Sixteen Coaches Long.
Junior Parker took off his Elvis Presley mask to gasps, taking the Ed Sullivan audience who had been previously fixated on the hips and hips alone by surprise. Gamblers in Las Vegas saw their slot machine winnings suddenly be replaced by exegetical rain — tiny little theses spilling out into someone’s lap, each the size of a thumb.
The air hung in the studio. I looked around. The director shouted in my ear, “Focus!” I re-adjusted the camera but continued to let my head roam. Was there another penny yet to drop? A second mask? But the song was the same. (Wasn’t it?) I would later howl like a wolf alongside a running train in the name of combatting the granularity of nullity that sat on the edge of the invisible church of this region like a stern, disappointed owl with this song playing beneath, thinking that the question had somehow answered itself.
The song continued. The unmasking had flattened itself into a record, one that never stopped. If you grab a lantern and pick an old guide at random from anywhere across this country, they will lead you into the depths of the earth, where they will direct you to individual records that ceaselessly play, a variation on the Voyager Golden Record sent in the opposite direction.
People would try and cover the song, but it was never quite the same. People tried to pin down where Junior Parker stopped and Elvis Presley began — they couldn’t even get Ishmael Reed on the phone to explain it (“Why would I?” He’d later grumble to someone venturing to ask at a diner in Temescal) — but neither could be found after that incident. It was even recorded as Traditional Elevator Music once, which prompted the question, “WHAAAAAAAAT?” to make itself physically manifest and push itself out the windows of houses in Long Beach and Compton, landing on the ground with a ‘walk the plank’ thunk as more A’s were added to the exclamation and the earth started to bubble like a kettle about to make some tea.