Hollywood Dreams

The saga of Billy Yeager, a wannabe rock star who turned rejection and hoaxes into an art form. Now his story has become a feature-length movie. We think.

"I was always told that you had to have a look, a gimmick," says Yeager, searching for the possible origins of such dramatic gestures. His fixation with image is self-evident in a scene from his movie, where an endless scroll of old eight-by-tens reveal a textbook example of how not to be a rock star by desperately trying to look like one. Windswept and hirsute, Yeager's well-shaped pecs overwhelm many a shot. But now, lounging on the porch of his weathered efficiency just off the beachside boardwalk in Hollywood, his muscles are merely the tanned tone of a surfer's build. Here his "look" is perfectly natural. The blond coif in the glossy photos may have turned to graying straw, but image hardly matters any more to Billy Yeager. Having tried to look like someone else for so long, he's willing to look like himself these days. Making a movie about your life may give one that kind of perspective.

It was music that infected Yeager early on -- he began playing guitar at age six -- but the look wasn't far behind. His were the usual garage-band dreams of the Sixties, to become a rock and roll superstar. When his hair wasn't long enough, he donned a wig. When he needed a fuzz box for his guitar, he actually made one out of a toaster.

Living the wild youth of that time, which included some minor crimes and running away from home, he soon settled down enough to pursue the life of a working musician. In the hothouse club scene along A1A in the late Seventies, that often meant scratching funk chords in a disco band. It also meant garish, sequined stage outfits and platform shoes. Yeager even played in a touring version of Wild Cherry, of "Play That Funky Music, White Boy" fame.

One influence on the budding performer's stage persona was local legend Wayne Cochran, the blue-eyed soulman known for his club-trashing showmanship. Soon Yeager was a bar-walking guitar-smasher in his own right, willing to grab the spotlight by any means possible. "I had to attract attention," explains Yeager simply.

The Eighties ushered in the MTV era and it was the perfect time for a revamped pursuit of dreams of stardom. Yeager chased his with a vengeance, accumulating experience and lots of videotape of himself. By 1984 he had two self-released albums of original songs to his credit. Hopes for a major-label contract were met with a mound of rejection letters. In his movie Yeager lays these out evenly spaced on the ground: They take up his whole yard.

In 1990 well-known recording artist Bruce Hornsby liked one of Yeager's tapes enough to help him land a chance to record a demo for Capitol Records, but the label passed on the results. While it would seem to those watching his movie that Yeager should have become inured to rejection over the years and maybe even to expect it, the scene of him receiving this particular letter makes his disappointment palpable.

Yeager's life story at this point is no different than that of any other struggling artist who has suffered rejection. All can recite identical tales, and not one could sustain full-length "documentary" treatment. But Yeager is no common artist, and his quest for fame no common struggle. He had latched on to the dream of stardom as blindly and instinctually as a pit bull to a postman's leg. In his movie, quotations from Scripture in voice-over frame this personal journey of trying to "make it" in biblical proportions akin to Job or Moses in the desert. This quixotic self-conceived struggle is what led to the creation of Jimmy Story.

To any reasoned observer, Yeager's physical portrayal of Hendrix's imagined progeny seems too patently absurd ever to have been taken seriously. In the film no expensive stage makeup was used to hide Yeager's chiseled, almost Aryan, features, just a bathtub full of dye and occasional blasts of spray paint. The crudely applied makeup seems a different color in every shot of the film, none approaching authentic skin tone. Yeager's forays into public as Jimmy Story -- draped in cliched rock-star clothing and topped off with long, fake hair -- did nothing but drop jaws and give old ladies pause. He didn't even look human, let alone black.

For his XS magazine photo shoot, Yeager compounded the irony by wearing a specially created outfit festooned with the publication's logo, shoving a banana down his pants for crotch-bulging effect. He went even further with his Channel 7 appearance, painting his face white like a mime's as Jimmy's way of protesting the media's fixation with image. It is truly amazing that, of all the things Yeager asks the movie viewer to believe actually happened, the thing that really did happen is the most unbelievable.

But it was not blackface or a cheap wig that garnered a cover story in XS magazine and the lead on Channel 7. It was Yeager's amazing wealth of "evidence" proving Jimmy Story's origins.

Watching the movie we follow Yeager's year-long effort to meticulously fabricate a slew of artifacts confirming his elaborate back-story of the forgotten son. The premise was simple enough: A drug-addled groupie named Sunshine Story meets Hendrix at a Florida nightclub, gets herself impregnated by him, and bears the child while choosing to withhold this knowledge of parentage from her son. One night young Jimmy Story is visited by Hendrix in a dream, and eventual queries to his mother reveal the truth. She gives Story a locked box, and in it is Jimmy's birth certificate, signed by none other than Jimi Hendrix.

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