Sunday, January 3, 2010

Monterey 1997 - 30 Years Later - A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix

On Sunday June 18, 1967 Jimi Hendrix electrified the world with his guitar histrionics, and by pyrotechnically assassinating his Fender Stratocaster at the end of his now famous American debut.  That day, more than perhaps any other, began our fascination with the guitar hero.  From that day forward the gaunlet had been thrown down and a guitarist could no longer just stand and play.

Of course, I'm generalizing a bit, and some would say that Eric Clapton had all ready began the "guitarist as god" schtick, or that Townshend had been busting up guitars in England, but I'll stick with my premise that it really got kick-started at Monterey in '68.  I'm more than OK with letting others have the final or decisive word on such matters.  I know that Clapton and Townshend have always worshipped at the electric church established by Jimi, so I'll leave it at that.  He amazed them both, and they copped to his greatness - enough for me.

30 years later a few friends and myself decided to commemorate this occasion, so we decided to make a pilgrimage to the site of the festival on it's anniversary to pay our tributes.  Now, I'm not exactly sure who's idea it was, but since it 's my story, of course I'll take the credit for how we handled the festivities.

We decided that to properly pay our respects in the time tested traditions of the world, a sacrifice had to be made.  It was decided that we would burn, as Hendrix had burned, a Fender StratocasterOn the very stage that Jimi made his own on that summer night in June of '67. And it had to be an American Standard, no cheaper off shoot, or imitation import.  It had to be the real deal.  It had to be done properly, with love, honor, and respect.  No other way would do.  To do anything less would be a cheap bastardization, and could only serve to disgrace the entire affair.  And that wouldn't do.  What's the point of paying homage if you don't do it with dignity?

We made a day of it.  All of us had taken the day off from our jobs and reserved the whole day.  We left Sacramento for Monterey early mid-morning, filming the entire trip for posterity.  The group was made up of my dear friends Robb Phillips (as big a Hendrix fan as exists, and a major force in the planning and implementing of this adventure), Phil Klinkenberg, Kyle Kovalic, and yours truly.  On the road to Monterey we played all Hendrix recordings and pontificated throughout exactly what Hendrix had meant to us, our lives, and the world of the guitar and music fans the world round.  We probably also drank a beer or two, and smoked the odd joint.  I make no excuses for our behavior, we're grown damned men and we handled ourselves appropriately.  This trip was all about the rock and roll experience and we took no shortcuts.  We handled it like champions.

We arrived in Monterey around 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  Kovalic being familiar with the area directed our group to the fairgrounds, which we had no idea what we would find.  For all we knew, we may or may not be able to gain access.

Luckily, as fate would have it, our way was impeded by nothing or no one.  It was as if the gods had made us a path.  Perhaps the most surprising thing to me was that no one else had chosen to may their way back toMonterey for the 30th anniversary.  That kind of shocked me, actually.  We did pick up a kindred spirit who had his trailer inside the grounds for an art exhibit the next day.  He was old enough to remember the era and seemed accordingly honored that we allowed him to join up with us, but who could deny a fellow traveller?

Once we made our way to the stage, what we found amazed us.  It looked as if the festival could have been held the day before.  Nothing had been altered or appreciably changed.  The wooden stage still towered over the huge expanse, and you could literally feel where it had all taken place.  The area was completely empty and the silence truly inspiring.

We climbed the stage and began assembling our pyre.  We had made sure to bring aluminum foil to protect the old dry wood of the stage.  Our lighter fuel of choice?  Ronsonal, of course, same as Jimi had used 30 years previous.  Then, having made the preparations, we proceeded to play the enire Monterey recordings of Hendrix's set.  As the soudtrack played, we continued to discuss all that Hendix had meant, how he had instigated our lives in music, before we even were aware.

Finally, the set progressed to the Trogg's classic, Wild Thing.  The day turned to twilight as the song played.  It was as beautiful an evening as I have ever seen,or ever spent.  I then added the lighter fluid and set the guitar aflame.  As the song roared to it's conclusion, I did my best imitation of Hendrix, Townshend, and Blackmore, and a Strat was tossed and broken on this stage once again. 

We all knelt before the body of the broken soldier, gave our consecrations, and proceeded to light the fire.  As soon as the fire lit, quite amazingly ajet flew over, very low and very loud.  It seemed somehow appropriate and sounded fantastic.  The guitar burnt, and we said our final words over the once beautiful Stratocaster.  Our tribute had been completed.  Once the fire had extinguished itself, we cleaned up the mess and returned the guitar to it's coffin (case).

It could not have gone better in our wildest dreams, again, as if fate and the gods had known we were coming.  I look back upon this moment not simply only as one of the most pleasurable days I have ever spent, in the company of great friends and fellow musicians, fans, and music professionals, but also as if we had done something that had meaning deeper than just breaking and burning a guitar.  We had genuinely paid tribute and our respects to a momentuous occasion, and one of the true musical gods, Jimi Hendrix.  It felt right because it was right, of this there can be no question.

We filmed the entire event, and it makes for a rather incredible and moving 4 hour home movie.  Perhaps in the next year I can reconvene with my friend and confidante, Robb Phillips, and we can edit it down to a document we can share with other Hendrix, and guitar devotees.

In the meantime I will look back and smile for the greatest day I ever had in the guitar business. 

My thanks to my dear friends and fellow guitar lovers, Robb Phillips, Phil Klinkenberg, and Kyle Kovalic.

No disrespect was ever intended in the destruction of a fine American Fender Stratocaster. It was an act of great devotion, and respect committed in loving tribute to both the player, the fine instrument and the role rock and roll has played in all our lives.  Long live rock and roll.

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