Canadian writer Dave Margoshes’ new collection of stories, Bix’s Trumpet, recently won the Saskatchewan Book Award. I’ve only read the title story, but it’s hard-boiled to a fault:
The way the story went, Bix pawned it, the real Bix, I mean, the great Beiderbecke, out of work for a week, broke, trading shining brass bulbs and valves for five bucks for booze, meaning to redeem it, of course, but a gig came up out of town, short notice, and the pawnshop was closed, someone lent him a horn, and when he came back to the city, weeks later, the trumpet was gone. Bix’s father—my Bix’s father, who, years later, sober for the first time in ages, would fall from the roof of their Highland Park house, breaking his back and leaving a stain on Bix somehow, almost as if it had been his bones breaking under the weight of his father’s fatal fall—Bix’s father, the story went, won it in a crap game, took it in lieu of a fifty dollar marker, not that he could play it but, shit, man, Beiderbecke’s trumpet, the great man’s own horn, that was something. That was the story.
This kind of stylistic overdrive happens a lot in fiction about Bix. Take Frederick Turner’s 1929, whose prose rat-a-tats like a tommy gun:
(Herman) remembers one morning in particular after a long night, when he found himself under the hood of the Big Shot’s Caddie, a maroon seven-ton tank with steel chassis and bulletproof windows, his eyes like cinders in his head, his whole body numb with fatigue: installing a new carburetor and set of plugs and adjusting the idle while Machine Gun Jack McGurn breathed down his neck, telling him every few minutes how the Boss needed his rig at a quarter-to-noon sharp, and with every clipped reminder his fingers got slower and thicker while his eyes sizzled and blurred, and he was just pulling back from under the long gleam of the hood and wiping those fingers on a rag while the Caddie purred like a pussy when here came a clatter of footsteps down the rampway beneath the Metropole, and it was the Big Shot himself—Capone—swaggering surrounded by bodyguards . . .
Mannered, yes. But also fun. This exchange from Bix’s Trumpet is something else altogether:
“There ain’t no fucking faking, man. I mean, no faking, period. This is it, man, in every sense of the word.”
“Yeah, but can a cat like you, a cat with a flugelhorn for a heart, fall in love?” I reproached him.
“I’m hip, babe. I don’t know, just don’t know. The road to purity is a twisted one.”
[January 18, 2008]