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Guitar God

Listen to John Fahey.
Κείμενο Angel Nelfi

Photo by Melissa Stephenson

If you have ears and you don’t own any John Fahey records, you are making a huge mistake and need to get on the ball right now. He was the greatest guitarist that ever lived. We can’t even spend too much time talking about his music (ragtime, blues, fingerpicking, avant-ism, and dexterity of the highest) or his many records (although the best one to start with is 1967’s Vol. 2: Death Chants, Breakdowns & Military Waltzes) because he’s so good that words alone seem blasphemous. But John Fahey was an erstwhile writer too, and his second book, Vampire Vultures, is about to come out. It is posthumous, because Fahey died in 2001, but it is ageless. Vampire Vultures is the culmination of detritus left behind by John, who lived mostly in motels during his final years, writing this mythological and nostalgic prose. Vampire Vultures intersperses personal letters in a blunt language (to a man whose wife he’s stolen: “I do not want to fight or argue with you. I would prefer to be your friend.”) with a dreamy narrative of childhood that takes place in an alternate Maryland. By alternate, I mean that there are half-cat/half-human creatures living in the woods, a life-giving magical well in a neighbor’s backyard, and a benevolent god named Koonaklaster. The only thing missing is omniscient pegacorns. Fahey, who had an infamously deranged and lonely upbringing, constructs a story in this book that nimbly combines elements of fables, folk tales, and Leave It to Beaver. The effect is simultaneously otherworldly and comforting. So calming, in fact, that it’s hard to reconcile it with all the legends of Fahey having been a cantankerous jerk. Ayal Senior, a friend and collaborator of Fahey’s and the author of the book’s foreword, clears it up. “It’s a misconception that he was a malcontent,” he says. “John was a sweet guy who’d do anything for you if you weren’t full of shit.” Damian Rogers, the book’s editor, agrees. “I think he did the best he could for as damaged a person as he was. His mistake was that he continually looked outside himself for acceptance. I don’t think he ever felt fully at peace about who he was.” You can do your part towards making the ghost of John Fahey feel better about itself. Read Vampire Vultures and then say “Thanks, John” out loud. It’s okay if you feel kind of embarrassed about thanking a dead guy. ANGEL NELFI
Vampire Vultures is out now from Drag City.