Teenagers find reasons to live and die in popular music. The aging process grinds this passion to a halt, as we become cynical and cautious. But a former teenager never forgets her first, and my first was Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix is one of the most compelling legends of the ‘60s. He was a virtuoso musician, and he died at the height of our country’s discontent, an estrangement he described many times in his lyrics. He deliberately commented on society’s rules and wages of war. He was an army veteran who was not a stranger to colonialism. For these reasons, I idolized him, not as a revolutionary guitarist, but as a revolutionary and an ax man.
There was something about Jimi’s sound, rather than the lyrics or the times he lived in, that made young people, (and in particular me), want to be free. No inhibitions, no limits, no authority.
When I talk to men of my generation who revere Hendrix, they often rap about his technical mastery and mysteries. But the largest mystery to me about Hendrix was not how he achieved his outlandish distortion, but how he made my world seem so distorted—why my body responded to his voice, why “If six turned out to be nine," I didn't mind. I’ve been playing Electric Ladyland for thirty years now, but I didn’t examine what Jimi meant to me until I had a very weird flashback of the mid-1980s…
It’s hard to keep track of all the military actions the United States has engaged in since Vietnam. Since Nixon, every Pentagon folly is an incident, a “warette,” and in that vein, you may recall that in 1986, Reagan bombed Libya.
The night of the the Libyan air strike, I was at a lesbian strip show. It was a Tuesday, and the women of On Our Backs produced a "burlezk show," a night at at a women-only strip club. It was our usual two hundred-plus crowd of leatherdykes, financial-district escapees, and Midwestern tourists. The strippers were all local girls who worked regularly at the downtown sex clubs.
The kind of erotic dancer who plays to a dyke crowd tends to have a bit more spirit, a real desire to connect to the crowd. But their costumes and acts were rarely different from what they’d perform at a regular porn palace, regardless of their sexual orientation.
They all danced to Top Forty, which at the time was a string of tunes by Janet Jackson, Mötley Crüe, Vanity. The last thing I expected to hear any Tuesday was the electrified rattle of a machine gun.
It was the “Machine Gun,” Jimi Hendrix’s song from Band of Gypsys, circa 1970.
The first riffs erupted on a bare stage, and then a yellow spot came up. Out of the darkness, a stripper named Lupé crawled on her belly upstage, in a combat uniform and a gas mask. She was a death spirit; her body contorted and furious, driven by Hendrix’s ferocious rat a tat tat.
She did her entire set, seventeen minutes, to Hendrix’s anthem, and the gas mask was the one thing that never came off.
I don’t know what the girls at the cocktail tables were thinking; I don’t know if cruising and foreplay came to a halt. Most of the audience was younger than me— I don’t think they remembered Walter Cronkite announcing the number of Vietnam casualties every night. Some of the baby dykes may have been born the year that Hendrix played his disintegrated version of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock.
Lupe was old for a stripper—almost thirty. When she came off the stage, she was so wet and hollowed out I didn’t know if it was tears dripping off her face or sweat. But when she saw my own tearful face as I hugged her, she began to cry in earnest. “You know why I did it, you know,” she said. When she got a little drier, I asked her how she started listening to Jimi.
We had both listened ”Machine Gun,” as kids, an album released during the most political and “black” phase of his career. She and I remembered smoking a lot of pot to this album, chewing peyote, making love to both men and women, and cursing the war. It was a time of inverted patriotism, where the very thing that made you hate the Pentagon, Tricky Dick, and how-many-kids-he-killed-that-day, was the same thing that made you think that maybe this country had some greatness after all, if only we could get rid of the bloodsuckers. At that time I considered corporate greed to be a cancer on the body; I still trusted we were born clean.
I have one unusual clue to my feminine Hendrix fascination, which tied my revolutionary interest in him to my sexual interest. Everyone who has read the postmortem Hendrix biographies has heard tell about Jimi’s huge sexual appetite, his big dick, and his "black" erotic presence in a white rocker milieu, a different time and place from his early R&B circuit as a sideman.
In the middle of my lesbian strip show years, I found unexpected pictures and clues in the record of his life. One of Hendrix’s closest running buddies had been a woman he named Devon—his lover, roommate, pimp, dealer, and advisor. She was often called a “super groupie,” linked with Mick Jagger and others.
But the most interesting thing I read about her was that she was a bisexual, a hooker who reputedly only loved women but fucked men for money and advantage. That would describe most of the women I met at our lesbian burlesque.
Devon’s bisexuality is not commented on very much in the typical Hendrix bio except to say that Jimi “straightened Devon out.” I thought that notion was very funny, but my reading of a woman like Devon is that she queered Jimi in...
Contined in Sexwise, "Why The Little Dykes Understand"
Photos Credits,from top to bottom:
Devon, posing on tour with Jimi.
"Dolly Dagger" wasn't released before Hendrix's death, but you can find it on compilations like Experience Hendrix. He sang it as his opener at concerts in the summer of 1970.
You can see Lupé in drag, stripping to Jagger, plus all the other original BurLEZk dancers (including "Sandra Dee" who later became "Tiffany Millions") on BurLEZk I, from Fatale Media. I'm sorry to say she's not with us anymore... it's just not fair.
By the way, even if you've seen Woodstock on screen many times before, the Directors Cut DVD is mouthdropping, and I'm glad I stumbled upon it.