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What many may not know is that after this tragic deal in Mississippi, Johnson ended up in a small town on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington state-at least that's how author Sherman Alexie tells it.
In his new book Reservation Blues, Alxie spins the fictional tale of Johnson's adventure at a new crossroads, this one in a small town called Wellpinit, Wash. It is here that he comes to seek out Big Mom, a local medicine woman, and, in so doing, leaves his famous guitar in the hands of misfit storyteller Thomas Builds-the-Fire.
Builds-the-Fire, brought back from Alexie's last book, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, takes up Johnson's magical guitar and, along with Victor Joseph, Junior Polatkin and two Flathead Indian sisters named Chess and Checkers, goes on to build a reservation blues band that takes the Northwest by storm...
As the band plays club after club, Alexie uses music as a crosscultural bridge, without compromising the cultural integrity of his characters. The band members seem to take on the gamut of problems faced by Indians on the reservation today, battling everything from alcoholism to violence, political corruption to sexual abuse.
Ghosts from the past, both personal and historical haunt the musicians, serving both to hold them back and urge them on. It would seem that the scars of abuse run deep." (The Commercial Appeal, June 11, 1995)
applesauce.” Junior stepped between Thomas and Victor. “I’ve got enough spoons for all of us, too.” “I don’t want any,” Thomas said and walked out the door. Chess followed him. Victor took the applesauce and spoons from Junior. Checkers stayed beneath the table, while Samuel sat up, looked around, then fell back to sleep. “Hey,” Chess said as she caught up to Thomas outside. “What the hell you think you’re doing? You think you’re some kind of tough guy, enit?” “He can’t do that to people no
supposed to heal.” “But, Big Ma,” White Hawk said, “I’m a warrior. I’m ’posed to fight.” “No, Michael, you’re a saxophone player, and you need to work on your reed technique.” Most times, the Indian men learned from Big Mom, but Michael White Hawk never admitted his errors. White Hawk had actually been something of a prodigy, an idiot savant, who could play the horn even though he couldn’t read or write. “I hate white men,” White Hawk said. “I smash my sax’-phone on their heads. “Michael,”
him, that broken Indian man? Chess asked the white woman. Why did you conceive him a son? Chess wanted to tell the white woman that her child was always going to be halfway. He’s always going to be half Indian, she’d say, and that will make him half crazy. Half of him will always want to tear the other half apart. It’s war. Chess wanted to tell her that her baby was always going to be half Indian, no matter what she did to make it white. All you can do is breed the Indian out of your family,
your head every damn day?” “Nothing I can say about that,” Thomas said. But Victor held on to that guitar too tenderly to ever break it again. He already gave it a name and heard it whisper. Thomas couldn’t hear the guitar at all anymore but saw it snuggle closer to Victor’s body. “Play that thing a little,” Thomas said. “Then tell me you don’t want to be in my band.” “No problem,” Victor said. “He don’t even play the guitar,” Junior said. “He does now,” Thomas said. Victor’s fingers moved
Indian songwriting partner. I want to acknowledge Christiane Bird’s The Jazz and Blues Lover’s Guide to the U.S., Carl P. Schlicke’s General George Wright: Guardian of the Pacific Coast, Benjamin Manning’s Conquest of the Coeur d’Alenes, Spokanes, & Palouses, Robert H. Ruby’s and John A. Brown’s The Spokane Indians: Children of the Sun, and Mari Sandoz’s Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas for valuable historical material. I want to especially acknowledge the influence of the Columbia