Texas Meets the Voodoo Child © Ian McEwen
The Voodoo Child tried to watch from what he had always assumed was above. The problem was the shrouded mist that lay between him and the mortal souls awaiting their time, and goddamn if he could never quite see clearly through it. In actuality his vantage point was from more of a “sideways” but that is neither here nor there. The thing that had nearly driven him mad was that he could no longer play.
Don’t get me wrong... he’d tried to play, but not all cylinders were firing, if you get my drift. His hands had adopted a weird translucent quality and they wouldn’t grasp the guitar just right. When he strummed, the strings became gelatinous fibers that would stretch like elastic bands. And the sound….oh lord, the sound was something hideous that reverberated mercilessly in his ears and took days to subside. Eventually he just gave up and concentrated on listening to the strained sounds of music from below. Fragments of a piece here, a stanza there and then maybe several bars of the chorus from something else. Some days were clearer and he would hear a song in its entirety but more times than not, sounds existed in ethereal odds and ends like a disjointed mish mash of noise. It was as though some maniac had his hand on the dial of the radio and would give it a good spin every twenty seconds or so, while playing with the volume knob with his other hand. One day, as clear as a bell, he heard Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” in its entirety which lifted his spirits for 45 minutes. Unfortunately, he heard nothing but static for weeks after and plunged into a deep depression.
The day everything changed, he almost missed it. He was trying to listen but kept losing his focus and nodding off. Nodding off may not be the right term because he was sure he never really slept but rather existed in a state of constant drowsiness. He wasn’t quite tired and he wasn’t quite alert and that was that. He had lost track of time. Like really lost track man. Not just of hours and minutes but days, months and whole years. The lights never went out here so it was pretty tough to maintain any sense of time.
He figured it might have been around 1982 or 1983 when his ear caught the unmistakable sound of that riff. He recognized it as his own instantly, one that he had written back in the day, but this was a different beast altogether. It was still low down and dirty but something about it was unique. If it was played just right, it was the kind of riff that made you clench your teeth and sent a shiver down your spine, and he knew whoever was attacking it now was doing it up right. He likened it to teetering on the edge of a cliff just as that falling feeling catches you in the guts. It was part bliss and part suffering and it sometimes left carnage in its wake. If you did it right you were borderline out of control, but you never let the train leap off the tracks.
What he heard now was giving him the chill in a new way, like biting through an electrical cord the same time the junk hits your veins. The chill was an old term of his. It was a feeling he had often had when he knew he had just played something he had no business playing. Something that was physically impossible for all but maybe one or two others, and could have been written by no one but himself. Curious, he looked through the layers of mist like a drunk peering through the bottom of his empty beer glass. Everything was still swimming and blurry. The sound was strong now but the visibility was as poor as shit. Then for a brief moment the stars must have aligned because he had a clear sightline into a dirty studio.
“Well I’ll be God damned” he thought, if that wasn’t a white boy tearing his song a new one. He knew that hundreds, no thousands, of people had tried to capture the groove but no one had really succeeded like this kid was doing now. There was a vibe coming off him separating him from the countless other imitators. That was a plus about being here. If you could lock into someone for a moment, you could reach into their soul for a moment or two. For almost a minute, he was treated to the full sonic assault with such clarity it was like they were in the same room together. Then without warning, a cold blackness reached out across the divide and placed an icy hand over his heart. The kid started oozing death vibes from deep within like a dark oil slick. The Voodoo Child closed his eyes hard, more as an afterthought because the writing was already on the wall and it wasn’t pretty. Somewhere down the line, this kid was in deep shit.
The sound suddenly went beyond full volume and he had to cover his ears as the music deteriorated into screeching. His vision faded and he was left with nothing but a ringing in his ears and a heart so heavy he couldn’t bear to move. He sat, for a good long while and tried to release some of the anguish he had just absorbed. He thought his ears to be bleeding but of course that was impossible. He hadn’t been sick a day since he arrived and he hadn’t gotten any older, so he was pretty sure he was immune to physical harm, even bleeding from the ears.
The discovery of this kindred spirit haunted him for weeks afterwards. His curiosity was piqued and he remained vigilant in his search to hear more, but the kid remained elusive. Hell, he was hardly a kid, but when you’ve been in stasis for so many years, even the thirty-something’s start to look like young’uns. Over the years he would occasionally catch snippets of a song darting through the air like a hummingbird, pausing only long enough for him to identify them as coming from his phantom player. He had a sound. That put him into a rare class wherein he could be identified by playing three notes or less. Pretty elite company when you think about it. The Voodoo Child had taken to calling him Texas after their first encounter because he knew instinctively, as sure as he knew anything, that that was the kid’s homeland.
Texas had been marked by the black hand of death way back on that day. The grip tightened and came back one day to finish the job in the year of 1990. The Voodoo Child wasn’t sure of the specifics but that seemed to be the right year. From his vantage point, the details were sketchy. There was a thick fog on the ground that night which made the possibility of seeing real slim. He knew there had been a terrible accident, likely involving a helicopter. He knew without a trace of doubt that there were no survivors just as he knew he would be running into his old friend this night. Death had revealed itself as an ugly, violent sort that stole the life from a vibrant soul who had defeated his other demons only to meet his end in a helicopter crash.
The Voodoo Child wasn’t sure when he would appear. He had seen others come and go but he had paid them no mind, and mostly kept to himself. Usually they just sort of materialized with a confused look on their faces and began asking him questions as though he were the maitre d’. He rarely spoke to anyone and they eventually just wandered off, not to be seen again. As he suspected, things would be different this time, and they were indeed. He spotted Texas walking towards him, pale and faded, almost as if he were trying to appear but couldn’t quite get it together. The closer he got, the more solid looking he became and let me tell you folks, he was walking with purpose. He looked like a gunslinger without the guns. Boots, hat, poncho and guitar slung across his back. Within moments he stood face to face with the Voodoo Chile, his mouth slightly open, panting for breath.
The Voodoo Child looked into the eyes of the man who had channeled his very soul.
“I thought maybe you were coming brother.” He said, and it dawned on him just then.
“I guess I been waiting for you.”
Texas stared back into those eyes and paused for a good long while before he spoke. He had after all, a lot on his mind.
“It’s really you, isn’t it?” he said, tilting his head down slightly, perhaps in awe.
“In the flesh...sort of,” said the Voodoo Child, his first smile in years on his face.
“What happened? Am I dreaming?”
The voodoo Child shook his head.
“Don’t really know…the rules are kind of strange here.”
The newcomer seemed satisfied with the reply.
“You want to play some?” Texas asked.
“Can’t. Lost my grip,” the Voodoo Child confessed.
“You give it a go though.”
Texas swung the guitar from his back to the front and then looked around as though something was missing.
“Oh yeah,” Voodoo Child said. “You don’t need an amp. Just play.”
Texas pulled a pick from his pocket and held it above the strings of the beat up Fender he’d carried around for so many years. It looked like hell but he could coax sounds from it enough to make you weep. There were those who claimed that listening to him play was enough worship for the week and you could skip going to church on Sunday. Same sentiment, just a different establishment. His hand came down in an easy strum and instantly everything went sideways. What leapt from the strings was not the expected beauty but the scream of a thousand tortured souls. He put his hands to the side of his head and pressed as hard as he could. The Voodoo Child did the same and for several minutes they held on until the din became bearable.
“Does that happen every time?” Texas asked, ears still ringing, a furrow on his brow.
“Yeah…you want to try on this one?” the Voodoo Child indicated with a nod to his guitar.
“Honored to…but only if you try mine as well,” Texas said.
The Voodoo Child figured he had nothing to lose. Things couldn’t get any worse.
They swapped instruments, not caring that the guitars were now wrong handed for both of them. Texas marveled at the piece of equipment hanging from his shoulders, fondling its curves and relishing the weight around his neck. He’d seen photos of it since he was a kid and now it was in his hands. A bead of sweat rolled down his cheek from the sheer exertion of his last experimental attempt. There was no need to discuss a set list, as there was only one song would make the cut at the moment.
With his pick poised above the strings Texas paused in fear as though he were about to strike a power line with a metal rod. With some trepidation, he muted the strings with one hand and chunked off the rhythm for several bars. His foot pumped an imaginary wah-wah pedal as the chick-chicka-chick of the count became rounded and started to distort and take shape. On the third pass, the Voodoo Child joined in and laid down the riff that he had dreamed up so many years before and this time there were no screaming demons attached to the notes. The sound was exactly as it was supposed to be and surprisingly, after twenty some odd years, his fingers had built up no rust. As he played, a joy entered him and filled his heart so full he thought it would burst and ruin this perfect moment. He looked over at Texas, eyes closed, an expression of concentration across his face as they entered the chorus of the song. Momentum built and they traded solos for a long while, losing track of time that didn’t really matter anyway. It was a lethal combination that intensified with each trade off. How long they played, no one will ever know but this concert was not for public consumption anyway. No witnesses except each other, they put the song to death and resurrected it again.
Finally, after exhaustion set in, it came to an end. They stood in silence, facing each other. Master and student. Or perhaps now master and master.
“I’m feeling a hell of a lot better,” the Voodoo Child said, stretching out his long brown fingers. Everything seemed right now as he eyed up the white man across from him. Whatever needed to be said had been said.
“You keep that guitar then.” Texas said.
“Thanks. Same goes for you. Maybe I’ll see you.”
“I’ll see you when I’m lookin’ at you,” Texas said, as he watched the lone black man walk into the mist, a worn down Fender across his back with the initials S.R.V. stamped in the pick guard.
“And if I don’t meet you no more in this world
Then I’ll, I’ll meet you in the next one and don’t be late, don’t be late.”
Then I’ll, I’ll meet you in the next one and don’t be late, don’t be late.”