John Fahey was a guitarist who performed intricate fingerstyle and played a role in the revival of folk and blues throughout the nation. After years of little recognition, he saw moderate mainstream success late in life. His music, though primarily consisting of simple six-string acoustic and very rarely his own voice, ranged from ragtime to raga-inspired droning.
One might not suspect from a description of his music that he was also a powerful writer, capable of conveying immense emotion, demanding attention with the inflection and gusto of a street corner orator. His semi-autobiographical work “How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life” was the most hilarious, uplifting, depressing, musical and, certainly, strangest book I have read.
Through these series of short stories, Fahey offers a perspective into the progression of his mind as he aged, bluntly sharing his unique worldview which was shaped in post-WWII suburbia, augmented by the mythic occult and nurtured in the music scene at a time when freight train hopping was still a viable means of transportation.
As all of us do, he starts as a child. His family moved into a small neighborhood in Washington, DC in 1945 “right after we dropped the big ones on Japan.” He is quickly welcomed to the community by the genial 12-year-old “gang leader,” Eddie. This boy’s idol is Adolf Hitler and he has learned to speak German solely to understand the Fuhrer’s speeches. Fahey perfectly portrays the malleable minds of children as Eddie teaches the kids to chant, to worship his god, “Koonaklaster,” and to revel in their “natural” disposition towards violence and sadism. To a child raised in wartime, the enemy of the “oppressive” adults is a friend.
These first chapters detailing a gang of self-assured spiritual hoodlums is the crash course. One quickly becomes acquainted with Fahey’s extravagant formatting and supernatural imagination. Nearly every character is a logical product of their environment; and those who are not, are the kind of people you must meet for yourself. I will revere this book for years to come.
At times he delves into musical tangents that some readers may find boring. However, music aficionados and anyone interested in the ‘60s resurgence of folk and blues (all that is modern mainstream) will find an interesting bit of history in “How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life.” Every reader will find inspiration for dreams and nightmares alike.