Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Needs

Tonight I was thinking that I wanted to post up a solo free improvisation. Somewhere in the process of listening to tracks from the last few months and narrowing down on what kind of thing I wanted to put up I realized that, well, I actually just want to post some John Fahey.

"My Needs" (from the album Days Have Gone By, 1967)

This song is a long improvisation on the hymn "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need". You can thank my (lack of, spotty, secular, Jew"ish") religious upbringing for the fact that I'd never heard the original until just now. I won't link anything, but if you want to get your mind blown, youtube this hymn and listen to pretty much anyone's video. Especially the polyphonic ones. Seriously.

Throughout, Fahey returns to the material of the intro as a refrain separating single note improvisations loosely based on the melody, chords, and feeling of the hymn, before finally stating the hymn itself in its entirety, unadorned and very simply, at about 5:30. There is so much to be learned here about patience, pacing, and structure in a solo performance. To play an instrument with so little sustain, to be so alone instrumentally, to play so simply, and with such maturity. The reason I love this recording is for the sense of space Fahey creates. Development is present, but unhurried. Time passes, but does not feel like it does. The moment is suspended in space and the listener can breath. To master this music, for the performer, is to master oneself. If only for the moment.

Music is art experienced temporally, tied to presentations of finite length which move at a rate not set by the listener. Yet I believe the goal of all music across genre and culture is to suspend this sense of time's passage. To create space where the listener and performer can go and life can be stopped and felt in its wholeness.

I've known about Fahey for years: he is the guy who discovered Leo Kottke, one of my early heros, and a Takoma Park MD native (I grew up right next door, in Silver Spring MD). But I'd never heard him and 'gotten it' until I picked up the album Days Have Gone By for $4 at Idle Time Books in Adam's Morgan. Whenever I hear this album I am reminded of the summer of 2009, when I listened to it again and again while driving back and forth to Dewey Beach.

"On the Banks of the Owichita" (from the Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites, 1964)

If the previous track is for night time listening, this one is for the morning. Not quite on the same level perhaps, but beautiful in its rustic qualities - for me, I hear the sound of geese flapping their wings in the rattle of the slide against the wood of the guitar, choruses of insects and animals in the scrape of the metal slide on the wound metal strings, the depth of a body of water in the huge harmonics, and the rising sun and starting day when the beat kicks in at 2:00. Simple and effective, and again, a solo guitar, fully realizing a song. Something to aspire to, in a weird kind of way - this music is blunt, simple, beautiful.