15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This review comes from the perspective of a long time Fahey fan. It pretty much does tell the story of the late John Fahey, the preeminent genius composer for acoustic guitar of the second half of the 20th Century, and presents and captures the vibe beautifully.
Artistically, this is a true labor of love. The art, sequencing and care are second to none. The visuals accurately get the importance and impact of slow moving water, trains, the Sligo River and various Takoma scenes upon John Fahey's psyche and muse. Turtles and animated line drawings of Fahey fading in and out of railroad tracks and Maryland wilderness sets the ambiance from the start and core fans will recognize and appreciate the sources. All of these scenes are set to the most appropriate contextual music imaginable... Fahey himself! This truly captures Fahey's vibe from those formative years and we grow to understand and feel how he could so easily make time stand still or radically shift tempos, all while drifting in and out of total dissonance... right under our noses, yet completely unnoticed by the casual listener. Who but Fahey could stand the Mississippi river still in its bed while the volk notice only the humidity? Kudos to the artistic direction... it all just flows and feels so right.
It is hard to say whether this appeals to a Fahey aficionado or a casual fan. Take simple things... such as the omnipresent turtles. There is really not enough background for a casual fan who is bound to wonder at all of this turtle imagery. For the deep Fahey fan, why not expound a little on the stories about Kottke and Fahey's work with these turtles. Likewise, dropping the "Koonaklastier" and the "big K" is only going to mystify a casual fan while a deep Fahey fan might like to hear a bit more, or perhaps even hear the term in context from a reading (with visual) from a relatively obscure out of print Fahey publication such as "The Best of John Fahey" book with its quirky and wonderfully rambling visual layout. Likewise with Blind Willie Johnson's "Praise God I'm Satisfied"... the imagery is great and the story is quickly told, but told out of order. Hence the primary point of it... its immediate physically sickening impact upon Fahey and his subsequent conversion is glossed over, if not lost completely.
There are some really nice touches that only a Fahey aficionado could possibly appreciate, such as the music selection for the Skip James segment. It includes the motif which Fahey so proudly lifted for part of the powerful intro to "Stomping Tonight on the Pennsylvania/Alabama Border", i.e. "The opening chords are from the last movement of Vaughan Williams' Sixth Symphony. It goes from there to a Skip James motif. Following that it moves to a Gregorian chant, Dies Irae. It's the most scary one in the Episcopal hymn books - it's all about the day of judgement. Then it returns to the Vaughan Williams chords, followed by a blues run of undetermined origin, then back to Skip James and so forth." Here again, the artistic treatment of these scenes simply cannot be praised enough.
As good as the creative direction is, the editorial choices on this effort are baffling at best. Any knowledgeable Fahey fan will be mystified by the inexplicably overwhelming presence of Pete Townshend throughout this documentary, while a casual fan might wrongly assume that he knows quite a bit about Fahey. In reality, Townshend cites 4 incorrect genres including "R&B" for Fahey, appears to be near completely unaware of his work and reveals that he has only heard one Fahey LP, "Vol 4 Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death". Indeed, their only connection appears to be an unfathomable letter which Fahey once sent to Townshend regarding a Who rock operas. Actually, that's typically inscrutable Fahey, really kind of cool and it does make for 2 or 3 interesting minutes. But that snippet is the beginning and the end of what should have been included from this interview. Instead, Townshend consumes perhaps 40% or more of the total video time including the extras. I've revised my review upon realizing that I made a similar mistake in letting Townshend consume a similar share of it. Suffice to say, the most bloviating rock star of my g g generation knows nothing about Fahey and admits as much if you pay attention. Indeed, Justin Bieber's thoughts on Fahey could be no less and no more meaningless.
So, despite the artistic quality of the DVD I have to give this a 3. Little room was left over for other interviews and outside of his wife Melody and a few others we generally have an over concentration of folks who came to know Fahey in his last decade. To get an idea of what is missing, you really need to read Steve Lowenthal's "Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist". There are dozens of fascinating individuals who are knowledgeable, accessible and willing to offer insights into Fahey from every point in his career. It is certainly hard work to track them down, but the editors could easily have shortened it or punted to their great creative team by allowing them to work their magic on some more imagery.
The startlingly obvious omission which immediately springs to mind is the vista for the mesmerizing "View East from the B & O Viaduct and the Riggs Road intersection" off of "The Yellow Princess". I have wanted to see this view for decades. Fahey wrote it down to remember it and reads it carefully in the Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick concert to make sure that people know where it is. While it can't be any Grand Canyon, people have been known to hunt down this view which inspired such a powerfully evocative composition for over 40 years. I shudder to think that this may have lost out to pointless pontificating in ill chosen interviews.
On a personal note, I appreciated the chance to discover George Winston's music on this DVD. I was a huge Michael Hedges fan but quite underwhelmed with everything else that I heard in the Windham Hill catalog. William Ackerman, the Windham Hill founder was a Fahey fan and as a result both Fahey and Kottke came to be mistakenly lumped in with these directionless and metronomic open tuned New Age noodling guitar styles. Life is not fair, and while Kottke shrugged it off in an interview and appreciated the greater sales levels that this 80's fad generated, I personally sympathized with Fahey and his vocal resentment and complete rejection of any association with these styles which were diametrically opposed to everything which he had ever composed. Unfortunately I gave up on Windham Hill before I made it to Mr. Winston. I am going to rectify that mistake now.