Friday, October 28, 2011

Jimi Hendrix Lives by Charles Parramore

Jimi Hendrix Lives

by Charles Parramore

The day after Kiley broke up with him, Jacob went wandering around downtown Savannah in a haze. He wasn't sure how long he'd been walking before realizing he was lost. He would have believed this to be impossible. He must have covered every nook and cranny of this part of the city at some point in time, but nothing around him looked familiar. As he absorbed his unfamiliar surroundings, a storefront so quaint, it should have been on a postcard caught his eye.

     Dean's Records, the sign above the red and yellow canvas awning read.
    'Plain enough,' Jacob thought as he opened the door. A tingling bell announced his arrival.
    He stood in the entranceway marveling at the place. It was a hipster's paradise. Shiny, vinyl records lined the walls and lay in stacks a foot deep on tables as well. He'd never seen so many in one place. The Beatles were singing about starting a revolution on the overhead speakers and an old timey cash register sat unattended on a counter near the door. He glanced around the store in search of a proprietor or another customer, but saw no one.
    He shrugged and picked up an album off the top of the stack in front of him. "Long Live Spaceman by New Millenium Falcon Crest?" he said aloud, staring at the psychedelic image of a giant frog leaping into the air with a grotesquely long tongue capturing an eagle from the sky on the cover. “That’s obscure enough.”
    He had never heard of the band Left Switch Pony or The Greatest Hits of Marshall Pavaloni either. It wasn't until he came to the tenth record down that he found a performer he was familiar with. He stared at it, trying to figure out if it was someone's idea of a joke or some strange tribute. The album's title: Wanderlustscapia, was written in large, bubbly candy cane red and white letters across the top. But the picture and name of the artist below it sent chills down his spine.
    It showed a gray haired Jimi Hendrix with a giant afro jamming passionately on his guitar. Bubbles of every color sprung from the instrument. Jacob picked up the album, half fearing the strange thing would shock him on contact. He turned it over and searched the fine print on the back for a year.
    "2010?" he said to himself. None of the tracks were familiar to him: Fine Devil Woman, Rainbow Parachute, Snake Eyes in the Dark. There was no price tag, but this was something he had to have; for the novelty if nothing else.
    "Find something you like?" a man's voice asked from behind him.
    Startled, Jacob dropped the record back on the stack. He whirled and nearly bumped into a man who looked nearly as strange as the album he'd just held. The top of his head barely reached Jacob's chest. He wore a tie-dyed shirt, a threadbare pair of khaki cargo shorts, equally worn Chuck Taylor tennis shoes with no socks and a tie-dyed shirt. But his most prominent feature was his goatee. It must have reached four inches below the man's chin and looked sharp enough to cut steak. He had more chin there than on his head. All that remained of it there was a few scraggly white tufts concentrated around his temples.
    "Dylan Dean," the man said, offering his hand. "Are you a Hendrix fan?"
    "Jacob," he answered. "I am, but I've never heard of this album." He handed it to Dean.
    The man held it reverently, admiring the cover art. "Well, I have, indeed. Just saw the man in concert about a month ago in Chicago. Would you believe Lennon made a cameo on the keyboards during the last set? The crowd went so wild I thought they might riot."
    Jacob laughed, but Dean didn't crack a smile.
    "How much do you want for it?"
    "Oh, nothing in this store is for sale. You might say I'm selective about my customers. When I see one I like, I give them what they want for free. That cash register you see doesn't even work. I just like how it looks."
    Jacob laughed again. "That doesn't sound like a very lucrative business model."
    Dean smiled without parting his lips. "Don't worry, young fellow. Money's no object to me. You're going to love that album. Take it home and listen to it right now."
    "Seriously, sir. How much do you want for it?"
    "I am serious, Jacob. It's yours. And you know what else? I think your lady friend will love it as much as you. But don't hurry off. I might have some other selections you'd like. Stay and browse awhile."
    The place was as fascinating as its owner, but something about the fellow and his establishment creeped Jacob out. He did search the album titles with his eyes long enough to think he saw a jazz album with a grandmotherly Janis Joplin on the cover and a photo of a gracefully aging Jim Morrison posing with a komodo dragon. Chills ran down his spine and for a moment when he turned back to Dean, he saw the spiral pattern on his shirt begin to swirl. It took an act of will to tear his eyes away.
    "Is something wrong?" Dean asked.
    "Oh, no. Just had something on my mind."
    "I see. Well go home and listen to Jimi. He cures what ails you I've always found."
    "Okay. I'm going to lay this twenty on the counter here. I just don't feel right taking it for free."
    "Suit yourself, Jacob. Things will work out with Kiley. You'll see."
    Jacob left as fast as he could, trying to tell himself he hadn't heard the man say her name. He didn’t dare look back. 
    'He looked like a demon hippy troll or something,' he thought. He'd covered a quarter mile before realizing he was soaked from rain. He worried that the Hendrix album would be wet and ruined before he had a chance to hear it. He stuck it under his shirt and hoped for the best.
    When he reached his apartment, his cat, Pandora, greeted him at the door. He stroked her under the chin as she wrapped herself around his legs purring like a thunderstorm.
    "At least you still want to be with me," he told her.    
     He recalled the things Kiley had told him in the past and how hollow her words to him were now. She used to tell him how good looking he was, how his blue eyes were the purest she'd ever seen, and how she thought he was the most fascinating guy she'd ever met. She loved how he was always in search of the big questions. But then it all changed. She said he loved books and music more than her. 
    "You're so weird sometimes," she said. "I'm embarrassed to bring you around my friends. They've started calling you the Mile Off Boy because they think you're always looking a mile off somewhere."
    "I don't think it’s weird to want to learn all the knowledge you can soak into your head? Do you think that, kitty cat?" he asked Pandora "But I guess it's just as well. I'm not the kind of guy who needs a girlfriend anyway."
    They'd been together for six whole months. He was twenty-five years old and it was the longest he'd ever had a girlfriend. She was the only girl he'd ever been in love with, too. He knew he was strange in some ways, but she'd known that going in.
    He took the record out of the cover and took a moment to admire it. It seemed to be in perfect condition. The vinyl gleamed in the light as he turned it in his hands. The man who'd given it to him was certainly crazy, but Savannah was a city suited to crazy people and sometimes crazy people were the ones who saw things best. Jacob loved music like moths loved nightlights. He had a great singing voice too although he had no intentions of ever sharing it. He had shared it with Kiley a few times.
    "Oh my God," she said the first time she'd heard it. "You should be on American Idol. You would freaking win."
    He'd sung Peaceful, Easy Feeling by The Eagles. It was corny, but she really made him feel that way.
    He put down the needle and in a moment, Hendrix's voice came pouring through the speakers. There was no doubt in Jacob's mind it was truly him. The voice sounded distinctive and haunting as ever, but mellowed and more precise than in his youth. His guitar playing too was undeniably Hendrix, but infinitely more polished than anything he'd played in the sixties. Jacob lay on his back and let the music wash over him. He dreamed of chasing Dylan Dean and Kiley in circles around a psychedelic sky.
    When he woke some hours later, the record had finished playing. Outside, the rain still fell. The clock on the wall told him he'd slept for nearly four hours. To make sure he wasn't crazy, he opened his laptop and Googled Hendrix. It confirmed what he already knew. The artist died in London of a drug overdose on September 18, 1970. 'Maybe it's some secret, unreleased stuff or something,' he thought. And how had that strange joker known Kiley's name? He didn't want to think about it.
    He shoved his hands in his pockets and discovered the twenty-dollar bill he'd left for Dean and an unfamiliar piece of notebook paper. He wondered how they'd gotten there. Dean must have been a reverse pickpocket or something. He unfolded the paper and saw lyrics of a song written across the page in madly loopy, but exquisitely neat script. It seemed pure nonsense the first time through, but something about it compelled him to read it over and over. Something clicked in his subconscious and the song's significance became clear. The words ingrained themselves in his mind. He began to hum them softly and soon a melody came to him. Soon, he sang with all the power his voice could muster. It swept him away. His voice and the song seemed to comprise his existence. He wondered who could have created it and why Dylan Dean had given it to him. It was the best gift he'd ever received.
    He caught himself thinking of telling Kiley about it before remembering he couldn't tell her. He'd gotten in the habit of telling her almost everything on his mind and now it seemed that had been a mistake. She didn't care what he thought about any more. But the song understood his pain. It understood everything. It transcended everything. Singing it, he felt a hot rush through his brain that spread through his body. He'd never tried a drug stronger than pot, but he guessed this must have been what it felt like. But the feeling of well being that drugs elicited were an illusion. This was genuine. It was all the awareness and knowledge he'd sought in his lifelong habit of reading and thinking delivered in a compact package.
    Awakening. Nirvana. That's what he'd found. That's what the crazy record store owner Dylan Dean sneaked into his pocket. His heart raced and sweat dripped from his face. The trip to and from the store and his memory of the man itself seemed to have a dreamlike quality now. But he still held the man's paper in his hands and Jimi Hendrix's impossible record still spun on his turntable. He walked across the floor to see it, needing to reassure himself again of its reality.
    He picked the record off the table and read the label in the center of it.
    Jimi Hendrix. Are You Experienced? Recorded 1967.
    He closed his eyes tight, sure he was misreading it. But the same words awaited him when he opened them. With a trembling hand, he placed the needle on the record again. It whirred for a moment and then Hendrix's guitar broke out with Foxy Lady. He let the song play halfway through before switching it off. This was a record he'd owned for years. He knew every track by heart. It wasn't the same one he'd heard earlier: the impossible one sung by a man forty years older than he'd been the day he died.
    "Am I going crazy?" he asked himself.
    The paper with his magical song was still in his pocket. He unfolded it and saw the words still there in the same overly flourished script. It was proof enough that something profound had taken place today. He began to hum them again. They felt so large, so powerful. They seemed almost too much to contain within himself.
    "I've got to tell someone about this," he said to Pandora, who watched him warily from her perch atop the windowsill. "If I don't, I will literally explode."
    He dialed Kiley's number. She answered on the third ring.
    "What do you want, Jacob?" she said. Her voice told him he’d woken her up. 
    "I've got to tell you about something that happened to me," he said.
    "Okay. But make it quick. I've got to work in the morning."
    He told her all that had happened to him. He spoke in a rush, not because she'd told him to hurry, but because it was the most intense thing he'd ever discussed with anyone.
    "Sounds like you had some crazy acid trip," she said when he'd finished.
    "No. It wasn't. I've got the song right here. I want to sing it to you."
    "I know it wasn't an acid trip. I just said that it sounds like one. But seriously Jacob, do you really think I can believe a story like that?"
    "No, but I believe you can hear the truth in the words of this song."
    She sighed and something about the sound of it told Jacob she did love him after all.
    "Go ahead. You act like you're going to spontaneously combust or something if you don't."
    He sang and didn't stop until he'd finished the last note. His voice sounded purer and stronger than it ever had before to him. When he was done, he wiped tears from his eyes.
    "That sounds like something you'd write," she said. "Don't get me wrong. It's really good. But those sound like your words, not those of a weird stoner looking dude from some record store on The X-Files."
    "No, Kiley. I can't take credit for it. I'm telling you the truth. It was this dude who slipped it in my pocket somehow. That and the twenty bucks I gave him too. I'm being dead serious."
    "I know you are, Jacob. I really do. You know what I think? I think you had some kind of weird freak-out episode because I broke up with you. You dreamed or hallucinated all that shit and while you were in the midst of it, you sat down and wrote that song."
    "But the handwriting isn't mine, Kiley. You should see it. It looks like how Satan would probably write."
    "Is it all loopy, but straight up and down like some weird calligraphy?"
    "Yeah. How'd you guess?"
    "I saw you write like that one time. Remember we got really drunk making rum daiquiris and you wanted to play this spontaneous poetry game. That's how you were writing then. It kind of freaked me out, but then you passed out a couple of minutes later."
    "I remember that night. Most of it at least. But I don't remember writing poetry. I remember waking up puking the next morning though."
    "Yeah, I kept those poems. I liked them even though they didn't make a bit of sense. Kind of like that song you just sang except that's something else. It does sound like something out of this world even though I don't think I quite get it like you do."
    He thought about it. "Okay," he finally said. "If everything you're saying is true, then something's really wrong with me. I'm bipolar or schizophrenic or something.”
    She laughed. "Hell yeah you are. It's okay though. You're kind of cute that way."
    "It's okay? I'm certifiably crazy and it's okay?"
    She didn't answer and the silence hung so long between them, he thought she'd hung up.
    "Want me to come over and let me hear that song in person?" she finally said.
    "Now? I thought you said you had to work tomorrow."
    "I was lying."
    "If you come over, are we still broken up?"
    She offered him that sigh again. "Probably not," she said.
    When she got to his house, they sat up most of the night. He didn't sing the song for her, but they did listen to Hendrix as they made out on his couch. When the sun was rising the next morning, he watched her sleeping in his bed. Only the day before he'd been sure it was a sight he'd never see again. Outside, the wind whistled through the streets and buildings. He threw on a pair of shorts and left her sleeping. He took the paper with his song off the night table and stepped outside. Although it was a clear morning, he couldn't recall another day when the wind had howled with such fury.
    What you hold so dear in the dead of the night, let it go in the morning light.
    That was a line from the song. He walked to the edge of the street with the paper in hand and when a particularly strong gust struck his face, he let it go. He watched it swirl higher and higher into the air until it sailed out of sight.
    "Dylan Dean will find it," he said to himself. Then he went inside and snuggled close to Kiley. The song clung to him. He hummed it until he drifted off to sleep.


Author bio: Charles Parramore lives in Valdosta, Ga. with his cat and his very pregnant wife. He runs frequently these days and is getting back in the writing groove. For now, he passes his days working as a mental health counselor at a state prison.

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