Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down

BOOK: Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down
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Praise for
Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down

“Literary surrealism has invaded Marlboro Country…. Reed skins all our sacred cows. He scalps every hero who wanders by. He turns the American West into a ribald hell where iron-jawed hogs eat people, the devil swings like a hopped-up defrocked padre, and the great emissaries of Christian doctrine behave like a purple-robed Mafia. Ishmael Reed has mastered the vocabulary of blasphemy.”

—Life Magazine

“A wild and wicked burlesque and free-wheeling fantasy…. The American scene, past and present, with all its inconsistencies and white vanity, takes it on the chin and so does Christianity, for the Loop Garoo Kid, it turns out, is not only a black superman, but the devil incarnate—and he's a-winnin' out.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Ishmael Reed is a most talented humorist and possessor of a powerfully antic and lyric imagination….
Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down
should be read as hard evidence of Reed's uncommon talent.”

—New Yorker


Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down
is a full blown ‘horse opera,' a surrealistic spoof of the Western with Indian chiefs aboard helicopters, stagecoaches and closed circuit TVs, cavalry charges of taxis.”

—New York Review of Books

BY ISHMAEL REED

ESSAYS

Writin' Is Fightin'

God Made Alaska for the Indians

Shrovetide in Old New Orleans

Airing Dirty Laundry

NOVELS

Japanese by Spring

The Terrible Threes

Reckless Eyeballing

The Terrible Twos

Flight to Canada

The Last Days of Louisiana Red

Mumbo Jumbo

Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down

The Free-Lance Pallbearers

POETRY

New and Collected Poems

A Secretary to the Spirits

Chattanooga

Conjure

Catechism of D Neoamerican Hoodoo Church

PLAYS

Mother Hubbard,
formerly
Hell Hath No Fury

The Ace Boons

Savage Wilds

Hubba City

ANTHOLOGIES

The Before Columbus Foundation Fiction Anthology

The Before Columbus Foundation Poetry Anthology

Calafia

19 Necromancers from Now

Multi-America: Essays on Cultural War and Cultural Peace

Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down
ISHMAEL REED

Copyright © 1969 by Ishmael Reed

All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Reed, Ishmael, 1938-

Yellow back radio broke-down / Ishmael Reed. — 1st Dalkey Archive ed.

p. cm.

ISBN: 978-1-56478-238-0

1. Afro-American cowboys—Fiction. 2. West (U.S.)—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3568.E365  Y4  2000

813'.54—dc21                                  00-020976

This publication is partially supported by grants from the Lannan Foundation and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

Dalkey Archive Press

www.dalkeyarchive.com

To Carla, Pope Joan and Dancer
my 3 Wangols

YELLOW BACK RADIO BROKE-DOWN
I. The Loop Garoo Kid Goes Away Mad

 

I was content. I was surrounded by no greedy grafters, no slimy creatures. Just dogs, horses, sheep, goats, bulls, burros and Men.

William S. Hart

 

America…is just like a turkey. It's got white meat and it's got dark meat. They is different, but they is both important to the turkey. I figure the turkey has more white meat than dark meat, but that don't make any difference. Both have nerves running through 'em. I guess Hoo-Doo is a sort of nerve that runs mostly in the dark meat, but sometimes gets into the white meat, too.

Anywhere they go my people know the signs.

Henry Allen

 

Oh, the hoodoos have chased me and still I am not broke,

I'm going to the mountains and think I am doing well;

I am going to the mountains some cattle for to sell,

And I hope to see the hoodoos dead and damn them all in hell.

from “The Rustler,” an American cowboy song

 

Folks. This here is the story of the Loop Garoo Kid. A cowboy so bad he made a working posse of spells phone in sick. A bullwhacker so unfeeling he left the print of winged mice on hides of crawling women. A desperado so onery he made the Pope cry and the most powerful of cattlemen shed his head to the Executioner's swine.

 

A terrible cuss of a thousand shivs he was who wasted whole herds, made the fruit black and wormy, dried up the water holes and caused people's eyes to grow from tiny black dots into slapjacks wherever his feet fell.

 

Now, he wasn't always bad, trump over hearts diamonds and clubs. Once a wild joker he cut the fool before bemused Egyptians, dressed like Mortimer Snerd and spilled french fries on his lap at Las Vegas' top of the strip.

 

Booted out of his father's house after a quarrel, whores snapped at his heels and trick dogs did the fandango on his belly. Men called him brother only to cop his coin and tell malicious stories about his cleft foot.

 

Born with a caul over his face and ghost lobes on his ears, he was a mean night tripper who moved from town to town quoting Thomas Jefferson and allowing bandits to build a flophouse around his genius.

 

A funny blue hippo who painted himself with water flowers only to be drummed out of each tribe dressed down publicly, his medals ripped off.

 

Finally he joined a small circus and happily performed with his fellow 86-D—a Juggler a dancing Bear a fast talking Barker and Zozo Labrique, charter member of the American Hoo-Doo Church.

 

Their fame spread throughout the frontier and bouquets of flowers greeted them in every town until they moved into that city which seemed a section of Hell chipped off and shipped upstairs, Yellow Back Radio, where even the sun was afraid to show its bottom.

 

Some of the wheels of the caravan were stuck in thick red mud formed by a heavy afternoon downpour. The oxen had to be repeatedly whipped. They had become irritable from the rain which splashed against their faces. In the valley below black dust rose in foreboding clouds from herds of wild horses that roamed there. Loop Garoo was driving the horse hitched to Zozo Labrique's covered wagon.

 

Those were some dangerous stunts you did in the last town, boy, bucking those killer broncos like that. A few more turns with that bull and you would have been really used up. Why you try so hard?

 

She sent me a letter in the last town, Zozo. She wants me to come to her. The old man spends his time grooming his fur and posing for non-academic painters. He's more wrapped up in himself than ever before and the other one, he's really gone dipso this time. Invites winos up there who pass the bottle and make advances on her. Call her sweet stuff and honey bun—she's really in hard times. She's a constant guest in my dreams Zozo, her face appears the way she looked the night she went uptown on me.

 

Serves her right Loop, the way she treated you. And that trash she collected around her. They were all butch. As soon as she left, zoom they were gone. And that angel in drag like a john, he gave her the news and showed her her notices—right off it went to her head. When she humiliated you—that emboldened the others to do likewise. Mustache Sal deserted you and Mighty Dike teamed up with that jive fur trapper who's always handing you subpoenas. You know how they are, Loop, you're the original pimp, the royal stud—soon as a bottom trick finds your weakness your whole stable will up and split.

 

I let her open my nose Zozo. I should have known that if she wasn't loyal to him with as big a reputation as he had—I couldn't expect her to revere me. What a line that guy had. A mitt man from his soul. And her kissing his feet just because those three drunken reporters were there to record it. Ever read their copy on that event Zozo? It's as if they were all witnessing something entirely different. The very next night she was in my bunk gnashing her teeth and uttering obscenities as I climbed into her skull.

 

She got to your breathing all right Loop. Even the love potions you asked me to mix didn't work, the follow-me-powder. Her connaissance was as strong as mine.

 

Zozo Labrique lit a corncob pipe. She wore a full skirt and a bandana on her head. Her face was black wrinkled and hard. The sun suddenly appeared, causing the gold hoops on her ears to sparkle.

 

Jake the Barker rode up alongside the wagon.

 

Well Loop, Zozo, won't be long now. Maybe thirty minutes before we pull into Yellow Back Radio. We're booked by some guy named Happy Times, who we're to meet at the Hotel.

 

Jake rode down the mountain's path to advise the rest of the troupe.

 

This was a pretty good season Loop, what are you going to do with your roll?

 

O I don't know Zozo, maybe I'll hire some bounty hunters to put a claim on my lost territory.

 

O Loop quit your joking.

 

What are you going to do Zozo?

 

Think the old bag will head back to New Orleans, mecca of Black America. First Doc John kicked out then me—she got her cronies in City Hall to close down my operation. We had to go underground. Things started to disappear from my humfo—even Henry my snake and mummies appeared in the curtains. She warned my clients that if they visited me she'd cross them. Everybody got shook and stayed away. Finally she layed a trick on me so strong that it almost wasted old Zozo, Loop. That Marie is a mess. Seems now though my old arch enemy is about to die. Rumor has it that the daughter is going to take over but I know nothing will come of that fast gal. Nobody but Marie has the type of connaissance to make men get down on their knees and howl like dogs and women to throw back their heads and cackle. Well…maybe your old lady, Loop, what's the hussy's name?

 

Diane, Black Diane, Zozo, you know her name.

 

Sometimes it's hard to tell, Loop, the bitch has so many aliases.

 

Before their wagon rounded the mountain curve they heard a gasp go up on the other side. A dead man was hanging upside down from a tree. He had been shot.

 

He wore a frilled ruffled collar knee britches a fancy shirt and turned up shoes. A cone shaped hat with a carnation on its rim had fallen to the ground.

 

The two climbed down from the wagon and walked to where Jake the Barker and the Juggler were staring at the hanging man. The dancing Bear watched from his cage, his paws gripping the bars, his head swinging from side to side with curiosity. Handbills which had dropped from the man's pockets littered the ground about the scene.

 

Plug In Your Head
Look Here Citizens!!
Coming to Yellow Back Radio
Jake the Barker's lecture room
New Orleans Hoodooine Zozo Labrique
Amazing Loop Garoo lariat tricks
Dancing Bear and Juggler too
Free Beer

 

Above the man's head on the hoodoo rock fat nasty buzzards were arriving. Jake removed his hat and was surrounded by members of the bewildered troupe.

 

Nearest town Video Junction is about fifty miles away. There's not enough grub in the chuck wagon to supply us for a journey of that length. Besides the horses and oxen have to be bedded down. I wouldn't want any of you to take risks. If this means danger up ahead maybe we should disband here, split the take and put everybody on his own.

 

We've come this far Jake, may as well go on into Yellow Back Radio, the Juggler said.

 

Count me in too, Loop said, we've braved alkali, coyotes, wolves, rattlesnakes, catamounts, hunters. Nothing I'm sure could be as fierce down in that town—why it even looks peaceful from here.

 

I'll go along with the rest, Zozo said. But I have a funny feeling that everything isn't all right down there.

 

After burying the advance man on a slope they rode farther down the mountain until finally, from a vantage point, they could see the rest of Yellow Back Radio.

 

The wooden buildings stood in the shadows. The Jail House, the Hat and Boot store the Hardware store the Hotel and Big Lizzy's Rabid Black Cougar Saloon.

 

Sinister hogs with iron jaws were fenced in behind the scaffold standing in the square. They were the swine of the notorious Hangman, who was such a connoisseur of his trade he kept up with all the latest techniques of murder.

 

A new device stood on the platform. Imported from France, it was said to be as rational as their recent revolution. The hogs ate the remains of those unfortunate enough to climb the platform. Human heads were particularly delectable to these strange beasts.

 

The troupe drove through the deserted main street of the town. Suddenly they were surrounded by children dressed in the attire of the Plains Indians. It appeared as if cows had been shucked and their skins passed to the children's nakedness for their shoes and clothes were made of the animals' hides.

 

Reach for the sky, whiskey drinkers, a little spokesman warned. One hundred flintlocks were aimed at them.

 

Hey it's a circus, one of the children cried, and some dropped their rifles and began to dance.

 

A circus? one of the boys who made the warning asked.

 

How do we know this isn't a trap sprung by the cheating old of Yellow Back Radio?

 

Jake the Barker, holding up his hands, looked around to the other members of the troupe. Amused, Loop, Zozo and the Juggler complied with the little gunmen's request.

 

What's going on here? Jake asked. We're the circus that travels around this territory each season. We're supposed to end the tour in your town. We're invited by Mister Happy Times. We're to meet him at the Hotel. Where are the adults? The Marshal, the Doctor, the Preacher, or someone in charge?

 

Some of the children snickered, but became silent when their spokesman called them into a huddle. After some haggling, he stepped towards the lead wagon upon which Jake the Barker rode.

 

We chased them out of town. We were tired of them ordering us around. They worked us day and night in the mines, made us herd animals harvest the crops and for three hours a day we went to school to hear teachers praise the old. Made us learn facts by rote. Lies really bent upon making us behave. We decided to create our own fiction.

 

One day we found these pearl-shaped pills in a cave of a mountain. They're what people ages ago called devil's pills. We put them in the streams so that when the grownups went to fill their buckets they swallowed some. It confused them more than they were so we moved on them and chased them out of town. Good riddance. They listened to this old Woman on the talk show who filled their heads with rot. She was against joy and life the decrepit bag of sticks, and she put them into the same mood. They always demanded we march and fight heathens.

 

Where are the old people now? Jake asked.

 

They're camped out at Drag Gibson's spread. We think they're preparing to launch some kind of invasion but we're ready for them. Drag just sent his herd up the Chisholm to market yesterday but there are enough cowpokes left behind to give us a good fight. Our Indian informant out at Drag's spread tells us the townspeople haven't given in to Drag's conditions yet. He wants them to sign over all of their property in exchange for lending his men to drive us out.

 

Then he will not only rule his spread which is as large as Venezuela but the whole town as well. He's the richest man in the valley, with prosperous herds, abundant resources and an ego as wide as the Grand Canyon.

 

This nonsense would never happen in the Seven Cities of Cibola, Jake the Barker said.

 

The Seven Cities of Cibola? the children asked, moving in closer to Jake's wagon.

 

Inanimate things, computers do the work, feed the fowl, and programmed cows give cartons of milkshakes in 26 flavors.

 

Yippppeeeeee, the children yelled. Where is it?

 

It's as far as you can see from where you're standing now. I'm going to search for it as soon as the show is over here but since there is no sponsor to greet us we may as well disband now, Jake said, looking about at the other members of the troupe.

 

Why don't you entertain us? the children asked.

 

It's a plot. We decided that we wouldn't trust anybody greying about the temples anymore!

 

O don't be paranoid, silly, another child replied to the tiny skeptic. Always trying to be the leader just like those old people we ran into the hills. These aren't ordinary old people they're children like us—look at their costumes and their faces.

 

Let's have the circus, a cry went up.

 

Well I don't know—you see we have no leaders holy men or gurus either so I'd have to ask the rest of the troupe.

 

Loop, Zozo and the Juggler said yes by nodding their heads. The Bear jumped up and down in his chains.

 

Delighted, the children escorted the small circus group to the outskirts of Yellow Back Radio where they pitched the tents, bedded down the weary horses and oxen and made preparations for the show.

 

Three horsemen—the Banker, the Marshal and the Doctor—decided to pay a little visit to Drag Gibson's ranch. They had to wait because Drag was at his usual hobby, embracing his property.

 

A green mustang had been led out of its stall. It served as a symbol for his streams of fish, his herds, his fruit so large they weighed down the mountains, black gold and diamonds which lay in untapped fields, and his barnyard overflowing with robust and erotic fowl.

 

Holding their Stetsons in their hands the delegation looked on as Drag prepared to kiss his holdings. The ranch hands dragged the animal from his compartment towards the front of the Big Black House where Drag bent over and french kissed the animal between his teeth, licking the slaver from around the horse's gums.

BOOK: Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down
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