Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play 'The Star-Spangled Banner' at Woodstock by Sherman Alexie

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(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star- Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock’’ begins with the narrator, Victor, remembering his father. Victor’s father quickly becomes the focal point of the story, as Victor explains how his father went to prison after beating up a National Guard private at a peace demonstration. The event was heavily documented, since Victor’s father was a Native American. Victor recalls how, even though somebody new was killed every day in prison, his father was able to escape any serious confrontations. After he was released, Victor’s father hitchhiked to Woodstock, where he saw Jimi Hendrix play ‘‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’’

Victor notes that, twenty years later, his father had played his Jimi Hendrix tape with the live song on it over and over again. He also notes the ritual that he and his father had followed when playing the tape. When Victor would hear his father come in late at night from drinking, Victor would start the tape. His father would listen for a little while, then pass out at the kitchen table, while Victor would fall asleep under the table by his father’s feet. Victor notes that his father felt guilty about this ritual and so in the mornings would try to make it up to Victor by telling him stories. Sometimes these stories cen tered on Victor’s mother, whom his father remembers as very beautiful. In fact, Victor notes that as the years went by and his parents’ relationship deteriorated, Victor’s father remembered his wife as increasingly more beautiful.

Victor notes how his parents had a violent relationship, which was often based on nights of heavy drinking and making love. Victor talks more about his relationship with his father, citing one memory in particular, a drive home from a basketball game in blizzard-like conditions. Jimi Hendrix’s version of ‘‘The Star-Spangled Banner’’ comes on the radio, inspiring Victor to talk to his father— something they did not often do. After the song is over, Victor tells his father that he is sad that his generation has not had a real war to fight. His father tells him that he is lucky and that there is only war and peace in life, with nothing in between.

On another occasion, Victor’s father tells him about the first time that he danced with Victor’s mother, a conversation that leads his father into talking about how kids in Victor’s generation know nothing about romance or music. Victor remembers how he used to stay awake at night listening to his parents making love, a concept that is alien to his white friends. Victor thinks that this positive experience makes up for the negative experience of watching his parents fight all the time. Victor notes that sometimes he would listen to his parents making love while dreaming about his father at Woodstock and says that he has seen footage of the music festival. However, Victor also admits that he still does not know what it was like for his father.

Victor recalls how his father drove them to Seattle a few years back to visit Jimi Hendrix’s grave. While his father idolizes Hendrix, his mother is derogatory towards Hendrix’s drug-related death. This disagreement turns into a fight, and Victor notes that, in...

(The entire section is 860 words.)