“Take a Look at That Baby” — John Fahey

Three Books


How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life by John Fahey. Third edition paperback from Drag City (DC 124). No designer credited.

I first read Fahey’s collection in 2000 or 2001, when it first came out—a good friend lent it to me and I returned it. Later, he loaned it to another friend who did not return it. I bought the book last summer while visiting the first friend (he took me to the Spoonbill & Sugartown bookshop in Brooklyn). Fahey’s book is sorta memoir, sorta fiction (at times), all weird and good. There’s a wonderful chapter about Fahey’s work on Michaelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point that culminates in Fahey and Antonioni getting into a fistfight.


Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy by Will Oldham and Alan Licht. First edition trade paperback from W.W. Norton. Cover design by Faber using a painting (of Oldham) by Becky Blair.

The friend who lent me the Fahey book insisted for months that I pick up Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy; when I kept neglecting to find it, he eventually just sent it to me. The book is basically the edited transcripts of discussions between Oldham and Licht. While there’s a heavy focus on Oldham’s music (and his acting career), the book is ultimately about creation and the artistic process. It is one of the better books about music that I’ve ever read. (A “Cosmological Timeline” at the end of the book begins in 1778 with Captain James Cook’s discovery of the “the Hawaiian tradition of surfing” and ends in 2011 with Jennifer Herrema changing RTX into Black Bananas).


Sign ‘O’ the Times by Michaelangelo Matos. A 33 1/3 book from Continuum, 2004. No designer credited.

I bought this at a Friends of the Library sale maybe 10 years ago. Matos’s take on Prince’s 1987 double album weaves music history and music criticism into personal memoir. The book ends with Prince seeing Matos seeing Prince at an Ohio Players’ show in 1997.

Tom Clark/John Fahey (Books acquired, 6.16.2015)

I spent the past couple of days in NYC, visiting friends and museums &c., and while to my shame I didn’t make it to the famous Strand (I blame my young children’s limited patience), I did visit Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers in Brooklyn, where I picked up this handsome Tom Clark collection for the friend who took me there, along with John Fahey’s collection How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life (which the same friend had loaned me 15 or so years ago, and I had actually returned). I also bought some kids books which I didn’t photograph because my kids absorbed them already.

“Imitation Train Whistle/Steel Guitar Rag” — John Fahey (Live in 1981)

John Fahey Plays “On the Sunny Side of the Ocean” & “Spanish Two Step” (Live in 1981)

John Fahey Gig Posters

How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life–John Fahey


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

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.