John Fahey's Last Concert
Photo by Dan Cohoon of John Fahey's last concert
@ the Viscount Ballroom (Portland, Oregon)
November 8th, 2000
Our friend John Fahey died on February 22, 2001 in Salem, Oregon of complications from open heart surgery. He was a week short of his 62nd birthday. Below are some thoughts I penned shortly after hearing of his death.
I'm in Japan right now. We heard about John's death the morning it happened. Between Jim O'Rourke, Thurston and myself, we had many ties to him. I've been a huge fan of his playing since way back, discovering his first albums on Takoma and like music such as Leo Kottke's first great LP, which John issued. These records, the stylistic adventurousness inside of what seemed a traditional genre, influenced me greatly, with their open tunings, extrapolations, and found-sound additions. Meeting and spending time with John was a further treat. We did a small amount of touring together a few years back and— sadly— were just recently talking about trying to record some acoustic duet music together. He was a great big bear of a man who had a strong head and went his own way, a determined combination of confused and focused, it sometimes seemed. Reading the pieces in his book, "How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life", further emphasized both his scholarly nature and his sense of fun, his good humor.
John also passed to friends these last bunch of years some of his visual art which is quite good and takes many forms from artful scribbles to more sophisticated brushwork. I don't think many know that side of the man. He recently sent me a group of drawings on the theme of the Coelacanth, an ancient fish from prehistoric times that survived into the modern era. It's something we were talking about whilst touring together—and it didn't strike me at the time but maybe John felt an affinity with this creature? Seems likely.
Most of all, of course, it's the music he made, in all its forms, which will live on to inspire us for a long time to come. John was an uncompromising individualist who lived a life of his own, sometimes strange, choices. The music on the other hand is never strange, always almost pure and perfect, rising above any earthly predicaments, soaring up into the heavens. His recent electric guitar workouts, on the one hand so far from his best known acoustic music, further proved his willingness to expand the focus of his music.
When we toured together I was constantly amazed at his patient capacity to sit and coax one sweet electric note after another from his guitar, giving each its own breathing space, connecting the dots of a melody known only to him. Our song NYC Ghosts & Flowers is, in part, about memory and the loss of loved ones (as well as the birth of new visions)—I've been dedicating it nightly to John over here in Japan since the morning we heard he died….
-LEE RANALDO 02/24/01