Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life by John Fahey

When I saw this book out on a table at one of my favorite bookstores, I was at first attracted to the title. Then when I picked it up and flipped it over, I saw the Byron Coley blurb on the back and I was really interested. Once I started reading the introduction by Jim O'Rourke and got to the part about how he punched out Antonioni (highlighted in one of the stories contained within the book), I was sold.

Fahey was a fingerstyle guitarist who pioneered the steel string guitar as a solo instrument. His stories, which are autobiographical though I imagine not without fictional elements or embellishments, are mostly about his childhood growing up in Maryland, outside of D.C. The short, choppy sentences, with some paragraphs consisting of just one word like "yes" or "very," often reach a crescendo of madness and hilarity and beauty. While all of the stories are memorable, my favorite is the last one, "The Center of Interest Will Not Hold," which is divided into sections, one of which is also the title of the book. As a child, after hearing a DJ named Don Owens play a Bill Monroe song on the radio, Fahey is hooked, must hear the song again, and goes in search of the record. A collector named Dick Spottswood turns him on to other bluegrass records, which sets him off on the path he ended up on. "So because of Dick Spottswood and Don Owens and Bill Monroe, I became a professional guitar player and composer. What the hell kind of a gig is that? I could've been a contender."

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