Recorded in 1995 and 1996, mostly in John Fahey’s room at a Salem, Oregon boarding house, the performances on ‘Proofs & Refutations’ prefigure the ornery turn of the page that marked Fahey’s final years, drawing another enigmatic rabbit from his seemingly bottomless musical hat.
Cloaked in the language of dogma - what is he proving? refuting? - this is Fahey dancing a jig in the Duchampian gap, jester cap bells a-jingling. True believers? He’s got something for you: an uncompromising vision that you can sneer at (“guy can’t play anymore and refuses to concede!”) or embrace as evidence of his genius (“the reinventor does it again!”). Skeptics? He’s there with you, too: sending up the fallacy of certitudes altogether. Institutions, systems, accepted wisdoms. Heroes. Alternative facts, indeed.
Right out the gate, Fahey re-materializes before us, somewhere between Oracle of Delphi and Clown Prince at Olympus. Mounting a thundering dialectic from on high, ‘All the Rains’ resembles nothing else in his extensive discography - betraying roots in everything from Dada to Episcopal liturgical chant - and contains nary a plucked guitar note. You can’t fool him! When the lap steel of yore appears on ‘F for Fake’, it serves more as soundbed for an extended sequence of vocal improvisations, running the gamut from wordless Bashoian caterwauling to free-form (but decidedly fake) Tuvan, even revealing a burnished falsetto in the process.
Fahey takes on a different kind of provocation in the two acoustic guitar- based tracks closing Side 1 - ‘Morning’ parts 1 and 2 - the first of four recordings in this session that have him wrestling with the ghost of Skip James, perhaps Fahey’s effort to wrench the “bitter, hateful old creep” (his words) back into the grave.
Anchoring Side 2 is the two-part ‘Evening, Not Night’, the second half of his extended cathexis on James (and the latter’s avowed castration complex - another story for another day, perhaps). Bit of a chill in the air – where’s the impish Fahey from earlier? Unmistakably working through some psychic wounds here, we might think: the unheimlich rendered in glistening viscera. Or is he playing with our notions of authenticity, of his reputation as troubadour of raw emotional states, a pilgrim of the ominous, the simmering unconscious? These cards are kept decidedly close to the vest. The opening and closing pieces again feature Fahey’s guitar as drone soundbed -
employing distortion, oscillation, and an altogether absurd quotient of reverb to create texture and harmonics that are - if we want to go there - not dissimilar to the sustained tonic clusters of Tibetan singing bowls, the hurdy gurdy, Hindustani classical music, or La Monte freaking Young.
Portions of this material appeared on obscure late 1990s vinyl in the 7” or double-78 rpm format, but as a ‘session’ it has lain dormant more than a quarter century now. Taken together, we can now see these tracks as secret blueprints to latter-day Fahey provocations, several years prior to records like 1997’s ‘City of Refuge’ and ‘Womblife’.
All the Rains
F for Fake
Morning, pt 1
Morning, pt 2
Evening, Not Night, pt 1
Evening, Not Night, pt 2
Untitled (w/o Rain)