How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life–John Fahey

Books, Literature, Music, Reviews, Writers

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As astute reader Nicky Longlunch pointed out in a comment on my last post on 50 Great Guitarists, John Fahey was not only a fantastic guitarist, he was also a published author. Fahey wrote three books–1970’s Charley Patton, a biography of that great blues guitarist (out of print now unless you buy the Charley Patton box set); 2000’s How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life, a collection of mostly humorous anecdotes and stories; and the posthumously published Vampire Vultures, a collection of Fahey’s letters, limericks, and interviews. HBMDML and VV are both still in print from Drag City (you can also read a PDF extract from HBMDML there).

I remember enjoying How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life back when it was first published, when Mr. Longlunch was kind enough to let me borrow it (I returned it folks!). I recall it as being funny, insightful, and Bukowski-spare; I recall it also exhibiting the same raw pathos that Bukowski infused in his work, but with none of the vulgar meanness. The best parts of the book detail Fahey’s young years in Maryland. I can’t really remember much else. I’d love to read it again, but I can’t really shell out $20 for a paperback right now. And unfortunately, I can’t just borrow it from Longlunch again, because he is no longer in possession.

In his comment, Longlunch griped at me to “Focus!” and he’s right–this blog is supposed to be focused on stolen books, and, poor guy, his copy of HBMDML is (I’m guessing) somewhere in Texas. Or he’s just misplaced it for the past seven years. Or he’s lying about it being MIA because he doesn’t want to loan it out. Which is fair, I guess.

Before I leave, I should also point out that Fahey isn’t the only author I overlooked in yesterday’s post. For years now, Pete Townshend has been doing “research” for his as-yet-unpublished autobiography. So we have that to look forward to.

50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part III

Guitarists

11. John Fahey
In the late nineties, indie rock kids–myself included–started embracing sounds that expanded beyond four white guys playing drums, bass, and guitar. Bands like Tortoise and The Sea and Cake bridged the way to the avant garde stylings of Gastr del Sol and Oval, opening up whole new sound-worlds to young ears. Gastr del Sol’s stunning 1996 record Upgrade and Afterlife featured a cover of Fahey’s “Dry Bones in the Valley” as the most beautiful closing statement imaginable. A whole new generation of listeners were introduced to cult fave Fahey’s cryptic finger-picking style via Gastr’s Jim O’Rourke, along with Table of the Elements records who released Fahey’s Womblife in 1997. Today, followers of Fahey’s sound include Six Organs of Admittance, Jack Rose, Glenn Jones, and James Blackshaw, among many others. Great stuff, all around.

12. Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix is as great as everyone thinks he is.

13. Brian Jones

Brian Jones is often credited as the “second guitarist” for the Rolling Stones, and relegated to a space under the shadow of Keith Richards. He’s more infamous than famous, remembered as the wild man of the Stones who helped define their renegade image. However, Brian Jones was a multi-instrumentalist whose passion for different styles of music from around the world helped infuse the basic rocknroll of the early Stones with a certain eclectic punch. And although his early drowning death (like Dennis Wilson) in 1969 (before Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin) is tragic on some levels (like Keith Moon), it may have preserved him from turning into what the Rolling Stones are today–a decrepit zombie joke that can no longer reasonably retire, already having permanently damaged any patina of mythos to their legacy.

14. Pete Townshend

What Pete Townshend lacked in technical dazzle he more than made up for in bombast, his raw energy and indelicacy summed up best in his propensity to smash his guitars and stab his amps. His work with synthesizers pioneered whole new territories and genres of music, and his penchant for arranging narrative song-suites proved a profound influence on my favorite band, The Fiery Furnaces.

This is one of my favorite things ever:

15. Phil Manzanera

Besides being a founding member of Roxy Music, Manzanera released a series of excellent solo albums of strange new wave music in the late seventies, continuing to work with Brian Eno, as well as guys like Robert Wyatt and John Wetton. Diamond Head is a favorite of mine.