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Holly and Jimi Hendrix
Jeffrey A Beyl

Photo N. Sukumar

During the years of 1968 through 1971 we lived in a house on the beach. Our house stood on pilings like a pier out over the sand. At high tide the water came up under the house and we could feel the vibration of the waves against the pilings. When we set a glass of water on the dining room table we could see rings form in it as a wave hit. I used to lie in bed at night feeling the rocking of the water against the house. We could fish off our deck, casting our line right out into the surf and catch rock fish and corbina. At high tide we could step through the living room sliding glass door and jump off the deck right into the Pacific Ocean. We used to watch the sun set every night from the living room windows. To this day, all these years later I still remember those sunsets as being the best thing about those times. Well, there were the sunsets, yes, but then there was also our next door neighbor.

Our next door neighbor was a beautiful young woman in her late twenties named Holly. She used to walk out onto her deck each morning in the nude to have a cup of coffee and look at the ocean. Maybe she liked the feel of the early morning breeze. Maybe she liked the freedom, her moment alone with the sunrise before heading off to work. Her deck was screened off on both sides by bamboo. She couldn’t be seen except maybe by someone out on the water on a boat looking directly back at the shore, directly back at her. Well, there was one other way and leave it to a couple teenage boys to figure it out.

My brother and I used to climb up onto our roof in the mornings before we had to go catch the school bus. We would hunker down on our stomachs and peer over the roof gable, down over the top of her bamboo screens. There she’d be, Holly, in the morning, especially if it was nice weather, standing naked on her deck, shaking out her hair, looking toward the ocean, watching the morning cast its first rays of light onto the water, a million dancing diamonds of reflection, enjoying her cup of coffee completely oblivious that she was being gawked and leered at by her neighbor’s teenage sons. Holly, she was great!

She had long dark brown hair that hung down below her shoulders. Her hair was wavy and she had bangs cut across her forehead just above her eyebrows which were heavy and dark. She had a slightly aquiline nose and thin, pronounced cheekbones making her look very American Indian though she claimed to be of French descent. She frequently wore large, dangling earrings which accented the line of her face from her ears down along her jaw line. Her eyes were dark brown and thin. She was small but looked strong. Her voice was deep. She smoked cigarettes which in those days we thought was sexy. She was not only beautiful, she was cool. We’d go over to her house and hang out. We would play gin rummy and listen to music. She drank wine from basket wrapped bottles which she would then use as candleholders. At night she always had candles lit all over her house, the wax dripping down over the bottles in dazzling colors.

We would tell Holly things that we couldn’t tell our mother or our friends from school. We would tell her how things were really going in school or how things were going with our girlfriends. We’d talk about rock and roll music and she would introduce us to new bands that we hadn’t heard yet. She was an educated lady and she became our confidante and mentor. We did not tell her about watching her in the mornings.

I actually ran into her one day about seventeen years later in a restaurant. I hadn’t seen her since, well since before she had even turned thirty. No longer the fourteen year old kid, I was now a family man. We sat down and had a beer together and after catching up I did tell her about our peeping-tom-foolery.
"Oh hell, I knew you guys were up there all the time," she said laughing.
"You’re kidding? You knew?" Holly was now in her late forties but still a knockout. She still had that long hair though now slightly streaked with grey. She may have been around the block a time or two but she was savvy and beautiful and she knew it and showed it.
"Oh yeah, I knew all along." She took a sip of her beer, her dark eyes twinkling at me over the rim of her glass.
"Well, I figured what the heck, what could it hurt? I mean, there are worse things for a teenage boy to do besides look at a naked lady."
Holly, she was cool!

Back in 1969 Holly was dating a guy who worked at one of the record companies. One afternoon while playing a marathon gin rummy tournament at her place she asked us "how would you guys like to go see Jimi Hendrix?" She said she could get tickets from her boyfriend. That’s how cool Holly was. Not only was she a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty, not only did she let us hang out with her and play cards, not only did she assume the role of our mentor, not only did she let us watch her drink coffee in the nude on her deck in the mornings but she gave us tickets to see what was about to become a milestone in the history of rock and roll. She gave us free tickets to see Jimi fucking Hendrix at Newport 69’ in Devonshire Downs LA.
Newport 69’ was to be a two day outdoor music festival. Woodstock wouldn’t happen for a couple more months. There were to be some great bands there; Creedence Clearwater Revival, Taj Mahal, Booker T and the MG’s, Buffy St Marie, Joe Cocker, Eric Burdon and The Animals, Spirit, Jethro Tull. But Jimi Hendrix was the big number. He was to play Friday night. We were jazzed. But something came up and my mother couldn’t make it home in time so we couldn’t get her car to pick up our girlfriends and make it over the coastal hills to Northridge in time. Bummer! Instead we spent the evening over at Holly’s place bewailing our lost chance at seeing Hendrix. But Holly was cool. She told us not to worry about it, he’d come back to town and she see about getting tickets again. In the meantime, hey, wouldn’t Creedence Clearwater be there tomorrow? We agreed, we dug Creedence. Holly told us that Buffy St Marie would also be there and put one of her records on the stereo.

So we went to the festival the next day and Sunday as well. We saw Buffy St Marie and Creedence and The Edwin Hawkins Singers and Jethro Tull and many others and it was great. We were with our girlfriends and though people were crashing through the chain-link fences by the hundreds we had tickets given to us by our beautiful benefactress, Holly.

Hendrix had played Friday night and we had missed it but something had happened at the concert. The story went that he was angry with the crowd and had told the audience to fuck off, or something along those lines, and now, feeling sorry for it, was planning to come back for a jam session with Buddy Miles, Eric Burdon, some of the members of Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band and various musicians from the band Mother Earth. That’s when I saw Jimi Hendrix.

Sunday, June 22, 1969. As I said, Woodstock wouldn’t happen for another couple months but we had heard about how Hendrix played his guitar with his teeth and behind his back. We had seen the Monterey Pop video where he lit his guitar on fire. We wanted to see Jimi Hendrix do his stuff up close in person. So we worked our way up through the crowd to within a hundred feet or so of the stage.
He was already being called one of the greatest guitarists ever and he showed it that day. For me it was really something special. I do, however, remember it as being a little messy. It was really just a jam session, unrehearsed. I have this vision in my mind of people everywhere and the whole package being a little un-together. But that didn’t matter. We were seeing Jimi Hendrix. He was Big Time to us. He did it all. He played with his teeth. He played his guitar up behind his neck. He held it low near his crotch, squatted down and made suggestive pelvic thrusts with it as his hands pumped the neck. He made his guitar scream and wail, feedback pouring from the speakers like an onrushing tidal wave of sound.
It was awesome and I remember being awestruck. He played "Hear My Train A-Comin", "Red House", "Machine Gun", "Voodoo Chile, Slight Return". He played "The Star Spangled Banner" (remember this was before Woodstock). Messy or not, this was Jimi Hendrix at his best and we all cheered and clapped and watched in amazement. It was almost as if the crowd knew, as one, that we were witnessing something important. This guy was doing things with his guitar that no one had ever done before. History was being made right there on that stage in front of us on that sunny June day in 1969.

I wonder sometimes, all these years later, just how good Jimi Hendrix really was. Oh, I love putting his music on the stereo and turning it up, way up. His version of Bob Dylan’s "All Along The Watchtower" or "Voodoo Chile" still grabs me by the throat. People are always saying that he was the best rock guitarist ever. But was he? How good was he? Was he the best?
Well, yes, he was. Hendrix was definitely an original. He knew how to play that guitar of his. That is something I am reminded of every time I listen to his music and every time I remember that day in 1969. Nowadays I pick and choose my doses of Jimi Hendrix. But I’m one of those people who feel they need a dose of Hendrix now and then to stay sane. One never knows when "Machine Gun" will be just the thing to take him out of that line of traffic on the freeway and onto another plane. Hence I always keep a Hendrix CD in the car for just that reason.

After seeing Hendrix that day my brother and I drove our girlfriends home, took our mother’s Camaro back home, parked it and went over to Holly’s place. While she shuffled the cards for some gin rummy we told her all about Jimi Hendrix and how he played with his teeth and that barrage of sound he produced. Holly brushed her hair from her face and dealt out another hand of cards. We told her how it seemed to us that the day had never happened now that it was over. She smiled and told us to get used to it. The next morning we got up early and climbed up onto our roof. We peered over the top of the gable and down over the top of her bamboo screens and there she was, standing naked on her deck, looking out at the ocean, watching the morning sun cast its first rays of light onto the water, a million dancing diamonds of reflection. She was drinking a cup of coffee and we could hear the sound of Buffy St Marie coming from her stereo speakers. We climbed down, ran to catch the bus to school and as I sat in the seat looking out the bus window at the ocean it seemed to me that those moments on the roof had never happened either. Holly, she was cool!

© Jeffrey A Beyl


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