Friday, August 28, 2020

Jay and the Americans - A Memoir by R.J. Stowell - The Doors

We were on the Navajo Trail in Monument Valley. I was eleven years old. On the radio, scratchy and fading in and out was the Doors' "Riders on the Storm." We had to pull over to the side because we just couldn’t see; the rain was thick like Karo syrup. The sky would flash, vivid like Vegas, brighter than day, stark fluorescent white. The monuments known as the Mittens would reach up out of the ground, silhouettes against the blazing white, huge black-mittened hands. Thunder: from the song on the radio, from the distance, from behind us. It was the kind of song you had to sing: "Into this house we're born.  Into this world we're thrown." We pulled back onto the road as it let up, Morrison singing about the rain.  We turned south on Devil's Highway. 

We passed a tiny building with red fluorescent letters that said, "KDK" across the top, a red and white radio tower pierced the sky behind it. As we pulled into town, the DJ played "Ghost Riders in the Sky" by Vaughn Monroe. I think he was just messing around, mixing the weather and the Doors and Vaughn Monroe, but it was a song my father knew. He sang it in a deep monotone and he knew all the words.  He sang "Yipee-i-a, yippee-iii-o." We were in the heart of Injun territory and my father was singing, "Yipee-i-o." 

Just as suddenly as it had come, the thunderstorm passed and the sun came out over the grand red rocks in the distance. Back toward the valley it was still black as pitch and in for it. We stopped in a diner. We had breakfast for dinner, cowboy style, a juicy red steak and a fried egg, a big stack of buttered toast. I bought a postcard of the mittens and one of El Capitan, which the Navajo call, "Aghaałą́." Monument Valley was like a lot of things: there were beautiful parts surrounded by a whole lot of nothing. 

At the junction where the road veers off toward Canyon de Chelly was a Navajo outpost, a crude wood and corrugated metal shack. Near the highway Navajo blankets were on display. The colors were less than varied, always the same neutral shades of sand or dried brush, but always a deep color crimson bordered in black. In the shack was a loom and an Indian woman at work. There were hundreds of wool threads that covered the spectrum of muted color from dark to light hanging on hooks by the loom. The woman was gray haired, her face weathered, and she had on thick reading glasses. I took pictures. One blanket in particular was beautiful; a Navajo representation of water in gray and red and black with a dragonfly in the center. I wanted it so bad. It was $40. My father recognized how much I appreciated the blanket and said, "I will buy that for you, but nothing else. You can spend your own money on postcards." The radio was on in the background, kind of a surreal juxtaposition, and a voice said, "This is KDK and these are The Doors." A beautiful Navajo girl came out from the back room wearing jeans and a chambray blouse singing "Love Her Madly." She looked at me, raised her brow and sang, "Don't you love her ways," and I nearly passed out.


Jay and the Americans is available all over the world!



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