9 Sep


By: Bob Gersztyn

John Fahey Promotion094
I wrote this back in 2007 as an introduction to my book of interviews with John Fahey. Since then I’ve published a 2 volume music history book titled, “Jesus Rocks The World: The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music, Volumes 1 & 2.” At the same time, I’ve expanded my interviews, since John passed on, to include his band mates, fellow musicians and his third wife. Since my blog hits spiked from 10-20 hits a day to nearly 500 hits the weekend that I posted the John Fahey article, I assume that there is an interest in information about him. Therefore, I will now post my article which is from the same time period and incidents that the last one was about. You can read it either because you are starved for information about John Fahey or maybe you like the photographs that are not like the normal John Fahey photographs, but include his playful side.

John Fahey Handcolored enhanced #3 reduced

First Meeting.

1997 was a relatively peaceful year, in the second half of the Clinton administration, but it was a hot summer for Oregon. The temperature soared near one-hundred degrees, and the demolition going on at the Senator Hotel, to make way for the new Cherriot’s bus station was in full swing. I was meeting John Fahey at “Guitar Castle”. Tim Knight, who went by TK, owned the vintage guitar store, and was a member of his new project at the time. He set up the meeting to talk to John and shoot a few photos. Although TK and Rob Scrivner, who were part of John’s current band, the “John Fahey Trio” were supposed to be there, it was just John and me. Tim must have closed up shot early today and forgot, or who knows what may have come up, but the bottom line was that he and Rob weren’t there.

Right around 5:00 P.M. John drove up in a beat up 1985 white Honda Civic. He was wearing sunglasses, a black T-shirt and black shorts, and walked across the street to where I was standing in front of “Guitar Castle”.

“Hi John.” I said. I told him who I was and he asked where Tim was. After we shook hands, I told him that the store was locked up when I arrived and didn’t know. We talked about the hot weather for a minute and then I suggested that we start without them. John liked my idea of shooting the band in front of the half demolished Senator hotel. I shot some shots of him in front of the Senator alone, and told him that I knew of some railroad box cars on Front Street.

“Let’s save that for the rest of the group.” John said, then he continued – “Do you know where we can get some ice cream?”

I told him that there was an ice cream place in the mall, but John didn’t want to go to a crowded mall, even though it was air conditioned.

“How about Diary Queen?” I suggested.

He liked that idea and since I knew where it was I told him that I’d drive. We headed over the Marion Street bridge connecting downtown to West Salem. I later found out that John hated photographers, but for some reason we hit it off. Maybe it was because both of us had a different way of looking at things, or then again it may have been our mutual interest in religion, but most likely a mixture of both. Whatever it was, it made us compatible for the last few years of John’s life.

John had just released what was hailed as the comeback album of the year, by every major music industry magazine. “City of Refuge” was the title of his new album, which was composed of experiments in industrial noise and musical dissonance. On the way there I told him that I hadn’t heard “City of Refuge” yet, and would like to get a copy. He said that he’d give me one when we got back to his car, then we talked about meeting again tomorrow with the rest of the group. John said that he was living in room 209 at the Oregon Capital Inn.

“Just call and ask for my room if there are any problems.” He said.

Oregon Capital Inn054

The Oregon Capital Inn is was one of the most notorious daily, weekly and monthly rate places in the capital of Oregon, next to the “Mardon”, on Portland road. Migrant farm workers, recent prison releases, drug dealers, prostitutes and the down and out lived there, when they could afford it.

When we got to Dairy Queen, we went inside the air conditioned building and ordered two large vanilla cones. While we were consuming our cones he was explaining to me how the “Trio”, as he called it were taking what he had done on “City of Refuge”, a step farther.

I asked him if the title came from the Old Testament’s “city’s of refuge”, and he responded that the religious implications were part of it. He explained how, at one time religious ideas dominated his life, but not so much anymore. John even told me that he traveled around the country living in different religious communes at one time. He told me that he liked the Hindu ones best, and the Christian ones the least.

John Fahey Trainreduced #1051

I told him that I read an article about him a few years ago, in the Statesman Journal, Salem’s daily newspaper. It said that he was living in Union Gospel Mission, on Commercial, and was going to be performing Christmas music. It talked about how he sold his guitar to buy booze and was sleeping in the gutter.

“Yeah, I was on the bottom”. He told me. “But religion had nothing to do with it. I got tired of sleeping under the bridge. There’s some crazy people out there. So I went inside.”

John was friends with some of the local musicians, so they helped him put together the Christmas concert. John Doan, who is a music professor and musician at Willamette University was instrumental. John complained that he didn’t like the way that the Mission forced it’s theology down your throat, especially when he had more formal religious education than most of the ministers who were preaching the sermons. John had a B.A. from American University in Washington D.C. in Religion & Philosophy, as well as an M.A. from U. C. Berkeley in Mythology and Folklore. So he split from the mission as soon as he got the money buy a car to live out of.

We were looking through the ‘Nickel Ads’ while we were finishing our cones and I told John that I was interested in more than just doing photographs. I explained that I wanted to do a full blown story. He asked me what magazine I wanted to do it for, and I told him that I wasn’t sure, but that I was working with a Deadhead magazine at the time. He told me that he hated Hippie’s, but that for some reason they liked his music.

After we finished our cones, I drove John back to “Guitar Castle”, where his car was parked. Then we reconfirmed our meeting tomorrow at 5:00 PM, with the rest of the trio. Before leaving he called me over to his car, which was crammed full of everything from wads of clothing to 33 rpm vinyl albums. He even had his Grammy, that he won for liner notes on a Smithsonian compilation of Blues, in 1997 mixed in. He reached into a cardboard box, in the back seat, and handed me a copy of his new album “City of Refuge”.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” I said, as I drove off.

The Trio.

The next day, at 4:30 P.M., I pulled into the empty space in front of “Guitar Castle”. The store was open, and TK apologized for the mix up from the day before. He said that it was supposed to be for today, but it all worked out for the best since I got to meet and connect with John. Rob came in next and TK introduced me.

It was nearly 5:15 P.M. when TK said – “sometimes John forgets about appointments, and even gigs, he doesn’t like clocks.”

A few minutes later John pulled up and came lumbering into the store. John was a big man, but he had a very mild demeanor. He appeared to be wearing the same T-shirt and shorts that he had on yesterday. Without even saying hello, he walked over to the wall, that had a dozen autographed guitars hanging on it, and took one of them down. After inspecting it, he said something to TK, and asked if we were ready to take the photographs, as he looked at me.

“Let’s go back to the spot that I was shooting you at yesterday John.” I said, as I picked up my camera bag and tripod, and started heading out the door.

TK and Rob grabbed a couple of guitars and followed John and me, after locking the store up. The demolition site was just a block East on Court Street, so we walked. We started on the South side and then went to the North. The guys were clowning around with a disassembled guitar. John would look at me using the guitar neck and body as if they were gun sites. In some ways the guitar body looked like an old 16mm movie camera, the way that John was holding it. TK was acting like he was playing for an audience.

Rob Scrivner

Rob suggested that we do some poses where we were all looking at the half demolished Senator hotel. By the time it was 7:00 P.M., I suggested that we move over to the railroad tracks on Front Street, because we would be losing light. We walked back to Guitar Castle and decided to use Rob’s car, so we all piled in.

On the drive over they asked me if I could shoot their upcoming gig in Portland, at “Berbati’s Pan”. Berbati’s was a local club that sometimes had some big names, but usually had upcoming bands that only drew a couple hundred people. Alanis Morissette played there in November 1995, the day before she played to the sold out Armory in Salem, at the beginning of her “Jagged Little Pill” tour.

“Sure.” I told them. “What night is it on?” It ended up being on the same day that I was covering the “Furthur Festival”, so I’d already be in Portland. The Trio’s set wouldn’t start until sometime after 11:00 P.M., so there was no conflict.

On the rest of the way John, Rob and TK discussed something that they were working on, in Knights basement practice room and recording studio. Then John started talking about some shooting that had taken place in the parking lot of the “Oregon Capital Inn” the past weekend. By the time that we got to Front Street the sun was just off the horizon, casting it’s golden rays on the box cars that were staged in front of the canneries.

After walking around a while, John decided on a box car and I started shooting. TK and Rob were clowning around, while John did his thing. TK got a guitar out and started doing rock poses, while John started climbing up the box car ladder, and was hanging off. John later told me that one purpose of the trio’s formation was to play music that brought people down to their lowest common denominator, but first you had to lure them in, because nobody is going to willingly get depressed. Then in this state of emotional desolation, important decisions could be made. Life changing decisions, like should I get married, become a priest, give away all my possessions and follow a life of poverty, etc..

John Goofy085

As the light started to dim, I suggested that we quit for the night. On the way back to “Guitar Castle” John started talking about religion again. This time he was telling me that he considers himself an atheist, but has strong feelings for the Roman Catholic church, and hated the Protestant apostates. “Apostolic Succession is the proof.” John said. “That the Roman Catholic church is the one true church The Keys to the Kingdom were given to Peter, and Martin Luther didn’t come along for another fifteen hundred years. Only a priest who was ordained by a Bishop from 2000 years of unbroken succession could perform the transubstantiation of the Eucharist.”
Then somehow he jumped to the subject of Marilyn Manson, and talked about how he was a necessary archetype.

“Why is that?” I asked. “To remind us that evil exists, on a theatrical level, like in horror movies. Look at the Bible, it’s full of stories about evil. Evil is manifested in a different way for each generation.” John said.

“So sometimes you get Adolph Hitler and sometimes you get Marilyn Manson.” I said and continued. “I’ll take Marilyn Manson.”

Then TK asked John if he wanted to practice tonight, which he declined. I told him that I’d process the film after I got home and have everything ready by tomorrow evening. John told me to stop by his room at the Oregon Capital Inn sometime after 9:00 P.M..

John’s Room.

John Goofyreduced086

The next day I went by “Guitar Castle” and showed TK the proofs, before John saw them. He picked out the ones that he liked the best, and I put them in a separate pile. He didn’t touch any of the ones of John solo and since I forgot a lupe he couldn’t study the contact sheet. I made a note to bring my lupe for John.

A little after 9:00 P.M. I pulled into the parking lot of the Oregon Capital Inn and walked up to the second floor where John’s room was. It was a hot night, because the temperature that usually drops about twenty or thirty degrees during the night was still in the high seventies, from the ninety degree day, so the door of his room was open. When I peered inside there was a white haired man jumping on John’s bed, while Marilyn Manson was blasting on John’s combination record, tape and CD player.

When I knocked on the door John waved me in and turned down the volume a notch. “This is Tom.” John said as he pointed to the white haired man still jumping on the bed, who waved at me. They were listening to Marilyn Manson’s new album. Pull up a chair John said, as he motioned towards towards an empty chair, which had a heap of used bath towels sitting next to it.

I pulled it up to where John was sitting between the bed and the wall, while Tom continued to jump while “Beautiful People” continued to play. I later found out that Tom rode with Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels, back in 60’s, did ten years in San Quenton and now lived in a tent on a farm that he worked at, in West Salem.

I handed John the large manilla envelope with the proofs and contact sheets. This time I brought a lupe, so John was able to scrutinize everything. I shot a roll of slides, a roll of color negative and two rolls of black & white one panchromatic and the other infra-red. Then Tom got off the bed and started looking at the shots as well. John liked most of the photos, but he didn’t like the infra-red trio shots, where he was in the front. He said that it looked like he was disappearing. This was because of the flare from the sun, combined with the ethereal graininess associated with the film, but in retrospect it was also a prescient photograph.

When Marilyn Manson finished it got quiet enough for us to hear each other without shouting. Tom started telling me about how much he liked Marilyn Manson and even saw him in concert at the Armory, where he was in the Mosh pit. Tom was in his 60’s with long white hair and a long white beard. He looked like a skinny Santa Claus. John picked out the ones that he wanted enlargements of, and he said that he was in no hurry, so I could bring them to the gig next week at “Berbati’s Pan”.

“I didn’t realize that you liked Marilyn Manson.” I said to John.

“I really don’t like listening to him, but I’m interested in what he’s doing.” John answered. “He’s taken sophisticated technology and turned it into something primitive and archaic.. I’m interested in primitive music.” Then he asked me if I wanted to borrow the CD.

“Sure.” I told him. “I’ll bring it back with the enlargements next week.” Then I asked him again about the possibility of interviewing him about his world and religious views, and how it related to his music.”

“There’s no hurry on the CD.” John said. Then he said that the interview subject sounded interesting, and that when we met next week, we could set something up. After asking me if I wanted a soda pop to drink, the three of us sat around talking for about an hour, until there was some arguing outside of John’s door, and he said that he was going to take off. The people argued every day he said, and they would go on for hours, until someone finally called the police, or one of them gave in. John got in his car with Tom, and we said goodnight.

Berbati’s Pan.

The “Furthur Festival” ended by 10:00 P.M., so I made it to “Berbati’s Pan” in time to sit down with John and the band before the show to have a beer and relax. John introduced me to a guy named Dwayne, who was a used record dealer. He used to own Oasis records in Salem, when there were still half a dozen independent record stores there selling vinyl 33 1/3 LP’s there. By the early 90’s he sold Oasis and moved to Portland.

John at Casey's070

John ordered a beer and the Trio were discussing their set, as I got out my camera gear. The lighting was really dim, but I didn’t want to use my flash, so I planned on shooting a roll of slides at 1600 and Black & White at 3200. A few minutes after 11:00 PM they were introduced and began their hour long set.

John, Rob and TK entirely performed their new work. Some fans come to hear John play his older material and were disappointed. One man even comes up to John to make a personal request, but was waved off. Temperamental artists do what they want, and John didn’t want to do anything but his new work.

The haunting dissonance of their performance enveloped the entire club. John later told me that the goal of the trio wasn’t to entertain people, but to create an atmosphere where they would be able to think about their lives in realistic terms. They were creating mood music for serious meditation and self induced psychotherapy, according to John, although sometimes you weren’t sure whether John was serious or just giving you a line.

John Goofyreduced088

By the time that they were performing the Oregon Capital Inn, I was loading my second roll of film. In 2000 the trio’s CD came out on “Jazzoo Records” and was comprised of a variety of performances recorded in a number of Venues. Places like the “Viscount Ballroom”, located on the corner of Burnside and 7th. The CD has eleven cuts on it, some of which were improvisations that were named later. Selections like, Things Fall Apart, Scherzo, Like Being Born Again and Tina In the Rain.

By Midnight the place was packed, as the trio finished their set. The next band came up on stage to begin setting up their equipment just before John went back to the table. One of its members started telling him how much he enjoyed their set and was glad to meet him. John politely listened and nodded, and then sat down. I told him that I’d have everything ready for them to look at in a week and we decided on a meeting time. To be continued.

John Fahey Handcolored enhanced & reduced

John Fahey Handcolored reduced


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