Home / Writings / What's Wrong with Jimi Hendrix?

What's Wrong with Jimi Hendrix?

 

Scene: Present day, on a train like Amtrak from Washington DC to New York. KATJIA is sitting. Her tray table is out and she is working on it, something intense with paper and pencil. The train is getting full.

 

TRENT

Mind if I sit here?

 

KATJIA

(mumbles) Sure.

 

(TRENT has a guitar and a knapsack. He puts them in the overhead compartment and sits down. He is humming a non-descript tune to himself.)

 

(KATJIA is pretty, if, perhaps, a bit too severe looking: new jeans, T-Shirt with art/political slogan on it ["Sell your art, sell your soul"], extremely short hair, glasses, no makeup, perpetual frown, etc.)

 

(TRENT is pretty, if, perhaps, a bit too casual: stringy hair, tattoos, nose ring, leather jacket, etc.)

 

(KATJIA is working on something on the tray, writing and erasing.)

 

(TRENT looks over her shoulder at what she's doing.)

 

TRENT

That's impossible to play.

 

KATJIA

What?

 

TRENT

No one can play that, can't be done.

 

KATJIA

Who asked you?

 

TRENT

OK. (under his breath) Hope your guitarist has 7 fingers...

(he goes back to humming. She goes back to working)

 

KATJIA

(struggling with what she's working on, gradually his words have an effect on her.)

OK, why not?

 

TRENT

(teasing her) Why not what?

 

KATJIA

(sighs) Why can't this be played?

 

TRENT

Look at this (points to her music) you want to play these notes at the same time, right? (he plays them on air guitar and we hear them, one after the other) Well, the only way they can do that is high on the D and G strings, but then you would need to reach back (demonstrates on his air guitar - and we hear it too) with a finger that doesn't exist. See?

 

KATJIA

(listening, but disgusted all the same) Uh huh. So, you can play the guitar?

 

TRENT

(boastfully) Better than Jimi!

 

KATJIA

(blankly) Jimi?

 

TRENT

You know, Jimi.

 

KATJIA

(still blank)

 

TRENT

Jimi James? Purple Haze?  The Star Spangled Banner?

 

KATJIA

Wait a minute, didn't Francis Scott Key write the Star Spangled Banner?

 

TRENT

Hendrix! Jimi Hendrix! (plays some Hendrix on air-guitar, which the audience hears as if it were actually Hendrix playing)

 

KATJIA

James Endrick?

 

TRENT

(aghast) You don't know who (emphasizes correct name) Jimi Hendrix, with an 'x', is?

 

KATJIA

Ummmmm.  Oh wait. I think I remember my Dad forcing me to listen to it once.

 

TRENT

(rolls his eyes)

 

(they sit awkwardly for a moment or two)

 

TRENT

Oh, and I should point out... is this for electric guitar?

 

KATJIA

Yeah.

 

TRENT

Well, remember that most electric guitarists use picks, right? And so this (points) this, and this are impossible because those chords would require skipping a string in the middle. (demonstrates with a pick on his air guitar, and we hear how awkward it sounds)

 

KATJIA

(gritting her teeth) God I hate electric guitar!

 

TRENT

Well then, why are you writing for it?

 

KATJIA

Oh, it's my stupid composition teacher, Steve Mackey, you know him?

 

TRENT

(shrugs his shoulders, no)

 

KATJIA

Whatever. He's got this thing about electric guitar, it's so stupid. I mean, I don't think that any teacher should be forcing us to write anything that we don't want to. This kind of doctrinaire, top-down, Nazi-dictator teaching style has no place in a free society! I mean, sound world is so important, right? I've been spending all my time trying to make the stupid electric guitar not sound like an electric guitar.

 

TRENT

Well, I think you've almost got it.

 

KATJIA

(missing his joke) Thanks. It hasn't been without effort, I can tell you.

 

TRENT

What's so wrong with the electric guitar?

 

KATJIA

It's not the electric guitar per se, it's the emptiness and vacuousness of all commercial music. You know? I happen to believe that life is more than simple entertainment -- people should be doing more with their lives than killing time while waiting to die.

 

TRENT

Oh, and you know music which does that?

 

KATJIA

Absolutely. Pick anyone. Like Carter, Babbitt, Stockhausen. Or even Stravinsky.

 

TRENT

Stav-in....?

 

KATJIA

You mean, you've never heard of Stravinsky?

 

TRENT

Is he... Polish?

 

KATJIA

No, Russian! Jeez, I can't believe this.

 

TRENT

Really? Russian? That's cool.

 

KATJIA

How can call yourself a musician and not know Stravinsky?

 

TRENT

Uhhh.... (TRENT just shrugs his shoulders)

 

(another awkward silence)

 

TRENT

I just got back from a concert in Russia.

 

KATJIA

(doesn't believe him) Sure you did. What music did you play?

 

TRENT

Oh, ahhhh... it was just a gig.

 

KATJIA

Come on, tell me. Was it Celine Dion? Britney Spears?

 

TRENT

(winces) No. Worse.

 

KATJIA

Well, now you have to tell me.

 

TRENT

Okay fine. It was Clay Aiken.

 

KATJIA

Hah! I thought it was something pathetic like that.

 

TRENT

(defensively) I was only there because his lead guitarist came down with appendicitis.

 

KATJIA

No, no, tell me the truth. Don't you just love his dreamy voice? Don't you just love being a Claaaymate?

 

TRENT

Oh god. Listen, some of us have to make a living, okay?

 

KATJIA

No, you listen! Music is an art. It's not about making a living. As soon as it is, it no longer has meaning.

 

KATJIA

Some of us don't have rich parents paying our way through school.

 

KATJIA

(becoming testy) Who said I had a rich Dad paying my way through school?

 

TRENT

You must. That's the only way you could afford to cop such an attitude about my job. Listen. Whatever. I'll find someplace else to sit. (Gets up to leave)

 

KATJIA

Please. Don't go. I can be a real bitch sometimes, I know. It's me. Hey, I'm sorry. Will you accept my apology?

 

TRENT

I don't think so.

 

KATJIA

Listen, the train's full. You'd probably have to stand up in the Café car for the rest of the trip. I know I can get intense about music sometime. Believe me, I can't tell you how many times my ex said that about me. But that's just who I am. Is it so bad? So sit. I'll be quiet and work on my assignment.

 

TRENT

Okay. (sits back down) You know, it's not like I wouldn't love to play for Bjork or somebody.

 

KATJIA

Who wouldn't? She's fantastic.

 

TRENT

Wait a minute. You know about Bjork but you don't know Hendrix?

 

KATJIA

(a flash of anger) Leave me alone about fucking Hendrix, okay? (settles down a bit) Sorry. Listen, I better work on this. It's due tomorrow.

 

TRENT

Sorry, sure.

 

(pauses for a second)

 

If you need any help with the guitar, really, I'd be happy to help. You know, if you'd actually put your hands on a guitar... I could give you a quick lesson.

 

KATJIA

No thanks. (goes back to working)

 

TRENT

I mean, I have my guitar right up there. (points to the overhead compartment) I could show you how to finger the chords and everything.

 

KATJIA

(ignores him)

 

TRENT

(sits back. Then, after a long pause) I got kicked out of the Peabody Conservatory.

 

KATJIA

What?

 

TRENT

The Peabody Conservatory... in Baltimore? I was there studying classical guitar.

 

KATJIA

Hold on. You went to a music conservatory, and you don't know who Stravinsky is?

 

TRENT

Alright, fine. I love Stravinsky. Happy?

 

KATJIA

You lied to me?

 

TRENT

Well, I didn't actually say I didn't know him... I just asked if he was Polish.

 

KATJIA

(rolls her eyes) So, what'd you do to get kicked out?

 

TRENT

Well, I was studying with Manuel Barreco?

 

KATJIA

(impressed) Really?

 

TRENT

Yeah, really. So, he forbade me from playing electric, okay? Because he said it would ruin my technique for classical. Fine. Then one day he saw my band playing in a local bar. Of course I was playing electric guitar, and so he got my butt kicked out of school.

 

KATJIA

Woah, harsh. I didn't think teachers like that still existed.

 

TRENT

They import them from Europe.

 

KATJIA

Tell me about it.

 

TRENT

Was my Dad ever pissed. Eighty thousand dollars, down the drain.

 

KATJIA

Dads can be real assholes.

 

TRENT

Well, it's not like he didn't have reason.

 

KATJIA

So, you know all about Stravinsky after all.

 

TRENT

Yeah. Hey! Before I got kicked out, my friends in the guitar studio and I made a fun tape. Want to hear it?

 

KATJIA

What is it?

 

TRENT

(pulls out his iPod and hands her a pair of headphones) Here, just listen.

 

KATJIA

Uh... okay.

 

(KATJIA and the audience both hear Mark Lackey's "Rock Rite" - the Rite of Spring orchestrated with electric guitars and synthesizers)

 

KATJIA

Cool! I mean... wow, that's fantastic. Holy cow....

 

TRENT

Yeah, Stravinsky totally rocks. We were going to do the whole thing... but...

 

KATJIA

But you got kicked out?

 

TRENT

Right. Oh well. Hey, want to listen to some Hendrix? (dials up his iPod) I have some right here...

 

KATJIA

(takes off the headphones) No.

 

TRENT

What is your problem?

 

KATJIA

Just let it go, okay?

 

TRENT

Okay.

 

KATJIA

But hey, just give me a moment (writes on her music for a couple of seconds), because I'm done. Want to try playing it?

 

TRENT

Sure! (pulls down his guitar case and pulls out his guitar) Let's see.... Wow... you really like mixed meters. You know, you could just write the whole thing in four-four....

 

KATJIA

Can't handle it?

 

TRENT

Hey, I'm a Peabody drop-out. Just like Philip Glass and Tori Amos. (plays a few notes) Okay. Here goes. (launches into a highly complex, fast, jarring composition - initially we hear it on an unplugged electric guitar)

 

KATJIA

Stop!

 

TRENT

What?

 

KATJIA

I changed my mind. (leans over and scribbles something on the music) There. Take it twice as slow.

 

TRENT

You sure? I can do it up to tempo.

 

KATJIA

Yes, I'm sure.

 

TRENT

Okay. (plays the music. At the slower tempo it is much more ballad like. Initially, the guitar sounds unplugged, but as the magic space around them intensifies, the amplified sound fades in. As he gets more comfortable with the piece, TRENT begins to add in some of his own improvisations, bent notes, etc. In fact, it sounds pretty good.)

 

TRENT

Wow. That's actually...

 

KATJIA

Yeah?

 

TRENT

It's great. Thanks for letting me play it.

 

KATJIA

I'm astonished that you could sight-read it.

 

TRENT

I'm as good as Jimi.

 

KATJIA

Yeah, you told me.

 

TRENT

And look, (pointing to her music) some of this actually reminds me of his music. Like this lick (plays it and we hear it), and this one.

 

KATJIA

HENDRIX, HENDRIX! FUCKING HENDRIX! Get off my fucking back about Hendrix! You're just like my fucking father! Always going on and on about rock music.

 

TRENT

Hey, I was giving you a compliment. Sorry.

 

KATJIA

Shit. There I go again. Why can't I just deal?

 

(awkward silence)

 

OVERHEAD ANNOUNCER

Next stop, New York, Penn Station. Three minutes. New York, Penn Station, next stop.

 

TRENT

Well... end of the line. (puts his guitar away)

 

KATJIA

(looks at TRENT, then) I'm a bastard.

 

TRENT

That's a bit harsh.

 

KATJIA

No, I mean, really. I'm a bastard. As in, my father was not married to my mother when they had me.

 

TRENT

Hey, this is none of my business...

 

KATJIA

My Dad kept trying to get me interested in rock music, okay? It's like, that was all that there was in life. I mean, Jesus Christ.

 

TRENT

Yeah, all parents are like that. Mine was like, "Hey, why can't you sing like Frank Sinatra?"

 

KATJIA

Will you shut up and let me talk? I'm trying to explain here. My father wasn't like other fathers. (struggles to find the right words to explain)

 

TRENT

Oh, god.... he didn't beat you or anything?

 

KATJIA

No, no. Nothing like that.

 

TRENT

Deadbeat Dad?

KATJIA

No. Or, at least, not in the way that you're referring to.

 

TRENT

Then.... ?

 

KATJIA

(sighs) He's Ozzy Osborne.

 

TRENT

Oh. Ohhh. (looks at her shirt) Ohhhhhh... Oh my god. I'm so sorry.

 

KATJIA

Yes, thank you. At least you understand. It's like he used to mean something, you know? It's like his art had a message, it had power, it moved people, you know? And now what is it?!? It's a fucking joke, that's what. Now, he's on TV with his perfect FUCKING family. His REAL family. It's a mockery, his fans, his band, everyone who ever believed in him... well screw them! I guess it's okay, as long as I can make a buck and get more famous, right? Right?? And who gets recorded, huh? Who gets to go on tour, huh? Which daughter gets to live in the mansion and gets to dine with the executives from Sony and Deutche Gramaphone? Did you know he was on VH1 recently?

 

TRENT

That can't be good.

 

KATJIA

And you know why he was on VH1? He was on "50 least metal moments"! And do you know where he was on the list? Guess! Guess!

 

TRENT

Ummm... Thirteen?

 

KATJIA

One! One! They showed him at a fundraiser for George Bush. God damn it! And there he was, standing up in the middle of oil executives, Halliburton employees, and televangelists, waving his hands, saying "Hey look at me! I don't give a shit about selling out! Sure! Go ahead and use me to get re-elected and kill another 50,000 innocent civilians, fine by me!" (turns away, fuming)

 

TRENT

Hey listen, I'm so sorry. Honestly, I didn't mean to...

 

KATJIA

No... It's okay. Really. I mean, at least you understand. My friends at Princeton? They just don't get it. I mean, the lead singer of Black Sabbath shows up at a Republican fundraiser and they just think it's funny. It's like I inhabit this world where no one understands me.

 

TRENT

(pause) Man, it's times like these I wish I had a time machine.

 

KATJIA

(confused, frustrated) What?

 

TRENT

You know, a time machine. So we could go back and show your Dad a video of the VH1 show, you know, to show him where he'd end up.

 

KATJIA

Hah! Yeah, that'd be great. (seriously considers the possibility)  Naah, it'd never work. He was too stoned back then to really understand anything. I think he was operating completely on instinct... actually, that's probably what made his music so great back then.

 

(they pause for a second)

 

CONDUCTOR

Station stop, New York, Penn Station. End of the line. Everyone must exit the train. Check around your seats carefully for your belongings and have a nice day.

 

(TRENT and KATJIA prepare to leave the train)

 

TRENT

Hey.

 

KATJIA

Yes?

 

TRENT

I've got a friend... and, well, he owns a small, experimental label.

 

KATJIA

And?

 

TRENT

He's been getting on my back to do something for him, and your piece? Well, it's exactly the kind of thing he's looking for, avant garde solo electric guitar - he'd love it. Could you write more?

 

KATJIA

I don't know. This stinks of commercialism.

 

TRENT

Trust me. This guy is so anti-establishment he makes his customers sign a "music manifesto" before they're allowed to buy from him.

 

KATJIA

Hah, that's great.

 

TRENT

Yeah. It'd be a great marketing gimmick, if only he weren't so serious about it.

 

(They stand to leave)

 

KATJIA

Well, as long as it's guaranteed to be a commercial failure...

 

TRENT

Oh, absolutely.

 

KATJIA

(Thinks it over) I'll do it if you'll be my guitarist.

 

TRENT

(smiles) I'd love to. I honestly think your piece is really great.

 

KATJIA

Thanks.

 

TRENT

(as they are walking off stage) Hey, need a place to spend the night?

 

KATJIA

I was planning on catching the next train to Princeton.

 

TRENT

But it's so late...

 

KATJIA

I know. (pause) Well, Okay. As long as you'll help me with the rest of my composition homework.

 

TRENT

Will you let me teach you how to play guitar?

 

KATJIA

Deal.

 

(Blackout)