Sunday, August 18, 2019

Miles From Nowhere - Hendrix

In the dawn's light we witnessed those who remained, the chemically disoriented throngs covered in dried mud.  The knoll above the stage was scattered with people and garbage and muck.  We retreated to the Hatfield's and found our way inside.  People were sleeping, Hatfield was making scrambled eggs, there was coffee and we ate. I needed food. I'd left my medication in the van. I felt weak and my face felt rubbery, but no one said a thing. 

I heard someone say, "Bethel's in the Bible, man. It's the place where Jacob envisioned a stairway to Heaven; the messengers of God going up it and down it." We curled up on an Indian blanket and fell asleep. "Up and down they tramped in the glory of God."   

The music, like a dream soundtrack, was familiar, heavy and discordant. I opened my eyes. Farm Girl was drooling on my sleeve. "Come-on.  Come-on." It was Hendrix. Jimi was playing "Foxy Lady." The time had come. My father told me all about the journey. He was a journeyman. But it was nice when you got there; when you arrived. Farm Girl and I slipped through the barrier that was now but an accordion of mangled wire mesh. The pyramid of storage boxes was in ruin, much of it poached or toppled, but the fences of Woodstock's DMZ were down and we ambled through the crowd unencumbered. There were throngs of people leaving. I was still perplexed. "Where are they going," I said. I found it disconcerting.  "Why are they going?"

"It’s not about them," Farm Girl said, and then Jimi chimed in, "You can leave if you want to. We’re just jammin', that's all."  Those who remained were huddled together, loosely, the band of brothers and sisters like the holocaust aftermath in a science fiction film. Hendrix played "Izabella" and "Gypsy Woman" and "Fire," and then the best; Jimi and the band in radical improvisation, offbeat and discordant, a cacophony both jarring and harmonious.

I blocked it all out, the mud people, the stage, even Farm Girl or my father or Lori or my illness; it was all just Jimi, shining there before me in white leather fringe, his Stratocaster upside down and backward.  He was the alpha and the omega. He launched into the "Star-Spangled Banner," his guitar so pure and piercing, its dissonance all the news one needed to comprehend the times, the war, the assassinations.  He initiated the fire of guns, the bombs bursting in air, all within the confines of a white Fender guitar.  It said far more about the timber of America than a hundred partisan tirades.

But I didn't care about protest and bombs. It was just the sonic possibilities of music. Jimi didn't pluck strings, he whacked them and thwacked them and let the amp's reverberation recirculate through the pickups in a loop of feedback, the guitar virtually playing itself.

He played "Purple Haze" and "Hey Joe" and I burst into tears. I sat on the muddy knoll and cried; great tears of sorrow and of joy coursing through me simultaneously. I pulled my knees up and rested my head and that was that. Woodstock was over. I sat for a very long time.

The residue of acid and emotion flew from me suddenly, like a demon exorcised. I looked up and I was alone on Yasgur's Farm. Farm Girl was gone, there was no one on stage, the faithful retraced their steps back to their cars and their homes. I was adrift in a sea of garbage and swill.

And then I saw Farm Girl. In that magic bag of hers, she'd found another outfit, bell-bottomed dungarees and a halter top.  She looked fresh and clean somehow and I was filthy like a pig in a sty.  She took my mud-crusted mitt in hers and pulled me to my feet.  She said, "I'm leaving with the Hatfields," or whatever their name was.

"Oh.  You are," I said.

"I am.  I have to get home.  My family's waiting for me.  They worry."


"I enjoyed our time together.  Really.  You're a real nice guy." What do you say to that, "Thanks"?  What was I going to do, cry out, No, wait, don't go?  Of course not.  Our parting was inevitable.  It just would have been nice to have a little lunch or something, share a meal.

"It was nice."  She smiled.  "Prettiest smile."

"Hardly."  She laughed.  "Big ol' space in my teeth.  Should of had braces."


"Can't afford it anyway." 

"Don't."  She hugged me and I kissed her and she walked down the knoll. She didn't turn back. Hatfield was meticulously loading a big bolt of green canvas onto the bed of a truck. He put up the tailgate and the truck pulled away. The little boy saw me up the hill and he waved. So did Hatfield. They got in an orange and white Econoline panel truck. I would have thought a wagon with two black mules. Mrs. Hatfield and Farm Girl got in the other side and they fell in line, the caravan slowly pulling onto the highway. I wasn't feeling sorry for myself, I'd been over that for a long time, but the song in my head was "Fool On the Hill."

It dawned on me that I didn't have any shoes. I watched as the Econoline sat at the intersection, its blinker on. And then it was gone. I walked down the hill and through the trenches. I crossed over the planks and the downed fence to where the tent had been. There was a cardboard box. In it were my shoes and a sandwich and a guitar pick. Maybe it was Jimi's. Maybe it was Hatfield's. Didn't matter. It was nice to have shoes and a sandwich and a souvenir.

     - From the novel Miles from Nowhere