Thursday, 6 September 2012

John Fahey playing The Red Pony


John Fahey looms large over me. I've listened to his strange music for most of my life. I love some of what he did and hate some of it, too. I suppose you could say that he started off playing fairly traditional-sounding tunes, simple and melodic, on acoustic guitars and ended up playing post-rock through effects-pedal laden electric guitars. (I like the former a lot more than the latter.) At his best, Fahey's music is pitched somewhere between the worlds of folk traditionalism (which he found creatively stifling) and intellectual avant-gardism (which can be tedious, to be honest). Fahey is the man who started his career by rediscovering Bukka White, one of the great Mississippi bluesmen, and ended it by recording with Jim O'Rourke. Negotiating your way through his back catalogue can be hard work. You are not guaranteed a good time because he never let himself be reduced to the role of 'service provider'. Fahey was a great artist of the guitar, a great thinker of the guitar, rather than a great player. He was a good player but one with an exceptional, wonderful mind.

To me, he embodies the idea of the true artist. I know it's a cliche, but I love these kind of people or at least the philosophy of artistic contrariness that I project onto them.

Fahey kind of invented the genre of solo steel-string guitar, or rather created the market for it. His first album, 'Blind Joe Death', was a kind of hoax, an attempt to trick the folk revivalists into believing he had 'discovered' a bluesman named Blind Joe Death. He pressed up a hundred copies of the album with money made pumping gas, but it took him five years to sell them all. There was no market for solo steel-string guitar recordings in 1959.  

The Red Pony, which I cover on Little Martha, is a fairly good example of Fahey's style. This is simple enough music to play, but who else would have thought to do it? The result is entirely original, dark and mysterious. Physically incapable of playing fast, and tortured by his efforts to play bluegrass, Fahey instead developed a ponderous style, with a heavy right hand thumb. This is thoughtful music, idiosyncratic, plain and plain strange. It seems to me to open up a space all of it's own; it's bittersweet I suppose rather than melancholy. I could write about the images it throws up in my mind, but I would sound incredibly pretentious. I do love it though, it's extremely poetic music to me. There, that's pretentious enough for now. Here is the clip.... at the end of it you can hear him mumbling something about ripping off Holst's ''The Planets''.  

1 comment:

  1. this is a really beautiful piece of music and it makes me even more excited for the "little martha" release. i also love reading david tattersall's writing about it. i find it's often difficult to talk about music when it is very personal. i love where he says he could talk about all the images it evokes but would sound pretentious. today i wanted to talk about the images a particular song he and andre herman dune recorded and how it brought up images of a farm in the country in the 70s and a very specific kind of sun light. but then i just didn't want to share that on the fan blog. but then i just did here.