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.

But such bogus documents were the least of it. Sitting in his apartment, next to a gurgling fish tank full of piranhas, Yeager now recalls the hard work of constructing a myth and the serendipitous moments that seemed to bless his efforts.

"Stuff just dropped out of the sky," he relates. During a chance meeting, a friend he hadn't seen in 25 years gave Yeager a photo taken of Hendrix at Pirates World, the now long-gone concert venue and amusement park in Hollywood that is a touchstone of rock and roll memories for many South Florida baby boomers. An unpublished picture that no Hendrix-phile would be able to identify, it was manipulated via computer to have the rock star wearing a shirt included in Jimmy Story's inheritance.

Integral to the thrust of the hoax were the "Bolero Tapes," the supposed last recordings of the great guitar innovator. These were completed by Jimmy Story the musician and became the character's own motivation for surfacing. Yeager's guitar work and impersonation of Hendrix's voice on these tapes are not entirely convincing, but, by uncorking the genie of a dead rock-star legend with all its weighty iconographic baggage, even a DNA test could not have swayed the minds of those willing to believe.

Upon this scenario Yeager piled even more obscure ephemera, invoking murderous conspiracies, song lyrics, and numerological formulae that had Hendrix predicting the date of his own death. Unfolding in Jimmy's Story, it is a mind-numbing maze of detail. One gets the impression that the hoodwinked media outlets simply ran their stories rather than deal with confirming this impenetrable mountain of "proof."

In their petulant follow-up article admitting they had been duped, XS magazine could only point to it all and sheepishly admit this stuff had fooled them. "We simply didn't take into account the possibility that an embittered musician would manipulate us to vent his hostilities," wrote an editor of the magazine.

As rendered in the film, the hoax ranged even wider than local media. Hendrix experts the world over are taken in, bags of mail arrive with offers of contracts and tours. Is this fantasy? By now it should be clear that any assertion of fact in the self-documentation of this trickster is suspect.

Perhaps somewhere within Jimmy's Story is a short functional film on this hoax that could probably say a lot about the semiotics of pop culture, media artifice, the illusion of stardom, and countless other ironic insights. This is the movie many suggested the budding filmmaker make. But Yeager's movie was never intended to be just about the Jimmy Story incident. It is about Billy Yeager, in whose life story Jimmy Story is but a chapter.

For anyone who has actually been paying attention to Yeager over the years, his son-of-Hendrix hoax comes as no surprise. "When I do things, they're groomed and grand," Yeager told XS by way of explaining his actions and possibly dropping a hint.

Back when the now-reflective filmmaker had just begun chasing rock-star dreams, Yeager was thoroughly convinced that attracting attention to his music required elaborate hype and staged events. To promote the release of his first album back in the Eighties, Yeager set out in his usual fashion to create a hubbub. First he fabricated a portfolio of himself as an Australian fashion model, then created a bogus Calvin Klein television commercial of which he was the glamorous focus. With that he convinced a video company to work free and film him being mobbed by beautiful women (all shills, who were themselves hoaxed into believing they would be on MTV) as he tooled along Fort Lauderdale beach in a limo, with banner planes toting his name across the sky above. His friends were enlisted to pose as bodyguards, band members, managers, and fans. Yeager himself has a hard time recounting exactly what went on and why, so convoluted was the prank.

Laughing, he recalls one detail. "It got rained out the first time we tried it. I had like fifteen minutes to figure a way to get the video guys to hang around town until the next weekend." One phone call later, Yeager had convinced the owners of a strip club that a major rock star (Billy Yeager, as played by Billy Yeager) and a film crew would be arriving to audition dancers for his "American Girls" video. Soon the whole entourage was being wined and dined as naked women vied for the camera's attention and a chance for fame. The crew told Yeager they'd stay another week. Once again his inspired improvisations paid off, and the following weekend he would have even more girls surrounding him in his effort to become famous.

And what did all this hoopla do for the album? Emblematic of the Yeager way, he couldn't yet afford to actually press the thing, so it was empty LP covers he autographed for the simulated multitudes.

When one considers this episode -- along with the time he impersonated David Bowie and actually performed a series of fake concerts in some small Florida towns -- one has to wonder what Yeager hoped to accomplish with all this. As displayed in the documentary that also admits to being fantasy, there's always the possibility that some, if not all, may have never happened at all. What do these deliberate hoaxes, of which Jimmy Story or even Jimmy's Story is the penultimate, have to do with his music? "I always thought it was about more than the music," he is willing to concede.

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