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Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist Hardcover – June 1, 2014
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John Fahey is hardly a household name, yet it is surprising that this is the first biography of the idiosyncratic acoustic guitarist. Fahey, who died in 2011, was a singular if peculiar figure in the music world, a cult figure, really. Even as a high-school student, Lowenthal notes, Fahey felt like an outsider, “more miserable and alienated” than the average teenager, and he sought refuge in music. Fahey recorded more than 40 albums, mostly folk and blues in the so-called American Primitive style—he was a virtuoso finger-picker—while releasing some experimental material later in his career. But he struggled with many inner demons, including a bad case of stage fright and addiction to alcohol and prescription pills. Prone to self-destructive behavior, he even ended up homeless at one point. The fact that Fahey was able to maintain a long career and establish his own record labels, Takoma and Revenant, is in itself remarkable. While not always engaging, journalist Lowenthal does offer a sympathetic portrait of a troubled yet undeniably talented man. --June Sawyers
"Dance of Death benefits from astute research and interviews with friends, contemporaries, fellow musicians, and family, painting a vivid picture of a remarkable man." —Under the Radar
"If you have any love for the sound of a guitar and haven't heard him, hustle to your music source and get "The Best of John Fahey" to listen to while reading Lowenthal's book. You won't be disappointed." —Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
"The fate of the markedly talented and decidedly peculiar, even misanthropic Fahey is told engagingly and with insight by Steve Lowenthal in a compact but potent new biography, Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist." —NewRepublic.com
"Lowenthal deftly balances Fahey's achievements and shortcomings, and in the process humanizes an extremely talented and profoundly troubled man." —Baltimore Magazine
“The wonderfully inventive, even utopian guitarist John Fahey spun what seemed to be an impenetrable web around his life, but Steve Lowenthal has picked away the strands with dogged research and eloquent passion, revealing an artist worth knowing and caring about.” —Gary Giddins, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams and Visions of Jazz
“John Fahey was a renegade, an outlier of the academy investigating the true mystic roots of the American blues psyche. It is our great fortune to have Steve Lowenthal’s steadfast and diligently researched biography of this remarkable iconoclast who inarguably inspired a generation and beyond of radical/traditional music freaks.” –Thurston Moore
"Heartfelt but evenhanded." —The Big Takeover
"A fascinating read for fans of Fahey and American roots music." —Library Journal
"Lowenthal neither deifies his subject nor vilifies him, and the result is a very short (only 240 pages) but engaging warts-and-all book that shines a light on one of roots music’s most fascinating and mysterious figures." —Engine 145
Top Customer Reviews
I was introduced to his Takoma releases beginning with Blind Joe Death in the early 1970s. I would be classified as one of those aging hippies he disliked because they wanted him to continue to play the same stuff he had composed in the 1950s. I remember being put off by his liner notes with the 'put ons' that he wrote.
I recall his editorials in Guitar Player magazine way back then, with phrases including, "the ontological fixity," drew a lot of ridicule from readers who commented in letters to the editor. They thought him pretentious if I remember correctly. Of course Fahey would have classified such critics as the "midgets" he said he was surrounded by, and maybe that is right.
So it is a sad story of a man whom I suppose you could accurately say was a tortured genius, whose personal demons derailed his life. I am curious as to why the author didn't include more on Fahey's relationship with Stefan Grossman. He recorded a live concert for Grossman, and a guitar lesson series, with an interview. Bottom line is for those who are curious as to the life of John Fahey I recommend the book.
What about the "Blind Joe Death Saga of John Fahey DVD"? Well, get that too. The creative people did a great job setting beautiful imagery to Fahey's music. You can pretty much skip the interviews on that DVD as they are 50% content free for all but diehard Pete Townshend fans.
What makes this book so great?
It focuses on Fahey himself. Lowenthal obviously made a huge effort to interview ALL of the key people throughout Fahey's life, not just the readily accessible handful who came to know him over his last decade. Fortunately, they are included as well.
Next, it stays away from the music itself. Yes, Lowenthal dutifully cites the well worn "Ives/Bartok/classical music over traditional fingerpicking" quote which has never really applied to more than a handful of Fahey's compositions. Fahey was a creative genius composer who listened widely to all types of music. The closest that we're ever going to come to understanding his creativity is found in the rambling text in "The Best of John Fahey 1959-1977 tablature book. This book actually does reference some of that as well, so it really is as good as it gets on his music and Lowenthal wisely knows when to stop.
Finally, it focuses on the people and experiences in Fahey's life and through them we come to understand Fahey about as well as we can. If you've spent time reading his liner notes, his books, etc then you will enjoy getting a better understanding of the faces, emotions and histories behind the liner notes.Read more ›
y'r ol' Bud,
I have to say for me, though, the experience of reading it was somewhat painful. Like any Fahey fan I knew the sad way his life ended, and experiencing this uniquely American artist's decline was challenging.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
reads like a long article on the internet...seems like it was only released as a book to "seem legitimate"
but, someone paid to publish it, so perhaps I'm... Read more
Great read for any Fahey fan or musician. I'm currently starting 2nd chapter, very interesting so far. Read morePublished on January 16, 2015 by Zach A Day
50 years listening to John Fahey: the musician I love the most. I heard him 3 times; his concerts were interesting and one hoped he was sober (At the other extreme, John Berryman's... Read morePublished on December 31, 2014 by chrzan
Perfect book for the John Fahey fan. Provides an introspective look at the life of tortured genius. Well written and sourced nicely.Published on December 29, 2014 by Vonnie D.
I have been a Fahey fan since the early 70's. I understand and appreciate his talent creativity and contribution to American music and the steel string guitar. Read morePublished on November 13, 2014 by Amazon Customer
Indepth unfiltered bio. Must read for music enthusiast.Published on November 1, 2014 by patricia hessinger