CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT IN OPEN ‘C’ TUNING
In Salem, the winter fog settles at sundown
like gauze, blinding and oppressive,
a cold, wet blanket of
Fuck You For Being Here.
On such an evening, I imagine
John Fahey in some shithole welfare hotel,
perhaps the Holiday Lodge on Hawthorne.
He is naked, as the heat is
cranked up to “Tropical Oasis” setting.
On the bed lies a guitar with no strings.
It is being used as a Big Gulp holder,
the soundhole being the perfect size
to fit the 64 oz. diabetic coma-inducing beverage.
(For John, art is always utilitarian.
There is a clip from a 1969
Public Television show on folk music,
hosted by Laura Weber, a tense woman
with a large beehive hairdo.
John is demonstrating how to play
lap guitar with bar slide,
furiously chain-smoking all the while.
The studio has neglected to accommodate
his needs, so he flicks his cigarette
into the vintage instrument.
“Oh, it’s a guitar AND an ashtray,”
adlibs Laura nervously,
a rictus grin congealed on her face.
As this does not appear to be a question,
Fahey does not respond.)
In the parking lot outside his room,
drug pushers and prostitutes ply their trades,
protected by the cloak of invisibility supplied
by the thick Valley mist.
It reminds me of the ocean fog that rolled in
every goddamn afternoon at 4 o’clock sharp
on every goddamn summer day
for the three years I lived in Haight Ashbury,
covering the neighborhood in a gray, suicidal chill
(although, if one traveled a half-mile inland,
the sun would be shining brightly.)
John Fahey hates fucking hippies.
Fair enough, but what will to self-abnegation
could lead one from California’s Paradise
to the bleak fields of Oregon,
settling in a Podunk town where
half the populace not working for the government
lived below the poverty line.
(--“O my God, it’s like a Green Georgia”
I cried in dismay when I took my first busride
through my new home--)
The Kalapuyans tribe,
who settled the Willamette Valley 10,000 years ago,
called Salem ‘Chemekta’ (pron. ‘chim-i-ki-ti’)
which in Santiam means
“meeting or resting place,”
and for whatever unknown perversity Fahey has decided
to lay his massive bulk here
like Orson Welles as Falstaff in Exile.
Once he owned a record company.
Now he scours the bins of thrift stores
for albums to sell on the collector’s market
at the more upscale store downtown.
Replaced also are the old gods—
Dvorak, the scratchy 78s of Charlie Patton,
The sounds in his head are now an amalgam
Of pulsating traffic from I-5,
the grinding of steel wheels on freight yard tracks
and the low hum of television static
after all the stations have gone off the air.
He attempts to replicate this music of the spheres
with a distorted electric guitar and the help of
tech-savvy young acolytes who labor to create
an electronic white noise backdrop to the Master’s
vague, yet demanding, instructions.
Folk purists are incensed by these records.
John Fahey hates fucking purists.
Finally, around 4 o’clock in the morning,
Salem gets as quiet as it is going to be
--only the occasional phlegmatic whoosh
of a lone car on the soggy freeway,
or a premature crow from an urban rooster
to break the silence.
In his bed, John Fahey dreams of
cheeseburgers and Japan, turtles and Viking funerals
and Albert Ayler.
He dreams, but no one has actually
ever seen him sleep.
It is a new world—
Prehistoric fishes are discovered
every day on the internet—
and he very much wants to be a
Part of It.