February 26th, 2006


john the revealator

john fahey died february 22, 2001. coincidences. i found his revenant label records on the anniversary of his death. of course i paid an outrageous amount for the record and cd ,unheard, in the always over priced, always cramped with annoying effete boys looking for obscure vietnamese psychedelia and wack-off, tedious electronica, twisted village.

lately id been subsisting musically on things i find thrown out on the streets and in thrift stores, the hit or miss quality being part of the excitement. and , certainly ,the prices cannot be beat . no one wants 78s. no one wants 45s from turkey and syria.

i was thrilled beyond imagination to learn john fahey hated hippies even though he is always lumped in with them- to the extant of being called ' the coolest hippy' in an absurd amazondotcom review of one of his records. i was attracted to the mysterious qualities and feelings associated with dredging up bits of a lost place in time and it's forgotten, obscured people who created enchanting music and just faded away.

i was just drawn to these artifacts of artifacts- carefully saved and digitally cleaned up transfers of obscure 78s. and they sound pretty good. i've been struggling to get a good sound from my 78 collection that i'm in the process of cleaning, cataloguing, digitizing and ,most importantly, enjoying.

there are obsessive collectors of 78s (like in the movie' ghost world') who's objectives are to amass the rarest record, to manage to get every 78 in a certain series or of a particular artist. then there are those searching for that one perfect moment, that lost chord, the beauty of a song, a tune you simply cannot forget; a harmony too perfect for words.

the real blues, not the post WW2 blues the hippies like chinless eric clapton were so enamored of ,has nothing to do with electric guitars and endless blathering about some limp dick's goddamn mojo. classic, pioneering original blues was dominated by female musicians and relegated to the land of the lost and forgotten by male collectors and cock rock obsessed 60s/70s drones.

more often then not things become ' valuable' and highly sought after simply because they are rare, having nothing to do with the quality of the material recorded. this happens often enough now a days and usually it only means ,not that everyone simply didn't notice how fabulous this item was artistically, but, rather, no one was fucking interested at all because perhaps it just sucked. once and awhile the sheepy, trolly, spoon fed masses just didn't get it.

78s are a different story in a manner. a side would be recorded onto wax. the wax would be turned into a metal die. 100s of records would be pressed. if it didn't sell, the left over discs would be destroyed. often companies pressed new records by destroying and reusing their old catalogue remainders. a majority of early blues is so rare for this very reason- like the old silent films that were stripped of their silver content, destroyed leaving no extant useable copy.

the recording industry was almost in its pre-infancy . black records were called 'race' records, the listeners were segregated and the modern use of radio to promote music did not exist.( in fact, sheet music was the main promoter of certain tunes because a large amount of people of course made their own music at home.) the advertising was pretty offensive by our standards- with retarded hill billies(southern rural whites were just as stigmatized and demeaned in a manner people in the north still seem to find acceptable.)and minstrels and ape men and black face all making appearances in the scant promotional materials.

the early black musicians in the south played at fish frys, picnics and road houses. they'd get paid a paltry amount to record one side- no payment beyond which was made even if a particular recording sold amazingly well. there was no 'one hit wonder' tv show for the forgotten 'losers' to show up on and make a few bucks , no residuals when someone else covered a song you had written. most early blues songs were never copy written . memphis minnie, probably one of the most successful and prolific of the early blues stars, spent her last years severely ill and destitute . her family had to beg a blues collector publication to put out a call to help pay for the nursing care she needed. people like bonnie raitt came through and paid her royalties so her last years would be in comfort.

i suppose the blues were never about comfort and luxury, of course, save when rich junky, hippie honkies remade old songs for major recording companies as they flew around to gig after gig in their personal jets and moved to france to avoid paying taxes on the billions of pounds they had earned off of dead black american sharecroppers and tenant farmers-itinerant, destitute guitar pickers.

john fahey started out as a student of folklore and mythology, which endears him to me from the get go. originally he was interested in bluegrass music and learned to play guitar. he collected 78s and this led to his obsession with early blues, even going so far as to search out still living but forgotten blues artists.

eventually he recorded his own finger picking blues sides in 78 form under names like blind thomas and blind joe death . in later life he would go into thrift stores and slip his own 78s in the record bins- 78s which are worth quite a bit of money.

like the musicians he was drawn to, fahey eventually ended up homeless,ill and in a men's shelter in salem ore. he was left money and formed Revanent records to present the gems of forgotten' american primitive' music and what they call ' raw music', unencumbered by the ceaseless need to commercialize and package artists like loaves of bread-segregated into types and stocked only if they generate maximum sales.

that he could passionately and intelligently write about things he irrationally loved and not just slavishly amassed, makes him a fascinating read as well as someone with pretty damn good taste. revenant releases come with booklets and masses of documentation that is definitely not your standard liner notes. thinking not just consuming. thinking. feeling.

more and more i am finding i need to go backwards in order to find anything that musically excites me. i also need to find things by accident rather than design.

i think it only makes sense that john fahey also enjoyed einsturzende neubauten.

biographical material on john fahey in this post was taken from eddie dean, 'washington city paper' and ben ratliff, 'new york times'.