It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what Voodoo Chile sells. The red one-story house on Bell Avenue, just off Lower Greenville, is like a trip into another world. You'll find vintage clothing, Halloween masks, VHS tapes, records, record players, bongs, pipes, ashtrays, books and other knick-knacks, and the walls are swallowed by dark, provocative art. It's a seemingly random but endlessly intriguing assortment of stuff that is different each time you visit. But even with all of that to occupy your attention, the little shop of wonders' greatest fascination is not what's for sale, but the store's owner: Jimi Fukushita.
Unless curiosity gets the best of you as you're stumbling away from its neighbor Libertine Bar one night, you might rightfully assume the house belongs to another tattoo parlor or psychic, and never give it another thought. There's a sign over the door with "Voodoo Chile" written in a ghoulish script, and an open sign hangs in the window, but it's never illuminated during the day. Usually it doesn't go on until 5 p.m.
When you walk in, the store is often totally still, save for a jazz record playing in the background. But then you'll hear rustling from the back and Fukushita will emerge to greet you. It's said that he often does so with a glass of red wine in hand, and if he likes you, he'll offer you one. But for the most part he is reserved and mysterious, and the late hours contribute to that mystique. Although the posted closing time is midnight, it's possible to walk in well after. Voodoo Chile seems to be open whenever Fukushita is awake.
At first he was very hesitant to give an interview, but he eventually began to share his and Voodoo Chile's history. He's from Japan, and he opened Voodoo Chile with his ex-wife 16 years ago, when he was still living in his home country. Fukushita's ex-wife lived in Dallas, and at first she ran the shop in his place, but she eventually convinced him to move here permanently. He didn't like Dallas when he first moved, and "I still don't like it," he says. The shop's initial location was in Deep Ellum, and it stayed there for eight years, until difficulties with the landlord caused them to relocate to Lower Greenville. Fukushita now runs Voodoo Chile by himself.
The store takes its name from his favorite Jimi Hendrix song. In the '80s and early '90s, Fukushita was a popular Jimi Hendrix cover artist who played internationally. "I played Whiskey a Go Go!" he exclaims, in a rare flash of enthusiasm. He sometimes recruited a bass player or drummer to perform with him, but generally it was just him and his guitar. "I prefer to work by myself," he says.
In addition to famed L.A. club Whiskey a Go Go, where Hendrix himself was known to give impromptu performances, Fukushita played all over Japan, appearing on radio and TV. Now the only evidence of his Hendrix days is the store's name and the moniker he has taken on: He's informally adopted the name "Jimi," after his idol.
Fukushita doesn't play music at all anymore. When asked why, he responds simply: "I just don't have passion for it anymore." But music plays a big role in the shop. Vintage record players line the walls in the front room, and his vinyl collection dominates the largest one. It's one of the more unusual collections in Dallas, spanning disco, Broadway, classical, jazz, classic rock -- you name it. When he finds you looking through his records he's once again excited. (Music still seems to have a unique power to create this response.) He'll ask what you like, and offer to help you select something.
But now that he's given up playing music himself, Fukushita focuses his creative energy elsewhere: on making art. That's partly why the store keeps odd hours. "The days are slow anyway," he says, so he uses that time to paint, and to attend auctions, where he buys most of his merchandise. Almost all of the art in Voodoo Chile is his handiwork, Fukushita says. That would be hard to believe -- there's so much of it -- if the art wasn't so consistently weird.
Some pieces may cause offense. A collection of scales has been painted with phrases like "Don't throw up, baby" and "Eat more, bitch." Of particular concern to a few Yelpers is the presence of swastikas and other Nazi imagery in much of the art around the store. On one table is an arrangement of books about the Third Reich. Does Fukushita have an obsession with Hitler? "No, but some people are interested," he says. Addressing those who find the symbolism insensitive, he says, "People don't like Hitler, but they love their German cars, their Volkswagens. Hitler made that."
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Whatever your opinion, Voodoo Chile is a one-of-a-kind experience, and it makes for an interesting litmus test for new friends. The shop provokes a different reaction from everyone. Some people find the decor creepy, feel uncomfortable and rush quickly out, others are mesmerized and amused. If you happen into the store when other customers are present, you will probably witness both responses.
When asked what the inspiration was for the store -- surely such a unique place is driven by some sort of aesthetic principle or idea -- Fukushita says, "There was no idea. I just did it." His expression becomes puzzled, as if by the very notion of inspiration. How does he determine what to purchase, then? Again, there's no method or intention; he explains the decision to quit music, the subject matter of his art and the existence of the store itself the same way -- it's all "my own feeling," he says. Nothing more.
A handwritten sign recently appeared on Voodoo Chile's front door. It reads: "No Fuckin' Popsicle No No No." It's necessitated by the presence of Steel City Pops, which opened just around the corner from the shop last year. The area around Voodoo Chile on Lower Greenville has changed dramatically since the shop took up residence there, and now there's a spiffy fast-casual Korean restaurant opening directly across the street. Its facade towers over Fukushita's tiny shop. You might expect him to be irritated by these developments, but he's not fazed. "I don't care," he says, once again point blank.
Fukushita may not like Dallas, but he seems indifferent to much of the world outside the one he's created at Voodoo Chile; he says he has no intention of leaving. And Lower Greenville is certainly more interesting for it. The glamorous new businesses that are coming to dominate the strip have their own value, but they can't match a place like Voodoo Chile in character. What the place is selling, after all, is an adventure into Jimi Fukushita's feelings, and any night of the week, you're invited -- as long as you aren't carrying a popsicle.