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He seemed to me the kind of folk-guitar-playing equivalent
of sort of William Burroughs or Bukowski, Charles Bukowski,
do you know what I mean? He had that really powerful thing
that we look for in American artists or writers
He created a new language, modally speaking, harmonically speaking,
and if that that's not an iconoclast, I don't know what is, really.
Independent label owner, like, maybe the first, record collector,
Thrift store master,
guitar, don't-give-a-shit- about-the-brand-name guitar owner.
It's not about what you own, it's just about what you play,
you know, the voice of the turtle's like, in here, not in this thing,
so to speak. It's awesome.
It's been said of John Fahey that his style is American primitive,
whatever that means. What does that mean, John?
Well, somebody else said that. Oh, I know you didn't say it.
I didn't say it. This is like a Rousseau painting, or like Rousseau.
Primitive means untaught. I didn't have any teachers.
Oh. I taught myself. And American means American.
And what would you call your style, if you had to call it something?
That's the closest thing, if I had to call it anything,
I wouldn't worry about calling it anything.
OK, we won't call it anything. But it is unusual and it's your own.
There are a lot of people who haven't been actually literally taught
but who all sound alike, but I don't think that you sound like anybody.
Good. You sound like... "Good! Great."
So that everybody can join us in either agreeing or disagreeing,
why don't you start playing?
There is something about guitars,
maybe something magical when played right,
which evokes past, mysterious, barely conscious sentiments,
both individual and universal.
The road to the unconscious past.
Guitar is a caller.
It brings forth emotions you didn't know you had.
It is a very personal instrument.
He seemed to be trying to create poetry, and divide...
if music is simply dividing time, dividing time in some new way.
He took everything in the world and personalised it,
made it into part of him. He was a spiritual detective.
It's difficult to say what characterised him
because he went through so many phases.
I suppose what characterised him that was attractive to me
was simply the repetitive cycling rhythms. It was very pop,
it was very rock 'n' roll, it was very R It was cyclic.
I think it was his tunings.
His sense of collage, his sense of soundscape,
his sense of dissonance
that influenced people like Pete Townshend, Thurston Moore and Beck.
He's using the guitar as almost like a antenna,
and he's not sure of what it's going to do or where it'll take him.
My family and I moved to the Washington, DC suburbs in 1945,
right after we dropped the big ones on Japan.
I remember the night we moved into the new house in the suburbs.
I was sleepy, and didn't like what was going on.
I remember the following morning feeling afraid and shy,
but preparing myself to go across the street
where I saw the local kids hanging out.
My mother was encouraging me. She gave me a lot of support.
That day, for some reason, I thought I should dress up
in some kind of costume, so I wore a pith helmet.
Where John Fahey grew up was one of those neighbourhoods where
he would've had a lot of access to woods, basically.
Places to wander, places to look under rocks and logs
and crawl over...you know, as a kid,
crawl over creeks and things like that.
A kind of wonderful environment in a lot of ways.
FINGER STYLE GUITAR MUSIC PLAYS
There's a certain a lot of the acoustic guitar work of water,
of that kind of movement, of that kind of rippling and...motion.
The very soil was sacred.
The water in the creeks and springs was holy water.
The oak trees were the highest in the world.
And these oak trees weren't like regular oak trees,
they were sacred oak trees
planted by The Great Koonaklaster himself
while he was creating the world
Turtles were sacred to The Big K.
The common box turtle was Big K's totem.
How did you start playing guitar? How come and how and...
Um, well, there were a lot of kids around where I lived
who played country west, so I got a Sears Roebuck guitar.
But I started to compose as soon as I got one.
As soon as I knew where the chords...
BEFORE I knew where the chords were, or anything.
Had you taken any other music lessons of any kind?
Yeah, I played clarinet in junior high school band.
SHE LAUGHS I didn't like it much.
I used to improvise. Were you good? No, I kept improvising.
Band teacher got pretty mad about it.
I met John, it must have been in 1957, or '58.
We were both involved with some other usual suspects
at St Michael and All Angels.
That community was more than a religious community,
it was a community of like-minded people who were welcoming to
a great diversity of people.
John was an outlaw, from start to finish.
A very gentlemanly outlaw but outside
the strictures of the...of his background.
We had dated, we were sort of still dating
when I was finishing up high school.
Then there was a little event at church and he...
I guess he had been really drinking seriously that night
and he was just very rude to me
First time. So I got up and walked out in a huff.
Then he approached me, must have been a year later,
to do a session at Joe Bussard's in Frederick.
And it was not... We didn't really...
We may have played one song together but he was just asking me
to please, play these lines.
HE PLAYS SLIDE GUITAR
# Girl, you set your dogs on
# Set your dogs on him. #
HE FINISHES PLAYING
I haven't played this thing in a long, long time.
# Doo-doo-doo... #
Yep, the best music has already been recorded, my friend.
And as far as I'm concerned,
what they've got today is zero everything.
Look at this.
Look at the condition.
Fahey came by and listened to records
and one day he brought his guitar up and I liked the way he played,
he experimented around. This was in November of 1959.
I said, "Let's make a couple of records."
It was at four o'clock in the morning,
that's about the time he got loosened up.
He spent a lot of time up here A lot of time, a lot of time playing.
He'd sit over for hours and play.
This does not... MUSIC PLAYS
Oh, this is where he's playing a sitar.
We were playing... That's the only tricky thing we ever did.
I wrote a record backwards.
Yeah, man. I like it.
MUSIC PLAYS BACKWARDS
We rolled the tape backwards. Hear?
What do you think of that?
You've never heard anything like that, ha-ha-ha-ha!
I used to go up to Frederick, Maryland
and there was crazy guy who lived there named Joe Bussard.
He used to get me up there and get me just as smashed as he could
and get me screaming and yelling and playing the guitar
and trying to make out I was a drunk Negro blues singer from Mississippi.
He did the bulk? No, I did some, he did some.
No, and you hear a lot of...
HE GROWLS HOARSELY
You know, it's usually me.
# Where you going?
# I'm going down to get us some wine
# You're going to eat crabs tonight
# What kind of crabs you going to eat, man?
# We're gonna eat them kind of crabs live in water, what kind IS that?
# That's crab crabs, man
# Yeah, them old crabs good, mmm! #
It reminded me of the old black blues guys.
Nice style, very interesting, and he'd get a big charge.
John started Takoma in 1959 on 8s, actually.
I think the reason was simply it was the only way you could
get your own music onto a record was to start your own label.
That's how he saw it.
It would've been hopeless for him to try
and approach a record company with his music.
It was just too strange to what was being issued by record
companies at the time. John Fahey and Ed Denson
managed Takoma Records and put out mostly John Fahey albums,
but also Robbie Basho and a few other blues artists.
Takoma became an icon of independent, artist-owned,
artist-started record labels within the independent label
world, but it was John's vision really,
that started that whole genre.
Well, when I made my first...record,
I thought it would be a good joke
to have me on one side, have the label say
John Fahey on one side and this guy Blind Joe Death on the other side.
The reason it says "blind" is because a lot of people I learned
from were on old 78rpm records and a lot of them were blind.
Their names were Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller,
Blind Joe Taggart. A whole bunch of them were blind.
I think he thought the sort of earnestness with which many
people of his background approached it needed a bit of sending up,
so I think some of that comes
from that wanting to kind of, you know, um, give something
a little bit of a poke. And...kind of mess with people's minds, too.
Also I was thinking,
whenever you print the word death, people look at it.
I was thinking of record sales already.
Even though I was only going to have 100 copies pressed.
John is a guitarist and composer, he's both. You can't separate them.
Very early in his career, before he ever recorded anything,
he started making up his own pieces. The first pieces were
pretty much just things that could have
been traditional, but as time went on, he began putting
the harmonies that he would come up with into these pieces.
He was inspired, certainly, to some extent by classical music.
Certain composers, especially. Bartok, Charles Ives.
I met John Fahey in 1964 when we were both
part of the Folk Music Studies
masters degree programme that UCLA had.
He does his MA on Charley Patton.
It is still a definitive work on Charley Patton if you want to learn
about who the heck Patton was and learn about his life and so on
MUSIC: "Stone Pony Blues" by Charley Patton
# I got me a stone pony and I don't ride Shetlands no more... #
There was something about Charley Patton in particular that
really moved him deeply, but also the techniques.
He would build his own music around the fingerpicking
and playing techniques, the slightest techniques,
the slide techniques that were
originally developed by Charley Patton and other Delta blues people.
It was all grist for his mill.
# Vicksburg's my pony Greenville is my grey mare
# Vicksburg's my pony Greenville is my grey mare... #
Patton was an entertainer, not a social prophet in any sense.
He had no profound message.
He was probably not very observant of the troubles of his own people.
He was not a noble savage.
The music, it is part of the pulse, the heartbeat of this place.
Maybe it is linked to the Mississippi River.
If you think about it, there is a steady, giant,
volume of matter moving at 9mph
which almost has a, perhaps, magnetic pull.
It's hard to imagine what contemporary music would be like
if people like John Fahey had not been obsessively
fascinated with roots American music from the '20s and '30s.
# Praise God, I'm satisfied
# For me he bled and died
# Well, I'm glad to know that he loved me so
# For me he was crucified... #
The tune kept going through my head, something about it kept going through my head.
And within ten minutes, I had to hear it again.
I would have killed to hear it again.
So they played it again and I thought it was the most
beautiful thing I ever heard in my life. I started crying.
It was like a conversion experience, you know.
There is the oft told story of him
weeping after hearing Blind Willie Johnson's Praise God, I'm Satisfied.
Although, initially, he was sort of sickened by it.
He didn't know what to make of it. It was so alien to him.
He grew up in the suburbs in Maryland.
He was he was a fan of bluegrass and country stars of the day.
He hadn't had exposure to black artists.
He didn't have an instant affinity for this music.
This was, if you like, a transition from Mars to him.
John was always fascinated with other cultures,
so I am sure the southern black culture was fascinating to him
Any culture that isn't your own culture teaches you something
new and expands you, and I think John was always into expansion.
I spent every summer in the deep South, looking for old blues singers
and collecting records, old records and so on.
We would go door-to-door in the black sections of these little towns
along the way. We'd knock on the door,
knock, knock, knock.
People would answer and he'd say, "You have any old phonograph records?
"We're buying up old phonograph records.
"Give you a quarter a piece for the good ones." That was John's spiel.
He kind of trained me how to do it.
So John had been making a living doing this,
or at least part of his living since the early '60s.
There were some other college kids coming into this
neck of the woods, but they weren't doing a voters
registration drive, and it cost them their lives.
And people were not really aware of the courage or foolhardiness it
took to go into that same neck of the woods.
Being young white guys talking to black people,
they could have very easily been misinterpreted or misidentified.
'How do you do that, by the way I'm just curious.
'How do you find somebody?
'Or do you have them in mind and then go looking for them?
'Well, I might be looking for somebody
'specific like Bukka White or Skip James.
'Bukka White, you know, he made these old 78s. Right.
'And I thought he was very good
So I said, well, maybe Bukka White is still alive.
So he'd made a record called Aberdeen Mississippi Blues.
So I wrote him a little postcard.
I knew his real Christian name or whatever you call it.
It was Booker T Washington White.
Then I wrote in caps...
On the back, I wrote...
So we did that. And about three months later, a letter came back,
and we left the next day.
Booker knew all about trains. Booker taught me how to ride freight cars.
And we had a lot of adventures all over the South.
Bill Barth, John Fahey and I believe Henry Vestine was with them
when they found Skip James, and that was in a hospital, I believe,
in Tunica, Mississippi, just down the road from Memphis.
MUSIC: "Devil Got My Woman" By Skip James
# I'd rather be the devil
# To be that woman man... #
But why was I so interested in Skip James?
What was so distinctive and wonderful about his records?
# ..To be that woman man. #
James' style was so aggressively melancholy,
so desperate and wretched, and full of gloom,
that we reasoned that James' life must have been unbearable.
Just underneath the great sadness in James' music, we hear anger,
disguised and hardly noticeable
# Nothing but the devil... #
John hated phoney emotionalism.
But he did think his work channelled often the very darkest
emotions that he could dredge up,
and it happened that some of them may have sounded pretty...
or something akin to a Skip James tune or something like that, but...
For him it was catharsis, you know?
And he was, you know, venting his spleen there in the recording.
Would you play something on this for us?
Yeah, I'll try to play The Death Of The Clayton Peacock,
which is another song I wrote.
I used to live out on Mount Diablo,
and I'd ride into school every morning,
and there was a lady out there who raised peacocks,
and she had one peacock left, and it got run over one morning
And it laid in the street for two or three days
and then somebody cut his tail off.
Oh. But... I was very upset. And so you wrote a song about it?
Well, no, but it made a good title, you know? Want me to hold that for you?
I'll mind it till you're ready
HE STRUMS GUITAR
Open G tuning? Yeah. Famous open G...
Not regular Dobro tuning, because that's...
Then you have that...
MUSIC: "Death of the Clayton Peacock"
One night, Fahey was playing at the Jabberwocky Coffee Club in Berkeley,
and he was on stage performing, and in his own wonderful style
he said, GRUFF VOICE: "I gotta pee."
And so he just walked off stage to pee.
And I met him and said, "Hey, John, I'm Stefan."
And he took me, and just grabbed me,
and went into the bathroom, holding me.
Took down his underpants, and we were talking about
Willie Brown's guitar style while John was farting his brains out.
And then we finally, thank God, got out the bathroom,
and he went back up on stage. That was my first meeting with John.
I hear Stefan Grossman was here
Uh, I heard that Stefan Grossman played here, that true?
He said he didn't like it here
Did anybody here like him? AUDIENCE LAUGHS
Yeah? I hate his guts, but...
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
I also hate his guitar playing
HIGH VOICE: He plays like a little old lady,
HIGH VOICE: with real long little fingers. Very dainty.
John had a sick sense of humour There's different levels.
One was his writing talents in the sense of titling tunes.
I don't remember what year, but I was living in London,
and a student came by with and album he had just recorded,
and on it was a tune called The Assassination Of Stephane Grossman.
I thought, "what cheek!" I got really pissed off at that
so I then recorded a tune called The Assassination Of John Fahey
and then HE got really pissed off about it!
And then I don't know whether it was John or Manny Greenhill,
his manager, said, "what would be great for America,
"let's do an assassination tour "
And it was a great idea. Unfortunately my back gave out with herniated discs,
so I had to cancel the tour. He did a couple of dates,
and apparently told people that the only reason I wasn't there was cos he had killed me.
That is called a - what? A Hawaiian guitar? Yeah.
Is it called a Hawaiian? Is that what a Hawaiian guitar is, right?
It was made in Hawaii.
It's an ashtray, it's not a guitar. You're kidding me.
It's a real cheap guitar, it's. .
He could be a very strange person to work with.
There was a period where we just hadn't heard from John in weeks,
and I think even months at that point,
and we were starting to get seriously worried about him.
Finally we got a phone call from Tasmania
that a recording studio
was calling to ask for authorisation to record a concert of John.
John wanted to do a live album
we authorised the money
and he recorded the album which came out, Tasmania.
MUSIC: "Waltzing Matilda" by John Fahey
He was self-destructive,
in a way that didn't allow him commercial success.
He really had no sense of business.
He didn't keep track of his money that well.
That first time I went on the road with him,
he was facing divorce with his first wife, Jan,
so he demanded to be paid in cash at all his gigs,
and I wound up having to stuff these bundles of cash in my boots and my luggage...
It was just crazy, I was carrying, like, 15, $20,000 in cash.
You know, he had a real edge to him. I think that's why I liked him
SONG: "Amazing Journey" by The Who
In 1968, I released Tommy with The Who,
and Robbie Basho sent a copy of it to John Fahey,
who listened to it, and sent me the most delightful note.
And he said quite simply, "I listened to it,
not quite sure what to make of it."
But he said something like, it was a...
You know, "an admirable endeavour."
I think that's what he said.
It was very touching.
Cos I suppose, you know, I'd thought of him as kind of a...
You know, living up a mountain or something.
Unreachable, you know, guy... And there he was.
And the letter that he sent me was incredibly kind,
but also quite, you know... He didn't... There was no gushing.
He obviously didn't like Tommy but he begrudgingly and kindly
and with a twist of humour gave me... He gave me something.
John Fahey's music didn't fit into a club, it was his own thing.
And then you get into his personality, and you're like...
This certainly did not fit into
any sort of genre or specific behavioural patterns
to impress people. He was just on his own trip.
And that's when I realised the guy was truly punk rock,
or whatever you want to call it His own artist.
I think that's really the core of it.
Art for art's sake, on so many levels.
And when you first set out and start listening to Fahey,
it strikes you in a way that you .. that you recognise something.
You're familiar with it instantly, with the sound of the guitar,
the acoustic steel string guitar. so there is that familiarity,
and yet, when you start listening to where he goes melodically
and harmonically, you can tell that he's not about playing it safe.
The way he treated the guitar,
as though the guitar was certainly not by any means limited to
accompanying the voice, as though it was an orchestra, almost.
You know, he used it like, the guitar as a band.
He was really one of the first people to do solo concerts
on a steel string guitar and not be singing.
MUSIC: "A Raga Called Pat - Part One" by John Fahey
He is sampling, in effect, before that term is being used.
He's got to be drawing on influences from musique concrete,
which is tape composition coming out of Western European art music, where people are using found sound.
MUSIC: "A Raga Called Pat - Part One" by John Fahey
Raga For Pat actually has him using two different records,
a Folkways album, songs from a tropical rainforest,
and another record of steam engines that he's playing backwards and forwards.
John Fahey was one of the early turntablists in American vernacular music.
John's music evolved greatly through his career,
but it was not a straight path from point A to point B.
We used to sit around and listen to records for hours and hours and hours,
and it would always be all kinds of stuff,
from Charlie Patton to
Charles Ives, to Roy Acuff
to Booker T The MGs, to Rod Stewart.
I mean, he loved Rod Stewart!
Like those great classical composers like Bartok and Stravinsky,
he would take, you know, this approach of listening to different
kinds of music and incorporating it into what he played.
NEW ORLEANS JAZZ MUSIC PLAYS
Then came a little phase
where he got interested in playing music that was informed
by New Orleans jazz, old-fashioned love of rivers and religion.
I think of myself as a classical guitar player,
but, you know, that's the way it turned out.
I'm categorised as a folk musician.
"Dear Stephan, just got off the road, very tired, must be brief.
"I am moving to Salem, Oregon end of this month.
"Just bought a house up there.
"I'll no longer be working for Takoma Records. No loss.
"Well, I suppose we might stop fighting, but I must retain the right
"to call you with news, and you must stop staying "Peace, brother" to me.
John was looking to get away from the big city,
and he wanted a quieter place.
John had this idea that a state capital like Salem would
always have jobs because there'd always be government,
and so if the economy went really bad,
your house would never become worth absolutely nothing.
So he just moved to Salem,
and we started talking a lot on the phone and kind of hanging out, and
one day he said, "I just got a deal. I want you to produce our records."
And we started working together
and he was into, kind of, concept things at that point.
And how he produced was great.
He would call me up and say, "I got this idea for a record,
"think about this and call me back in two weeks."
I'd think about it and he had thought about some stuff. "Thinking about some tunes."
We'd either get together his place or my place
and we'd start putting it together.
And it was very well planned out ahead of time,
preproduction was important.
We never went into the studio and just messed around.
I think the last time I did a record with him was probably '90, '91.
And that's when he wasn't really playing that well.
He wasn't doing that kind of music any more.
I have taken a vow of silence.
For the next 30 years, unless..
the occasion arises in which I need to talk.
Obviously, this is not one of those occasions...
So I will continue to play my guitar and transform the universe.
HE PLAYS GUITAR
I guess he had had some problems with
managing his sleeping for a long time.
When you are on the road and you have...
You're flying here and there, that sort of thing,
you are in different places all the time, that's one of the reasons
people get into sleeping pills which is what he was into a lot
was chloral hydrate,
which, um...was a prescription drug and he had it from a doctor.
So when he was taking the sleeping pills, I think
it did have an effect on his personality.
He wasn't able to drink at all when he was on chloral hydrate
so he'd drink tonnes of Coca-Cola, which I think is probably what
killed him, finally, was diabetes and heart disease.
When he wasn't on chloral hydrate, he did drink quite a lot, alcohol.
He wasn't a street drug person at all, he wasn't...
get illegal drugs and get high, type of thing.
First of all, he didn't need that, his mind was
so imaginative that he didn't need to be...high.
HE PLAYS GUITAR
You have to realise that the entertainer's life is...
has built into it a bipolar...
..ingredient that you cannot escape from.
When you are on stage and when you're on the road, um ..
..you are on top of the world.
When the tour is over, even if you are exhausted,
you are at the bottom.
You don't notice it, but you are really down.
I've only began to notice this lately.
Or begun to pay any attention to it.
My solution to it is possibly a woman,
but it's a kind of sickness, being an entertainer.
You have to be an entertainer.
That is, anybody who's an entertainer
is not an entertainer by choice
He's an entertainer because he has to be.
He had a lot of pain.
Usually, everything would be prescribed by a doctor,
but he did have this habit of having run out
and being in a different town and giving the guy his prescription,
so he'd have multiple doctors
and maybe lots more pills than you normally should be taking.
SLOW BLUES MUSIC
But I think at that point, he sort of got a little apathetic
to what was happening, cos people thought he was a big drug-head
and he wasn't.
He was very laconic and when he would communicate with people,
he would be very...
Laid-back isn't even the word.
Laid-back would make it seems like he was really doing something fast
and he was really...
It would seem like he was on elephant tranquilisers sometimes,
as well as he had a drink problem,
so a lot of times his stage performance would be...
..to be nice, would be idiosyncratic, him on stage,
cos he would be doing some nutty things or he wasn't playing well.
But it all kept building up into this mystique,
so you got a real John Fahey mystique,
whereas behind that mystique there was a real human being with problems
with what everyone else has,
and he was involved in trying to understand those problems
with analysis, et cetera.
It was mostly memories of my father that came out in psychoanalysis
Mostly anger, frustration,
which on the surface looks like depression, usually.
My father was a paedophile.
And then you get scared of people.
You know, here's your father, your family,
you're scared of your family..
..and it transmits into being afraid of everybody, really.
Then you compensate for fear with drugs and booze and stuff and, uh...
..then you get troubles.
..that's the way it goes.
All the things he experienced,
particularly this trauma of childhood sexual abuse,
those things clearly had a profound influence on his thinking,
maybe his relationships with people and certainly his art.
Um, playing the guitar helped keeping me from going nuts...
..when I was 14, 15, 16...
..17, 18, 19.
You know, I could sit around and bang on the guitar
instead of banging on somebody else.
All of a sudden, he kind of fell apart, as you know,
and he stopped playing and he didn't want to play how he played before.
He never really liked to repeat himself,
cos I used to say to him, "Why don't you play Requiem For John Hurt
"the way you used to?" and he would get mad.
"I already did that!" It was kind of like Miles Davis in that sense.
Anyway, I was thinking, "He's going to find something.
"He'll do something. This just isn't it any more for him."
'People other than myself do not understand
'that I do not have a career.
'I've never had a career.
'I do not want a career, so I probably never will have a career.
'That's the way I want it.
'What I have is this,
'and it is very important -
'I have a small, little niche carved out here
'where I play guitar for people every once in a great while.
'I make just enough money to get by and have a little left over
'and that's all I want to do.'
Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth took this great interest in him
so he met Thurston and they made music together
and John wound up making this electric music towards the end
of his career that was very different from anything he'd done before
All of a sudden, Fahey was big, it was this whole new crowd
that hadn't really heard of his earlier stuff and everything
and I thought it was great
and I knew he was going to come through with something
We did a lot of travelling together when we were trying to bring him
back into circulation, cos it was clear
that his work had been embraced
by everybody from the avant-garde to the underground.
Dropping his name frankly carried a lot of weight
with a lot of the communities I ran in,
so I didn't have to do a whole lot.
John was sent to New York.
I went to the airport,
I went to the gate, waiting around
and, unmistakeably, from the gate emerges this guy
and he's wearing sort of cut-off jean shorts,
not what you would expect from someone getting off of an aeroplane.
He looked more like he was getting off of a boat.
Then he walked straight up to me and he said,
"Well, I'd like to thank your employers for sending you here.
"They always do really great work for me."
I don't really have any employers.
This was his way of saying, "OK, you're here to take me to the gig."
You can definitely hear a man
in transition, certainly moving away,
maybe even writing off
the previous person that he was
crawling out of that skin altogether.
I think he was trying to take it further and further out
and he was trying to give you blocks of sound.
He was trying to make you uncomfortable.
He was trying to put you through all of the things
that he probably was going through.
A lot of stuff I've been doing for the last two years,
including Tuvan singing
and tuning all the strings on the guitar to the same note
and playing steel...
I didn't know what I was doing so I recorded a lot of it.
AMBIENT DRONE # Yes, yes, yes, yes... #
I took it round to various record stores
and two or three people at least told me
what I was doing already existed and it's called
gothic industrial ambient.
And it's a lot of fun, cos you get to scream and make noise.
I think a lot of casual observation
of what he was doing in his later years was that,
"Oh, he was just kind of burnt out
"and upset with everyone and difficult to deal with
"and he played this kind of strange, abstract music
"as opposed to doing what he really could do."
That wasn't my experience with him.
My experience was that he was doing what he thought he should be doing,
because he perceived that the times were indicative
of this kind of presentation.
This was another chapter of his creative life
that we wanted to bring to the forefront.
I've heard stories that he put paint on his feet, he'd spin on them
he'd take his shoes off and spin around on these works.
Antifreeze, all these crazy materials.
I even heard one story that he would just drop trowel and spin around
with a naked backside and he called them ass paintings.
There you go, 45-H.
This one's signed twice.
This one says, "Tart" or "Jart 3".
There were just random little bits that he himself put on them
and when he was asked, "John, what are you doing?",
He's like, "This is what real artists do.
"They put things like this on the backs of their works,
"so that's what I'm doing."
Getting to know him, he was quite a complicated figure.
I don't think of him any longer in terms of being a musician per se.
I think of him more
as something of a sort of journeyman kind of thinker,
provocateur in the romantic mould.
SPOKEN WORD TO MUSIC: ..In life
and in death.
The Oregon capital...
He invited me out to Oregon where he was living - Woodburn, Oregon.
John Fahey living in the middle of nowhere in a one-room motel
Just the most vague stretch of highway,
the vaguest motel one could imagine.
One would never think that THE John Fahey
was living in that particular place.
His daily routine consisted of
looking for rare records in thrift stores
and anything else he could find with an interesting catalogue number
and bringing it back to his place, which was a bit of a dump,
and sort of leaving it in the corner and allowing it to gather dust
until some collector would call him up and say,
"Hey, have you got this catalogue number?"
Fahey would miraculously say, "Yeah, I've got it."
We had arranged for the pick-up time.
He comes to the door and he's completely naked
and he's just standing there at the door and my brother tells me later,
I was trying to look away but I look inside and I see him
walking away from us,
his bare behind facing us and I see all these small, round,
brown tattoos on his back, and little by little the tattoos
dropped off and it was all the pennies and change.
He had rolled around on the bed in his nakedness
and everything stuck to him.
That just sort of summed up the guy.
He died at 61,
largely because he hadn't taken very good care of himself over the years,
but I think if you had put the equation to him,
"Hey, this is the trade you're making.
"You live the life you want...
"..but you're going to die at 6 ",
I think he would still have made the same choices.
SLIDE GUITAR MUSIC
For, lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone...
..the flowers appear on the Earth,
the time of the singing of birds is come...
..and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
You can't get any more American than John Fahey in the sense that
he just took something that existed in our lineage
as Americans and American music
and tripped out somewhere along the line.
Went to outer space.
He's in his own bubble.
He claimed his space...
..and it feels as though he's not quite going to let it go.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd