Resurrecting Janis

Listen, daddy. I’m only going to explain this one more time. Some people are Elvis impersonators. I was a Janis impersonator. I walked Janis, talked Janis, sang Janis. People came from all over the country to hear Janis wail in one club or another. Strange, why they do it. Nostalgia, curiosity, kicks. They tucked their dollar bills into the can and left with smiles on their faces. Yeah, I pleased ‘em good, man.

What they don’t know, and what I never confessed into the mike, is that when I stepped off that stage, I didn’t step back into my own skin. When all the men in black wigs and sequined capes were putting away their gear to drive to the office and live out their mundane lives, I walked the streets of San Francisco with feather boas pinned in my hair. Pink sunglasses the size of saucers concealed the fact that my eyes are not quite the right shade of blue.

All right, all right. I’m getting to the part about the body. Gimme a minute, Jezuz, and listen up this time. Last March, when I learned that somebody had raised the real Janis from the dead, I said, “Bullshit. They cremated her and dumped her into the ocean.”

Joey, my lead guitarist, slapped his iPhone down next to my cup of coffee. There was a picture of Janis, high and sweaty at the Monterey Pop Festival. “They lied, Sarah. Read it. Some dickhead kept her body for science. Can you believe that?”

“Whose ashes were poured into the Pacific, then?”

“Who knows? Her family’s pissed about it, too. They didn’t know. It’s all in the article.”

Sure as hell, it was. The headline read, “She’s Alive!”

Yeah, yeah, you cops know all about it, but this is how it went down, and it’s important, so listen. A crazy fan from Des Moines got it into her head that Janis hadn’t overdosed after all. She claimed some demented roadie murdered her, pumping her veins full of heroin after that trip to the Beanery. Some cop from the L.A.P.D. reopened the case. Janis died there in L.A., you know, so they won jurisdiction. Anyway, that’s when the truth came spilling out like a bottle of pills. Back in the ‘60s, see, the government conducted tests on the effects of psychedelic drugs. Well, some suit decided they could study the after-effects just as well by poking around in the brains and organs of people who died of overdose. So for four decades, Janis had been lying on ice in the basement of some bigwig university. We all wanted to know who else they’d hidden down there. Jim, Jimi, Elvis, Michael, and Kurt were at the top of everyone’s lists. The only body they firmly denied having was Kurt Cobain’s, because, technically, he hadn’t died of overdose.

Back to the Des Moines woman, right. Once the media got hold of the truth, this fan from Des Moines demanded an autopsy, and this is when things get weird, man. Her body was shipped across country to L.A., and forensic doctors from all over the world showed up to watch this experimental autopsy. Next thing the press knows, they’re being presented not with a report of their findings, but with Janis herself.

People were excited at first. I can tell you, man, so was I. Watching the evening news, I was entranced by the clips of surveillance recordings that showed my idol sitting behind a table while the cops questioned her. The sound clips weren’t played, but I could see Janis’s mouth moving as she asked for a cigarette. The cop gave her one and lit it for her.

Later, the story of what really happened started leaking out. Off record, the police chief is supposed to have said, “Autopsy? Screw that. Let’s just ask her. We’ll get this over with a hell of a lot sooner. The Lakers are playing.” I ought to know. My cousin works in that department. Apparently, the chief knows some voodoo guru who consults the dead to help the department solve crimes. The witchdoctor was photographed entering the hospital with a chicken in a cage on the very same day that Janis was reported alive.

People started protesting, claiming nobody had the right to violate the dead by raising them. Others shouted Satanic Possession! or Devil Worship! Riots broke out. Policemen broke skulls and flung tear gas.

All this while, Janis was bunkered deep inside a secret compound while the police sorted through her statements. When they came up with nothing, they had another problem on their hands: what were they supposed to do with a woman who’d been dead for more than forty years?

They released her. Into my care.

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Read the rest of the story in the October 2013 issue of Voluted Tales.

copyright 2013 Court Ellyn

None of the text of “Resurrecting Janis” may be reproduced or copied without the written permission of the author.