Victor tells us that “during the sixties, [his] father was the perfect hippie, since all the hippies were trying to be Indians.” He describes a photograph of his father that made the cover of Time; his father was protesting the Vietnam war in Spokane. In the picture, his father is holding a rifle over his head, while a “fellow demonstrator” holds a sign that reads MAKE LOVE NOT WAR. Victor reveals that his father served two years in prison after being charged for assault with a deadly weapon in the aftermath of the protest, and got out “just in time to hitchhike to Woodstock to watch Jimi Hendrix play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”
Victor’s father’s tale of being arrested at a protest highlights the inequities between white people’s experiences and those of Native people. His father was used by the media as an icon, and his exorbitant, unfair, and cruel punishment—a punishment none of his fellow white protesters faced—was ignored.
Throughout Victor’s childhood, Victor says, Jimi Hendrix and his father “became drinking buddies.” Victor would put on the tape of “The Star-Spangled Banner” every time his father would come home, and his father would weep, “then pass out with his head on the kitchen table.” Victor would fall asleep beneath the table where his father sat, and the two would “dream together until the sun came up.”
Victor’s father’s engagement with the music of Jimi Hendrix becomes a ritual for Victor throughout his childhood, too; he sits with his father and comforts him as his father self-destructs, and together the two dream—remove themselves from the present, and imagine a different life or future.
In the wake of such nights, Victor’s father would tell him stories “as a means of apology,” including how he met Victor’s mother. “They fought each other with the kind of graceful anger only love can create,” Victor adds now.
Storytelling functions in different thematic ways throughout these stories; one of them, demonstrated here, is to act as a salve or a bridge between characters.
Victor remembers how, one night in his adolescence, when driving home with his father, someone called into the radio with a request to hear Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Victor and his father got into a long discussion about war and peace—“that’s all there is,” he remembers his father saying; “It’s always one or the other.”
It’s easy to understand how Victor’s father could see that war and peace are “all there is” in life—literal wars as well as emotional wars are waged around and within him, and he falls victim to them time and time again.
Victor describes his vivid dreams of his father at Woodstock, but admits that “as much as [he] dream[s] about it, [he doesn’t] have any clue about what it meant for [his] father to be the only Indian who saw Jimi Hendrix play at Woodstock,” or if he was even truly the only one.
Even if Victor’s father was the only Indian at Woodstock, what would it have signified? Assimilation? Vindication? Victor will wrestle with some form of the themes raised by that question throughout many of these stories.
Victor describes his parents’ arguments; a particularly difficult one occurred on a trip to visit Jimi Hendrix’s grave. Another began after his father, against his mother’s will, bought a motorcycle, and then wrecked it, resulting in a two-month stay in the hospital. Victor’s mother cared for him in the wake of the crash, but later their marriage dissolved. Victor describes his and his parents’ differing remembrances of how their family was torn apart. “Was it because of Jimi Hendrix,” Victor remembers asking his mother; he recalls that she replied: “Part of it [was], yeah.”
Victor’s parents’ marriage didn’t dissolve due to Jimi Hendrix the man, but due to Jimi Hendrix the ideal. Jimi Hendrix represented, in Victor’s father’s eyes, a kind of exceptionalism, a freedom, a way to rise above oppression and suffering. In attempting to match or achieve those things, Victor’s father created difficulties in his life, marriage, and family which ultimately couldn’t be overcome.
Victor recalls a dream he had, soon after his father left, of his father returning to their HUD house on his motorcycle. In the middle of the dream, Victor rose from his bed, went out onto the porch, and waited. His mother came outside to wrap him in a quilt, and he remained there until sunrise, then went back inside, where his mother made the two of them breakfast and they “ate until [they] were full.”
Victor yearns terribly for his father, but in the end it is his mother who provides comfort, stability, and shelter for him. Victor’s father’s restlessness, instability, and reckless habits create a rift in their family and leave Victor with only dreams to cling to.