‘Because My Father Always Said He Was The Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play The Star-Spangled Banner At Woodstock’ by Sherman Alexie

Alexie, Sherman 1993g

Because My Father Always Said He Was The Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ At Woodstock by Sherman Alexie, 1993

The magic trick:

Layering memories about memory on top of one another

This story paints a portrait of Victor’s father, from Victor’s first-person point of view – his memories, his feelings. It’s not that simple, though. Alexie weaves in so many layers of other kinds of memories that the story begins to become more of a contemplation on the very notion of memory as a concept.

Many of Victor’s memories of his father are of memories shared by his father – including the incident referred to in the story’s title. Victor’s father has a habit of rewriting the past to his own liking. Not in a scary, pathological way, either. He just remembers things in, as he says, “how they should be.” It’s actually a kind of admirable, beautiful outlook. It also throws the entire story into factual chaos. If all Victor can report is the rose-colored memories of his father, then this isn’t really going to be much as a work of steel-plated journalism. Which, of course, is just fine. That’s the point. It becomes a biography that defines truth in its own way. And that’s quite a trick on Alexie’s part.

The selection:

“You know,” I said, “sometimes you sound like you ain’t even real.”

“What’s real? I ain’t interested in what’s real. I’m interested in how things should be.”

My father’s mind always worked that way. If you don’t like the things you remember, then all you have to do is change the memories. Instead of remembering the bad things, remember what happened immediately before. That’s what I learned from my father.

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