apt epitaph to describe Jimi’s death in 1970, and perhaps elements of his life of 27 years. The cause of his death is uncertain. Eric Burdon of the Animals, who was close to Jimi (and Nancy too….she sketched him for the album cover of Eric Is Here), believed Hendrix killed himself. Others are convinced that Jimi’s longtime business manager and also Nancy’s lover, Michael Jeffery, had a hand in Jimi’s death. Jeffery himself was killed under some rather questionable circumstances. See below for more equally dramatic uncertainties!
The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye. The story of love is hello and goodbye, until we meet again.
And what are we to make of what has been said, according to the Guardian, to have been Jimi’s “last words”?
I need help bad, man.
(this color font means it’s not Nancy’s words … only this color purple is Nancy’s words)
Nancy’s writings had little to say about Jimi’s passing. Other than a fan who nodded at his funeral, offering perhaps the only ground beneath her feet, Nancy seemed as uprooted as a leaf in the wind.
As the limo pulled into the cemetery, a young fan on the side of the road nodded. I saw it through the window. It was so subtle, and so respectful.
There was a sheltering tree above me and one leaf brushed gently across my forehead.
I see a thousand leaves on a single tree, all holding their fingers up, to see which way the wind blows.
At Jimi’s funeral, if loneliness was the wind, and Nancy was the leaf, then Johnny Winter was the bough on which the downward drifting leaf temporarily landed:
On the soft corridor carpet, from the other direction, I saw Johnny Winter coming my way.
He held out his hand. I took it, turned around, and walked with him to his room.
I wasn’t alone anymore.
In a Hendrix biography by Charles Cross, the musician is alleged to have told “a girlfriend” that he was sexually abused by “a man in uniform.” However, according to a different set of Hendrix biographers, Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber, Hendrix’ dismissal from military service by a certain Captain John Halbert was not because Jimi admitted to having homosexual desires for an unnamed soldier, as is often reported. The National Personnel Records Center, which contains 98 pages documenting Hendrix’s army service, in fact never mentions the word “homosexual” in relation to Jimi’s exit from the armed services.
Then there’s Buddy Miles, who played with Jimi on numerous occasions, on Hendrix’ Electric Ladyland album, and with bassist Billy Cox, the three making up the Band of Gypsies, one of the first all-black rock bands.
Buddy and Nancy didn’t know each other well, and communicated mainly just niceties when they met. But when they crossed paths one day on a street in New York City, the conversation unexpectedly (for Nancy) became deep, and for Nancy, quite sobering. Uncertainty ensued, especially as Nancy didn’t recognize the man in the photo that Miles presented to her:
At Jimi’s funeral, he [Buddy] was there, wearing a rainbow colored afro-wig. Sort of the antithesis of my sack-cloth and ashes persona.
Buddy and I had a ‘hi, how are you?’ kind of relationship.
One day we ran into each other….I think on a street corner on the west forties [NYC].
For the first time ever, after saying ‘hi,’ Buddy stopped to talk.
I don’t remember doing anything but listening and thinking.
Buddy reached into his pocket and pulled out a photograph. I think he said something about it having been taken upstate at the Woodstock house.
It was a picture of a Black man sitting in a chair. It looked as if he were sleeping.
His eyes were closed and his head was tilted to the side. His legs were stretched out in front of him, crossed at the ankles.
He was not dressed. His penis was draped across his thigh.
It definitely wasn’t small, but it wasn’t anything that made me gasp.
Buddy said, ‘look at this.’ The way he said it made me think he was implying that the man, who I didn’t recognize, was well-endowed.
I didn’t ask Buddy why he was carrying the photograph, or who the man was.
I sensed there was more that he was going to say.
I also did not feel any distaste or threat by Buddy’s actions or demeanor. He has always been a mild mannered guy in my presence, and continued to be.
The next thing I remember Buddy saying — and Buddy and everyone knew how much I cared about Jimi so I felt he was talking to me because he was worried — was something about Jimi’s unhappiness.
There was no tone or note of ‘gossip’ in Buddy’s voice. If there were, I would not be telling you this now.
Buddy said to me, referring to Jimi, ‘he doesn’t know if he’s a boy or a girl.’
I hope my eyes conveyed understanding.
I would hate for somebody to confide in me that way and think I didn’t understand.
I understood, but didn’t know what to do.
I wasn’t surprised.
I wished Jimi weren’t unhappy.
I wished I could cradle him in my arms.
I hoped he would be alright.
But I didn’t know what to do.
Nancy wrote these words perhaps two decades after Jimi’s passing, and at that later, culturally different time, she went on to say:
Now as I write this, in the times we live in, I try to imagine the same pain and wonder if it would have lessened as the years went on.
I am struck as I record this in Nancy’s blog, not by what may have been true about who Jimi was, as these conjectures are both riddled with uncertainty and questionable in relevance, but rather by what is more solidly revealed about who Nancy was, particularly her capacity to love Jimi with authenticity and an unflappable steadiness, especially in the midst of a time and a culture that favored much more flitting expressions of affection.
How tragic it is that we, her half-siblings, never got to meet her and to love her in life, as family and as friend! And to be loved by her too!!
But now only the stillness harbors the truth of Nancy’s courageous, open, loving heart, as his coffin contained Jimi’s stillness at his funeral.
The coffin contained the remains of a man who was so moving, and now he was still.