Article Response: John Fahey

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You can read Otis' superb tribute, and then either comment on that or maybe post memories of the music or recommendations of your own. RIP.

Tom, Sunday, 25 February 2001 01:00 (twenty years ago) link

That's a beautiful article. Otis should write more often. John Fahey's been on my purchase list forever - now I'm very tempted to go out and buy his Return Of The Repressed best-of, no matter how expensive the damn thing is. Does anyone have any other John Fahey album recommendations ?

Patrick, Sunday, 25 February 2001 01:00 (twenty years ago) link

The fact that Otis has never likely thought he'd like to be a music critic is frankly a positive boon, because if he ever got self- conscious about it it likely wouldn't come out like this astoundingly wonderful piece. Which proves that, his self-deprecating/celebratory stories of hot tubs and the like aside, he is a man of hidden talents doing fucking fantastic at explaining why a underappreciated guy is more than worthy of the appreciation as opposed to simply celebrating him for a cult status. Read it, and follow Otis' advice on what to seek out. You shan't be sorry.

Ned Raggett, Sunday, 25 February 2001 01:00 (twenty years ago) link

I'm finding it hard to grapple with Fahey's passing from the scene, because, like the America Otis sees in him, he was never really there -- sort of floating in a parallel universe or something, where 1938 never turned into 1939, but neither did 1938 ever happen at all. I truly enjoy his '96 album, "City of Refuge" which takes place over a post-industrial soundscape, and which seems like the right thing to play to mourn him. There's less joy in there, but more humor, and more regret. I don't know. I feel like I can't do him justice. These are stupid music-critic words.

"Voice of The Turtle" on the America album. The Requia album. Everyone sees what they want in Fahey -- he's a traditionalist, he's an avant-gardeist, he's folk-primitive, he's dear god... to me Fahey was, like many artists, a sensitive boy who felt complicated things and then tried to make pretty things to understand the complicated things.

Or maybe that's another lie. Maybe, after all, Fahey was The Great Koonaklaster, who assumed mortal form to tell us this simple truth:

NOTHING EVER STOPS! BECAUSE THERE IS DURATION. AND I AM DURATION. DON’T EVER FORGET THAT.

Sterling Clover, Monday, 26 February 2001 01:00 (twenty years ago) link

Thanks, Mr. Wheeler, for the tribute.

What I especially like about it is that you're grappling with one of the most difficult things to articulate about Fahey's music (he would insist we MUST not confuse the music with the man, something which I, like many others, have been guilty of): why does this music, which is comprised of some things I do understand, evoke in me a response I can't quite name; why does it make me feel the way I do, and so keenly?

Fahey's music, much of it which he came to reject as flawed or dishonest, still seems to me some of the purest ever made and yet, for all the hundreds of times I’ve played his albums, I still don’t understand why they make me feel the way I do, why they speak to me so profoundly. Your tribute captures some of that feeling.

I spent three days with John last summer, ostensibly to conduct interviews with him for a new Revenant project. I wasn't especially surprised that Fahey was critical of *The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party*, the first Fahey album I owned and one of my favorites (at the time about to be reissued on CD by Fantasy / Takoma). After all, he'd been routinely knocking his early works in the press. But I was surprised that he was dismissive of such relatively recent fare as *City of Refuge* ("It went too far,") and *Atlanta Struts* ("I shouldn't have let that come out,").

Even though his comments felt like a vindication of my own feelings for those records, Fahey had been as unperturbed by my dislike of those albums as he was unimpressed by my complete love for the early ones. (The only ones of John's albums I have little feeling for one way or another are the Xmas albums and *Yes Jesus Loves Me*, and the ones he did for Varrick when he was suffering most acutely the effects of Epstein-Barr -- though there are moments on all of these albums.)

In response to my "But I love that album John; it changed my life!," I can hear his oft-repeated response: "Fine, but that has nothing to do with me."

Fahey was, for all his failings and his more than occasionally infuriating behavior, absolutely ethical when it came to music, and especially his own. There was no room for a shred of nostalgia or rationalization in his assessment of his own accomplishments. He seemed always in a state of dispassionately reevaluating early works based on where he was at currently. While it amused me to hear him vilifying records that still mesmerize me -- and I argued frequently with him over the merits of his own work -- I understood that, for him, the most interesting record was the one he was working on NOW. (He loved *Hitomi* and was at work on second and third volumes in a series of *Hitomi*s when I was out there.)

And though I had no use for *City of Refuge*, I was glad to see John so excited and involved with making music again. He was totally into it at the time of its release; he considered it THE VERY BEST THING he'd ever done!

And that's the way it should be, I think, a complete engagement in the present.

To those folks who are asking for recommendations, I say be open to it all. The *Return of the Repressed* collection is OK as a primer (a catalogue as huge as John's seems to cry out for some sort of overview or introduction), but I disagree with its premise. John's albums ought to, I think, each be taken on their own terms and it’s expecting too much for an easily-digestible little package to encompass 40+ years of a man’s music.

The anthology also omits tracks altogether from some periods and, since it was released before that huge burst of creative energy in the last decade or so of John's life, an important period is not represented at all.

So if you make *ROTR* your first Fahey purchase, by all means don't let it be your last.

Glenn Jones

Glenn Jones, Monday, 26 February 2001 01:00 (twenty years ago) link

It takes incredibly good writing to make me as affected as I am by the death of someone I'd barely even heard of. That shows how phenomenal a writer Otis is.

Robin Carmody, Tuesday, 27 February 2001 01:00 (twenty years ago) link

fabulous article. i think i'll actually check out some of this guy's stuff.

sundar subramanian, Wednesday, 28 February 2001 01:00 (twenty years ago) link

Good tribute, though it hurt to find out this way that another one of my heroes has moved on. Well, Fahey's right about duration. We don't need any more music from him because what he's given us will last forever. The man tapped into the eternal, and what's there is a gift for all of us that won't fade.

My personal favorite: God, Time & Causality.

ero, Friday, 2 March 2001 01:00 (twenty years ago) link

one year passes...
the current URL for Otis' piece is http://www.freakytrig ger.co.uk/fahey.html

I was listening to "Live in Tasmania" last night. He plays a gorgeously slow version of "Waltzing Matilda" on it.

Tracer Hand, Monday, 24 June 2002 00:00 (eighteen years ago) link

one year passes...
I love this article. Especially the paragraph on apple chucking. Is Otis still around? I never knew him.

David. (Cozen), Sunday, 7 September 2003 19:15 (seventeen years ago) link

seventeen years pass...

Thanks, Mr. Wheeler, for the tribute.
What I especially like about it is that you're grappling with one of the most difficult things to articulate about Fahey's music (he would insist we MUST not confuse the music with the man, something which I, like many others, have been guilty of): why does this music, which is comprised of some things I do understand, evoke in me a response I can't quite name; why does it make me feel the way I do, and so keenly?

Fahey's music, much of it which he came to reject as flawed or dishonest, still seems to me some of the purest ever made and yet, for all the hundreds of times I’ve played his albums, I still don’t understand why they make me feel the way I do, why they speak to me so profoundly. Your tribute captures some of that feeling.

I spent three days with John last summer, ostensibly to conduct interviews with him for a new Revenant project. I wasn't especially surprised that Fahey was critical of *The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party*, the first Fahey album I owned and one of my favorites (at the time about to be reissued on CD by Fantasy / Takoma). After all, he'd been routinely knocking his early works in the press. But I was surprised that he was dismissive of such relatively recent fare as *City of Refuge* ("It went too far,") and *Atlanta Struts* ("I shouldn't have let that come out,").

Even though his comments felt like a vindication of my own feelings for those records, Fahey had been as unperturbed by my dislike of those albums as he was unimpressed by my complete love for the early ones. (The only ones of John's albums I have little feeling for one way or another are the Xmas albums and *Yes Jesus Loves Me*, and the ones he did for Varrick when he was suffering most acutely the effects of Epstein-Barr -- though there are moments on all of these albums.)

In response to my "But I love that album John; it changed my life!," I can hear his oft-repeated response: "Fine, but that has nothing to do with me."

Fahey was, for all his failings and his more than occasionally infuriating behavior, absolutely ethical when it came to music, and especially his own. There was no room for a shred of nostalgia or rationalization in his assessment of his own accomplishments. He seemed always in a state of dispassionately reevaluating early works based on where he was at currently. While it amused me to hear him vilifying records that still mesmerize me -- and I argued frequently with him over the merits of his own work -- I understood that, for him, the most interesting record was the one he was working on NOW. (He loved *Hitomi* and was at work on second and third volumes in a series of *Hitomi*s when I was out there.)

And though I had no use for *City of Refuge*, I was glad to see John so excited and involved with making music again. He was totally into it at the time of its release; he considered it THE VERY BEST THING he'd ever done!

And that's the way it should be, I think, a complete engagement in the present.

To those folks who are asking for recommendations, I say be open to it all. The *Return of the Repressed* collection is OK as a primer (a catalogue as huge as John's seems to cry out for some sort of overview or introduction), but I disagree with its premise. John's albums ought to, I think, each be taken on their own terms and it’s expecting too much for an easily-digestible little package to encompass 40+ years of a man’s music.

The anthology also omits tracks altogether from some periods and, since it was released before that huge burst of creative energy in the last decade or so of John's life, an important period is not represented at all.

So if you make *ROTR* your first Fahey purchase, by all means don't let it be your last.

Glenn Jones

― Glenn Jones, Sunday, February 25, 2001 7:00 PM (twenty years ago) bookmarkflaglink

beautiful stuff from a legend in his own right. used to be a yahoo answers group with years worth of these kind of gems from the old guard, all gone now

global tetrahedron, Sunday, 6 June 2021 00:10 (two weeks ago) link

Don't think I've ever seen this thread before!! Thanks esp. for showing me comments of Sterling and Glenn, also the linked Otis piece. Good comments and links on here too: Search and Destroy: John Fahey

dow, Sunday, 6 June 2021 00:34 (two weeks ago) link


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