Our Music Lesson #2, Or How We Appropriated You: An Imaginary Short Starring Elvis Chang, Rocky Rivera, and Jimi Hendrix

by Jessica Hagedorn

Interior of an empty nightclub. Mid-afternoon. A tape loop of “Voodoo Chile” plays on the soundtrack. Elvis and Rocky are kissing passionately, ensconced in a booth. Sitting across from the kissing couple is a bemused Jimi Hendrix. As he looked in 1970, the year he died. Black Western gear and a silver conch belt studded with turquoise, black sombrero and sunglasses. A bib stained with wine and vomit is tied around Jimi’s neck.

Elvis: Listen to your own words. “Oh, the night I was born, the moon turned a fire red.” You were in sync with the times, but ahead of it too. Before you, there was no one. Maybe Chuck Berry. Maybe Little Richard. I was into Chuck Berry, just like every other guitar player in the world. I memorized all his licks. And that jagged chunka-chunka thing in all them James Brown classics. Juicy horn riffs.

Jimi: Maceo.

Rocky: That groove on “Cold Sweat.” You know it?

Jimi: Say, beautiful. Of course I know it.

Rocky: [trying to appease him] I meant “you know it.” Like you know it. Not you don’t know it? Know what I mean? [pause] Why are you wearing that bib?

Jimi: To protect my shirt, ha ha.

Rocky: Now it’s my turn to be offended.

Jimi: Sorry, beautiful. I’m feeling blue. Desolate and blue. looks around indifferently Nothing’s changed.

Rocky: Take off those glasses. Let me see your eyes, Jimi takes off glasses slowly. Listen to the wail of your feedback, so fierce against the drummer’s desperate flailing and bashing. What was his name?

Jimi: Noel. puts glasses back on

Rocky: Whatever. He can’t keep up. He’s drowning. The song winds down, the song’s about to end. Hey, it was Mitch Mitchell on drums, wasn’t it?

Jimi: You mean, whomever, don’t you? God, I am so bored with that song! Keyboards like a funhouse circus, the bass thumping. Aren’t you sick of it? And I’m singin’ so earnestly! They never said I couldn’t sing, but shit. I hate earnest. God in a roomful of mirrors. Music is strange like that. Do the old man a favor and turn the goddam song off! [pause] Nothing interests me here. It’s all about money.

Rocky: Three things to remember, old man. Uno, we can hardly afford to rehearse. Dos, hindsight is easy. Tres, Rocky is saved.

Jimi: Put anything else on. I don’t give a fuck. Funkadelic! Prince! The Art Ensemble of Chicago!

Rocky: I was 14 years old when you died. My brother was 17. He wanted to play guitar like you so bad it paralyzed him. pause If you listen carefully, the “Voodoo Chile” melody is exactly the same as “Catfish Blues.”

Jimi: In my day, people cared. I love being taken care of. All I want to worry about is music. Those Europeans give me carte blanche. “What is it you want to do, Jimi?” They ask me. “Would you like to present a big work, or something intimate for forty people?” laughs, pleased with himself

Rocky: If you listen carefully, “Voodoo Chile” follows “Catfish Blues.”

Jimi: Are you accusing me of plagiarizing? Do this old man a favor and turn that fucker off! looks around, agitated Garçon! Garçon! Goddamit, where’s service when you need it, s’il vous plait!

Rocky: I believe we’re in the South Bronx.

Elvis: embarrassed Sorry, we’ll come back later.

Gets up to leave, but Rocky pulls him back into his seat

Rocky: to Jimi We’re in London, eternally 27 years old, in honor of you. Why are you afraid? This is a beautiful song. You wrote it. You sang it. Before you, there was no one. Accept your role in history. Flames bursting out of your skull. Salvation funky. Redemption funky.

Jimi: Redemption? laughs I sure as hell can’t relate to that, sister.

Rocky: Why are you wearing that bib?

Jimi chuckles, Rocky climbs up on the table and starts to dance wildly. Just as abruptly, she sits back down.

Jimi: “Not enough grease.” “Too much grease.” These kids, they’re like piranhas gnawing at me. I got tired of being critiqued. Do I play like the white boys? Do I fuck too many white women? I always wanted some of that white boy money. What a dilemma. Shit. I’m just a country boy.

Elvis; I’m just a country boy, too, Oakland country. My pop taught me to love the blues. Sounds just like Chinese music, he said. He gave me my name, didn’t he? And I took a lotta shit for it.

Jimi: Your father named you after a clown and a thief. You know what Elvis once said? “Ain’t nothin’ a nigger can do for me but shine my shoes.” to Rocky And what about you, beautiful? Why you try so hard to be a man?

Rocky: You sound just like my mother.

Jimi: Fuck me, then. Save my soul.

Rocky: Let’s get one thing straight. You can’t fool me. I know all about you. I was 14 when you died, but I’m not stupid. Did you die with that bib on?

Jimi: Have you any idea how much pussy was thrown at me?

Elvis: [to Rocky] Will you quit blaming him for everything? Damn. I wish Sly were here. [to Jimi] Sorry about her. She’s volatile. [pause] Our friend Sly, if he coulda met you, if he coulda jammed with you, he’d’ve died a happy man.

Rocky: But he didn’t. No stairway to heaven for that poor sonuvabitch. Sly was shot full of holes because he was stupid, and now he’s burning up in hell.

Jimi: [to Rocky] It’s a thin line between love and hate, and you sure got a filthy mouth. [to Elvis] Please. Feel free to call me Jimi. [to Rocky] Say beautiful, can you calm down enough to spare this old man one of those Indonesian cigarettes? If I have to listen to this same old tired song all night long—pause as he lights up and exhales gratefully Ahhh. Smells good, don’t it? Like a man’s perfume. Sweet fire. [sheepish] I’ve tried cutting down, but it just don’t work.

Elvis: You get the joke, right? We did a cover of “Voodoo Chile.”

Rocky: Your song.

Jimi: No kidding.

Elvis: It was Rocky’s idea to do it. She absolutely loved you, man.

Jimi: smiling at Rocky Is it true? You absolutely loved me?

Rocky: Still do.

Elvis: She did. We all did. She said, “Face it. We’ll never write a song as simple and as good as this one.” We always gave you the proper credit. [Hendrix laughs.]

Rocky: How come you played dead for so long?

Jimi: I had no choice. Sorry.

Rocky: I throw a party in your honor every year, on the anniversary of your death, which is also the anniversary of our coming to America. You know that? Of course you don’t. [pause] Has anyone ever asked you if you were Pilipino? You look like you might have some of that blood.

Jimi: What blood?

Rocky: Pilipino blood. Damn, aren’t you listening? Haven’t you heard a thing I’ve said? Everybody I love is dead or dying. I have outlived most of my friends. I have a baby—somewhere. [frantically looks under the table] Oh my God, where did I put the baby? [to Hendrix] Do you have any children? Lookit you, sitting there so sad and sorry and horny. A dirty bib tied around your neck, stinking of vomit. Why’d you go and die and have to be so predictable?

Jimi: Thought I was a mystic, thought I was blessed. Thought that was enough. Chewed peyote. Wrote psychedelic poetry. Believed my own press, my cocaine-induced, rainbow warrior, ghetto royalty, gypsy freedom fighter, LSD-laced, corny, cosmicomic mythology. I wasn’t as bad as you think, was I?

 

* * *

 

Jimi and Rocky start singing “’Cause I’m a voodoo chile/voodoo chile/voodoo chile/voodoo chile." I played guitar with my tongue, set it on fire, and the whole world, too. What more do you want from me? I don’t owe you or anyone else an apology, beautiful. The nights were long, the dogs kept howlin’. Like Edith Piaf usedta say, Je ne regret rien.

Rocky leans over and slips off Hendrix’s sunglasses before kissing him on the lips. It is a long, meaningful kiss. Elvis picks up Hendrix’s burning cigarette and smokes it. He studies their passionate clinch with detached interest. “Voodoo Chile” audio fades up as this last image fades to black.

 

—Jessica Hagedorn is the author of the novel, Dogeaters, which was nominated for a National Book Award, and the editor of Charlie Chan is Dead: An Anthology of Asian American Fiction. The Gangster of Love will be published by Houghton Mifflin this August. Jessica is a contributing editor to BOMB.

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BOMB 56
Summer 1996
The cover of BOMB 56
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