John Fahey Proofs & Refutations

Drag City
18th October 2023

Format Info

LP - black vinyl

Recorded in 1995 and 1996, mostly in John Fahey’s room at a Salem,Oregon boarding house, the performances on ‘Proofs & Refutations’prefigure the ornery turn of the page that marked Fahey’s final years,drawing another enigmatic rabbit from his seemingly bottomless musical hat.

Cloaked in the language of dogma – what is he proving? refuting? – this isFahey dancing a jig in the Duchampian gap, jester cap bells a-jingling. Truebelievers? He’s got something for you: an uncompromising vision that you can sneer at (“guy can’t play anymore and refuses to concede!”) or embraceas evidence of his genius (“the reinventor does it again!”). Skeptics? He’sthere with you, too: sending up the fallacy of certitudes altogether.Institutions, systems, accepted wisdoms. Heroes. Alternative facts, indeed. Right out the gate, Fahey re-materializes before us, somewhere betweenOracle of Delphi and Clown Prince at Olympus. Mounting a thunderingdialectic from on high, ‘All the Rains’ resembles nothing else in his extensivediscography – betraying roots in everything from Dada to Episcopal liturgicalchant – and contains nary a plucked guitar note. You can’t fool him! When thelap steel of yore appears on ‘F for Fake’, it serves more as soundbed for anextended sequence of vocal improvisations, running the gamut fromwordless Bashoian caterwauling to free-form (but decidedly fake) Tuvan,even revealing a burnished falsetto in the process.

Fahey takes on a different kind of provocation in the two acoustic guitarbased tracks closing Side 1 – ‘Morning’ parts 1 and 2 – the first of fourrecordings in this session that have him wrestling with the ghost of SkipJames, perhaps Fahey’s effort to wrench the “bitter, hateful old creep”(hiswords) back into the grave.  Anchoring Side 2 is the two-part ‘Evening, Not Night’, the second half of hisextended cathexis on James (and the latter’s avowed castration complex -another story for another day, perhaps). Bit of a chill in the air – where’s theimpish Fahey from earlier? Unmistakably working through some psychicwounds here, we might think: the unheimlich rendered in glistening viscera.Or is he playing with our notions of authenticity, of his reputation astroubadour of raw emotional states, a pilgrim of the ominous, the simmeringunconscious? These cards are kept decidedly close to the vest. The openingand closing pieces again feature Fahey’s guitar as drone soundbed -employing distortion, oscillation, and an altogether absurd quotient of reverbto create texture and harmonics that are – if we want to go there – notdissimilar to the sustained tonic clusters of Tibetan singing bowls, the hurdygurdy, Hindustani classical music, or La Monte freaking Young.

Portions of this material appeared on obscure late 1990s vinyl in the 7” ordouble-78 rpm format, but as a ‘session’ it has lain dormant more than aquarter century now. Taken together, we can now see these tracks as secretblueprints to latter-day Fahey provocations, several years prior to recordslike 1997’s ‘City of Refuge’ and ‘Womblife’.