|Kathy Etchingham Interview|
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From the book "Through Gypsy Eyes" By Kathy Etchingham 1998
At the beginning of 1970, encouraged by Madeline, Ray and I decided to get married, buy a house and settle down. Ray more or less moved into Brook Street with me while we were house-hunting. The flat was in my name because I had been the one who was around to sign the papers, so I could give it up whenever I felt ready.
I didn't want a big, fussy wedding; I certainly couldn't imagine myself in a virginal white dress, so we planned a low-key, pleasant· day among friends. Madeline and Tony were there, probably Angie, Lil and a few of Ray's family. Lil thought Ray was great - 'so handsome', just the sort of man she approved of. I wore an angora trouser suit with a matching hat and scarf.
I hadn't heard from Jimi for a while and apparently he was having problems. He had a disastrous gig at Madison Square Gardens and walked off-stage. Around this time someone must have told him about me getting married to Ray. He rang to find out if it was true.
'Yes, I'm married,' I told him, innocently. 'Is there anything you would like to keep from the flat because I'll be giving it up. We're buying a house in Chiswick.' 'I don't know what I want,' he said, his voice sounding strange, 'I'll have to think about it. Are you going to be there next weekend?'
'Yes,' I said, assuming he intended to phone back then.
Ten minutes later he called to tell me he would be flying into London on the Saturday and asked me to pick him up at the airport. I agreed, surprised, and booked a limo to Heathrow as usual. Jimi turned up on the early-morning flight looking a complete wreck. I was amazed to see that he was alone because I had never known him to travel without some sort of company before. On the way back into town he held my hand in the back of the car.
'This is just a spur of the moment thing, isn't it,' he said, his voice quiet and intense. 'It's not serious, is it?'
'Yes, it's serious, Jimi,' I said, 'I'm married to Ray and I love him.' I was startled to see how completely devastated he was by the news. I suddenly realized that he had pictured our relationship completely differently. He may have been sleeping around in America but he hadn't met anyone else he wanted as a permanent partner.
He had imagined that I would be waiting for him, the good little woman keeping the home fires burning until my man came back from earning our living - not so very different to Chas's idea of how relationships should work, after all. He hadn't realized that we had drifted apart. He still saw us as a couple and he simply couldn't believe that I had moved on. I realized that in his mind I had let him down just like his mum and dad had before me. He had been relying on me to be a permanent fixture in his life, but I was nowhere near old or mature enough to fullfil that role. I wasn't willing to give up my life to be a rock and roll widow.
Ray had gone to work by the time we got back to the flat and I made tea. 'So,' I said breezily, 'is there anything you want from the flat?' 'I don't want to take anything from the flat,' he said angrily, with tears in his eyes, 'I want you.' 'Does anyone in New York know you're here?' I asked, trying to keep the conversation light. 'I don't have to tell them everything,' he replied, his head hanging down, his whole body looking limp. 'Why don't you come back to New York with me?' he suggested. 'I can't do that, Jimi,' I said. 'Why not? We can go back, everything will be all right, all those people I was hanging out with have gone.' 'No, Jimi,' I interrupted, 'it's not going to happen. Everything. is different now.'
He kept arguing for a while but I knew he wasn't going to change my mind. I could never have gone back to the life I'd had with him. I wanted to move on to something different, away from all the mayhem and madness. A lot of our friends were starting to pair off and disappear from the club scene, we were growing up, but that would have been impossible for me if I had stayed with Jimi.
I told him that Ray had moved into the flat with me so he couldn't stay there and I booked him into the Londonderry Hotel. After the first couple of days of trying to persuade me to change my mind he seemed to realize that I wasn't going to budge and gave up. He jammed in the studio with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash one day and that seemed to lift his spirits.
On another day he asked me to go shopping with him and bought me a pair of snakeskin boots. We were like two very old friends on a day out together and I felt a wave of relief that he had come to terms with what had happened. It was over but we could still be part of one another's lives. At the end of the week he went back to America.
He had showed no interest in the stuff left at Brook Street except for a few things which he took back to New York. So when the time came for me to move I had to decide what to keep and what to throwaway. There was a cupboard which was stuffed with all the paintings and drawings Jimi had done during his time in London, many of them inspired by acid. I had no idea what to do with any of it, so I binned the lot, except for a drawing we had done together. Many of the old wall hangings we had bought had started to disintegrate so they went out as well. It didn't occur to me that one day they would be of any value or interest.
In July 1970 Ray and I moved into a nice little terraced house in Chiswick. I learnt to drive and got myself a job which I really enjoyed. I was happy in my new role of young wife and normal citizen when, a month or so later, I had a call from Angie. 'I'm at the Londonderry Hotel,' she said, her voice sounding panicky, 'with Jimi.' 'Jimi's in London?' I was surprised, no longer having any idea of his movements, as we hadn't spoken to each other for six months. 'He's here to do the Isle of Wight Festival. He's gone mad, Kathy, we need your help. He's thrown us out of the bedroom and he won't let us back in, and all our clothes are in there. He's shouting at us to get out but we're trapped in the suite. We were all getting on fine and then he just turned on us. You're the only person we can think of who can deal with him when he's like this.'
I took a taxi to Park Lane and went up to the suite. Angie and another girl, wrapped in blankets, were waiting in the wrecked sitting room. Broken lamps, smashed glasses and upturned tables bore witness to the rage that Jimi must have been in. I went through to the bedroom. The first thing that hit me was the heat. It was a blazing hot day outside but all the windows were shut and a blow heater was going full blast, making the air feel dry and uncomfortable. Jimi was lying in bed under a pile of blankets, shivering uncontrollably. There was an empty bottle of Jack Daniel's and some glasses on the bedside table. 'What's happening, Jimi?' I asked. 'What's happening, Kathy?' He sounded as casual as if I had just come back from popping out to the shops. 'Angie and that girl need their clothes, man,' I said. 'They're scared to come in here.'
'Give them the clothes, get rid of them.' he said.
I scooped up their clothes and took them out to the sitting room. The girls dressed hurriedly. Watching them, I felt so glad to be a married woman. I felt detached. Once they had gone I went back into the bedroom to see if I could do anything to help Jimi. I sat on the edge of the bed and put a cool flannel on his forehead to try to bring his temperature down. He seemed to be dangerously feverish and kept sniffing and complaining that he had a cold. He was thin and grey and looked really ill. I assumed he had a bad dose of flu. In retrospect it is obvious that he was suffering some kind of withdrawal symptoms, although I'm not quite sure what from. I made him as comfortable as I could and, once he was sleeping, I went back home, feeling a great sense of relief that I was no longer a part of this scene, pleased to help but even more pleased to walk away. The distressed superstar in the hotel suite was not the Jimi I had met and fallen in love with four years before. All the sweetness and gentleness had disappeared: the drugs and the stress had changed him beyond recognition.
A couple of weeks later I was browsing around the hippy stalls in the dark, aromatic bowels of Kensington Market, when Jimi came up from behind and squeezed me. He looked fine. 'I'm staying at the Cumberland Hotel,' he told me. 'Why don't you drop by later to say hi?' 'OK,' I replied, 'I might do that.' But I knew I wouldn't. For years after his death I felt guilty thinking that if I had gone to the Cumberland Hotel that night everything might have turned out differently. But I know now that he wouldn't have been there anyway.