By Dr. Samuel M. Frost
Biblical archeology has always interested me, and it was, at one point in my life as consideration as a career. Sell everything, move to the Middle East, and dig. The intent is still there, and when I came across an unused ticket in my wife’s dad’s “locker” for Jimi Hendrix, I “dug”. Dig what I’m sayin’? Groovy. Anyhow, this ticket was for a performance in Muncie, Indiana, which is just down the road from where we live.
The date was March 27th, 1968 at the Delaware County Fairgrounds (or, “Lions” Fairgrounds), on Wheeling Ave. Jimi and the Experience were on tour for the ‘Axis Bold as Love’ record, which came out that January following, ‘Are You Experienced’ (May, 1967) that has classic tunes such as, Purple Haze, Hey Joe, Foxey Lady (that’s not a misspell); both of these records are great. As a drummer, Mitch Mitchell’s heavily jazz influenced playing – with a rock edge – is something I sought to duplicate over my years of playing.
This was Hendrix’s first appearance in Indiana (two more appearances occurred, Indy in ’69, and Evansville in ’70). They played Cleveland the night before, and the following night would skip over to Cincinnati. It was a three day grind on the road. Getting out of Cleveland in 1968 and arriving in Muncie would have been a real challenge. Betty Harris, writing a review of the concert for the Muncie Evening Press (March 29th, 1968), stated, “Believing Muncie to be closer to Cleveland (where they appeared Tuesday night) than it was, they were flying low when the police nabbed first Hendrix’ car, and a little later, the Soft Machine’s, Jerry Stickells who, has the often-frustrating job of road manager, driving Hendrix’ car, paid up and left. The Machine’s personal manager Tom Edmunston, talked his way down from a $75 fine to $18.50, but by the time they got there, Stickells was having visions of car wrecks, etc.” The Soft Machine was an opening act, with the Mark Boyle Sense Laboratory. Jimi almost was arrested because he was “smoking a joint” before the show, but he was tipped off and put it out. Police instinctively knew, if Jimi is around, weed is around.
What caught my interest, though, was that Harris mentioned meeting Hendrix and the band at a Holiday Inn. “The trip to the Holiday Inn was a dud. But back at the Old Barn a half-hour later – first a great head, then a small frame on one small scarf-tied, black-knee boot then another thrust itself through the doorway and Jimi Hendrix Experience had begun in Muncie… Redding’s a nut about the ‘telly,’ so it took some talking to get him away from the Holiday Inn. Hendrix was talking about his new ‘vet.’ [Corvette Stingray].” Redding, of course, is Noel Redding; the ‘telly’ is a television.
The ‘Old Barn’ was the Delaware Fairgrounds. They stayed, however, at the Holiday Inn, and my mind wondered…where is that?
After more research, there was only one Holiday Inn in Muncie in 1968. And then, voila!
One can notice the fence difference and the large electric tower in the background. The address, too, gave me the location, and so, off I went. What was there now?
It was a Red Carpet Inn, and in a bad section of town, ran down, condemned and scheduled for demolition. I read several articles about its condition and demolition, which was to be just shy two weeks before I found it as it was. From the postcards, I could see that the structure of the building remained the same. I walked onto the property and met a lady who was watching the building for the demolition crew. I told her my quest, and she, too, became immediately excited. “Jimi stayed here?” “Yep!”
I was never afraid of condemned properties growing up in New Castle, Indiana. As kids in the seventies, the outdoors were our playground. Railroad tracks, condemned warehouses, and old barns were the stages for reenacting Escape from Devil’s Island, The Planet of the Apes, and fighting the Nazis. Show me a dumpster with a possible treasure, and I am diving in!
My imagination was running wild. With Spanish Castle Magic playing in my head, I wanted to see the pool. Walking through some weeds, a few webs weaved by God’s insects, broken glass, there it was:
The pool was shaped exactly the same, with the tower in the back. This was the Holiday Inn, no doubt. More specifically, it’s just down the road from the Fairgrounds, which is still there.
Locating the exact building was a challenge (Teen America Building), but there is, to my surprise, a good deal of material online about this performance. But, I can’t begin to tell you the laugh I got when I saw this sign: Life is a Garden. Dig it! Jimi? Weird!
So, there it is. The archeology nerd in me. Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell played just 15 or so miles from where I live, and only a few thousand showed up (the concert did not sell out). I mean, Ball State University was here, and yet, no huge crowd. Purple Haze was a single, and Jimi performed his famous ‘fire burning’ show at the Monterrey Pop Festival almost a year before. In August, 1969, he would perform at Woodstock.
September 18th, 1970 Jimi was found dead at the age of 27, joining the ’27 Club’ members, Brian Jones (Rolling Stones), Jim Morrison (the Doors), and Janis Joplin. Eerily, Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and Amy Winehouse were also 27 at the time of their self-inflicted deaths (whether through excessive substance abuse, or suicide). Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. ‘It’s better to burn out, than fade away’ (from Neil Young’s lyric, but repeated in Def Leppard’s opening line for Rock of Ages – a parody of the hymn); ‘I’d rather laugh with the sinner, than cry with the saint’ – Billy Joel’s Only the Good Die Young. But, for Young’s lyric, ‘rock ‘n’ roll will never die.’ ‘Long live rock’, shouted Roger Daltrey of the Who. ‘I’m gonna get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames,’ Jim Morrison muses on their live album. ‘This the end, my only friend.’
There isn’t any need for demonstrating the hedonism of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and its music. Look, I like it. As a drummer and somewhat ‘okay’ guitarist, music played a huge part in my life growing up in Indiana. Our state was considered the ‘blue jeans’ state made up of white kids with nothing to do and a bottle of Boone’s Farms. Aerosmith, Rush, Kiss, Ted Nugent, REO Speedwagon hammered our area, with Ohio, Illinois and ‘Detroit Rock City.’ We ate it up, and snuck it in the home. The look of disgust from our parents faces when seeing pictures of the rock gods was priceless. Greg Goodwin remembers his mom seeing the picture of Aerosmith on their first album and saying, “they look like bums!” They were bums; drug-addicted, alcohol addled bums – but man, could they play! I have to note the exception of Gene Simmons, and Ted Nugent, of course.
My sold-out devotion to Jesus Christ – ever always present with me since I can remember – “going to church” and Vacation Bible School, and yet giving in to my flesh quite often, probably describes a lot of us fifty somethings. My faith won out. I don’t listen to a lot of these bands anymore, not from an external ‘command’ yelled out by some religious nut, but from an internal one; my conscience. There is not one song I can remember that brings me to tears, but there are plenty of hymns that often times drops me to my knees. I don’t rail against ‘listening to the Devil’s music’, and I don’t think certain chords are ‘evil.’ I never understood the whole ‘spinning the records backwards’, when listening to them forwards, like Black Sabbath, or Ronnie J. Dio, said enough. The Devil will hit everyone as hard as he can (take Job, for example), but it is God that ‘gets one through’ to the other side. I could have been a member of the 27 Club. Sure. I look back and know that if I ‘made it big’ at the age of 19 or 20 as rock drummer, I would be dead within a few years. I know this. God carried me through – ups, downs, highs, and lows. It’s a mystery, but I am thankful and far more content these days than I have ever been.
Jimi Hendrix? Yeah, poor soul. Great talent wasted. So young. His message? Tune in, drop out, expand your mind. Didn’t get him very far. But, then again, flesh profits nothing. Each of these ‘experiences’ in my life make me who I am, in God’s image; each valley, each sin, and each step brings me – and you who are in Christ – one more ordained step closer to glorification. Walking around this old, condemned building, thinking of the lives that once enjoyed Holiday Inn’s comforts, all gone now, brought me to think of what’s it all worth? Just steps, memories, and some laughs? That’s it? In the end, you just end up old, worn out, and condemned, near ready to vanish away? The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth destroys this image; there is more. We don’t just “die” and “go to heaven” (as if that solves anything here on earth); Jesus rose from the dead, from that which corrupts and brings about ‘fading away.’ But, that’s the point: all of our experience in this body we so care for only leads to death; but life in Christ will lead to eternal life in this very body, raised from the dead and made immortal, so that every experience in this body is brought to worth, because it will be brought to bear. This is a staggering thought for me. Jimi Hendrix will be raised from the dead in the last day, according to Jesus. He will be judged ‘for the things done through the body, good or bad’ in that day, according to Paul. Had Jimi known this, he would have treated his body as a temple. Instead, he treated it as rubbish, injecting it, flooding it, abusing it, and prematurely killing it. That is gnosticism in our age, seeking pleasures without any thought that what is done in this body, will one day be judged as this body these things were done in stands again before Him. Resurrection means that there is no separation between what is done in the body, and what is believed in the heart. There won’t be any excuse, “well, that’s just my flesh’s fault, I am now a spiritual being, and my body is dead.” Nope. What is done in this body, will be judged in this body. That is the explosive message of resurrection from the dead.