Jo Gerrard: Dark Nights

It was raining on Sunday night and I asked my friends to go see John Fahey playing at freight and Salvage on Monday night. i couldn't believe they both wanted to go. I had written to him four months earlier when his Anthology, Return of the Repressed came out. He hadn't written back. My first fan letter and it didn't get answered.


My software business (children's software) was struggling. I was 43. divorced after 11 years with a seven year old son. I was working day and night to get the business up. My live work unit was by the train tracks. I was living on the edge of the world. The business eat, money, time and all my energy. But it was a place to put my art, my writing and I had hopes. When Returned of the Repressed came out I put in my computer's cd-player and with head phones churned out the work. His mastery was inspiring. If John Fahey with all his problems could keep going I could too. I was so inspired I wrote him a fan letter secretly hoping he might write back.


The first time I heard John Fahey was in high school in 1970. He came to Cal poly San Luis Obispo. He was late. His plane had been delayed. We waited awhile. He walked in with a garland of flowers which he took off and put on a chair. He was grouchy and told us that we were making too much noise on our squeaky folding chairs. I remember that concert note for note.


I lived in a small town Arroyo Grande twenty miles away. I found myself listening to guitar, no words, no back up. No singers. No tunes that I could hum. But I was fascinated. (Primarily because he looked a bit like my drama teacher who I had a crush on and because I had never heard anything in any way like what I was listening to). John Fahey took notes that didn't belong together and worked them until I knew they did.


I didn't know my favorite piece Yellow Princess was about a boat. I thought it was me. The Yellow Princess bound in a space and time that didn't fit. In college I bought my first John Fahey album. He always had the worst photographs of himself. He mostly looked like a borderline derelict. (In reality John actually had a good face. Very blue eyes and good strong features. He did look straggly. But he never looked as bad as his photos on the CD's.) The liner notes were about the same as the photos. John had a free form letter.

I followed his career as much as I could. I got married when I was 19 in college and dragged my husband to the Boarding House in San Francisco. We could only get tickets to the second show which was too late for me. fell asleep watching John play and chug Coca-Cola.
I was always surprised truthfully that anyone else liked his music. Usually when I like something, I find I am the only person or one of few. I read he was married to someone named Melody and as John's groupie I felt jealous. Oh to be named Melody. If only he had met me.


It was a Monday night and Stephan Grossman was recording the gig for a tape. John was the last act. Two very long acts went before him. During intermission I saw someone who looked like a Hawaiian Santa Claus walking down the right aisle with dark glasses. I did a double take. It had to be him. Maybe he had gone blind. I knew he had been sick. I had come this far I left my friends and darted out quickly and found him sitting on a couch talking to a young man. I brazenly went up to him and asked him why he hadn't answer my letter. He said he hadn't gotten it. I asked him if he would like to have coffee. He said he didn't drink coffee but sure. We figured out that he was recording the whole next day so we agreed to meet after the show7. I was a little undone by the speed of this. John also looked a little unkempt. I wouldn't have been interested in someone looking like him, dark glasses, tee shirt, and straggly beard but this was John Fahey. This was the person that wrote Yellow Princess. I kept this in my mind and took my heart in my hand. He seemed to have a very sweet side as well and I had a lot to ask him.

The next week was a whole series of events that I haven't really sorted out. Somehow we were very similar in that we were totally unpractical. John was a very sweet person and he was also a total mess. I was nervous about our first dinner date at the Thai restaurant down the street. After all what were we going to talk about? Did we have anything in common besides me being a fan of his? I didn't play music. I was twenty years younger than him. We didn't even have friends in common (in turned out that we actually did).

We found we were both Hindu (by choice not birth). We were also both half Jewish. I asked John questions about Hinduism. He wrote down a mantra and handed it to me and answered some basic questions. John had studied in India and introduced me to Sri Anadamayi Ma one of the great Indian Saints. He told me about the monkeys at the Ashram who stole his shoes who he had to bribe with bananas. He told me the garland I saw him with in San Luis Obispo w'as presented by the head of the Hare Krishna movement Srila Prabhupada who he was friends with.

John was very unassuming spiritually which I appreciated immensely. All of these antidotes were said without any pride and in total humility. (I can't say that about his views on psychoanalysis) John told me he saw Jesus on an airplane. There were black children around him and John felt that Jesus loved them. John said he started to cry and was totally embarrassed at what the other passengers would think. John said at one time he and a girl friend had driven across the United States staying at religious residential places and that they were similar to Ashrams. He mentioned that these sites would change religions. The head minister for instance would decide the church was going to be Methodist and the whole congregation formerly another denomination would change. Later they
might change to Baptist. He said this was not uncommon. He told me This girl friend who he met similar to me on chance eventually went insane. He cared about her a great deal.


John told me that he felt everything had been handed to him. He had worked for nothing. He said that Tacoma had made money by centering on college radio stations. He thought he was popular because people remember when they were in love in college when they listened to him. Tacoma went down because he was never in the studio. He would tell the group to record one person and come back after touring and find they had recorded someone else. His wife also went off with the recording engineer...

He went through my CD collection and taped sections for his new pieces. I traded him the right to my art work for the rights to his music. He looked at my work and said oh sad so sad. Making fun of me and I had to laugh. Yeah I was getting sick of the sad thing too.


He took so many prescription drugs it was shocking, I think it was as many as 28 pills a day. He had restless leg syndrome and many other problems. As he said "I'm always high". I told him about being in awe of him and he kindly told me of how he felt the same way when he met Bola Seta.


Somehow we started planning our future together. John told people I was his fiancée and let him, He moved out of the hotel and stayed in my loft apartment. He started meditating and doing Yoga. He told his agent that he hadn't realized how out of shape he was. He went out with some friends and we talked about how to get him medical coverage in Berkeley. Then it all fell backward. He hurt his leg (reactivated an old injury). I got on his nerves. He accused me of being ambivalent and got very angry about this slight which I didn't understand. He said I was demanding and he could feel it when I walked into the loft. I think it was all too much for him. The thought of changing. He had been living the way he wanted which I am sure was pretty bad as to the trash, and laundry. I basically had to wait on him and it was difficult for me. I felt torn.


The dream of having a creative companion and the reality of waiting on someone much older and sicker when I had a child was staring at me. My Dharma (duty) was to my son no matter what I wanted to do. Taking care of John would not be easy. We both wanted to be together and we both wanted to be apart with no responsibilities. He had dreams of me waiting on him and I had dreams of him helping me.


What amazed me was how many of my friends also loved John Fahey. I had a stream of visitors with their albums for him to sign. He told us about how Charles Manson had come to his record company and how the cover my friend brought to sign was illustrated by someone who they were all scared of. They just let him do it to get him to leave. He liked be in the limelight and he hated it because he said people wanted to make him a God.


Music never stopped when he was staying with me. He bought Balinese music and played the albums which were ethereal. He went through my collection telling me antidotes about different performers. Van Morrison was a nice guy who had very bad stage fright. He said Leo Kottke would rather be on the road than at a home.


John played his guitar the music for "statues" where my young son and his friend would stop when the music stopped. My son asked me when John was going to record Christmas music for Stephan Grossman if John was going to be Santa Claus.

John had me do some sort of hand game with him where I copied his hand movements. He was totally self contained like an avahoota (a wild spiritual man who does not conform to the regular demands of the society). He spit out statements which made me wince. He thought Jung was a Nazi. He got into a lather about several friends who he was very mad at. We both had had very difficulty childhoods. John felt that his years of psychoanalysis had recovered his lost memory of sadistic father. He and his mother had been terrorized. He had sad longing for his father and was upset at his Mother. My story was similar in a much less dramatic manner. We were both loners as most artists are, taking solace from the sad emotional well that was given to us at a young age.

John listened to an artist I now forget. He said his mother played this music when she was ironing. That music was him. I said I felt the same way out his music. The core of me is in his music.


As quick as our relationship had begun it flew apart just as fast. I washed John's plane ticket in his clothes and the paper was everywhere. He was good natured. He told me about giving the house to Melody in exchange for the royalties. I was shocked at the thought of living in the salvation army. He said it was good He felt humiliated but there were a lot of people who needed someone to listen to them and he after many years of psychotherapy did what his therapist had done for him. John got calls at my house and I could see that his career was picking up. Fantasy just signed a contract with him. He has inherited some money from his father. An avant-garde group was interested in collaborating with him (which they eventually did). John was reluctant about touring but I guess he got over that.


I was serving John meals because he was flat on his back. What had started out as a growing romance ended up as me taking care of him and getting worn out. We tried to lighten it up by going to a flea market where John was delighted to see tapes for sale of Hitler's speeches. Red flags went up in my head as I knew he would be playing them as he did all the music he recorded over and over. I did not want to hear Hitler in my house even if it was for an art piece. I drew the first line. I said "you can't play them in my apartment". He said "no one is going to tell me what to do." I said "o.k. then will drive him back to the hotel." In my mind I wanted it to happen fast so I could start the intense cleanup at the loft. During his stay the sink had overflow, the toilet backed up and there was lint from the check all over the rug. I wanted out. Yellow Princess or no Yellow Princess.

John sang to me that "he loved me and he was sorry." But he seemed a bit too happy. I couldn't go backwards. I woke up to the fact. John was way too much for me. I had a son, and a business to get out of the ground. John and I had a scuffle when I helped carry his bags to his room. He wanted me to stay and I was pissed. Still mad about Hitler (and a couple of other heated arguments where he accused me of attacking me). He had scared me.

When he left I took out the vacuum cleaner and cleaned and cleaned, picking up the lint that was everywhere, washing every sheet and doing all the dishes and taking out the trash and I lay on my bed and cried and cried. I hadn't been in a good place in the first place and here it was a week before Valentines Day, a cold winter and I was in a worse place. I felt humiliated. I cried my eyes out after he left and cried to his Guru Anandamayi who I didn't know much about. I begged her to help me and it was the fastest help I ever got. I usually manage to be in despair for sometime. But I felt as though a big Mother figure came and held me.

We tried to keep up a friendship but it was impossible. I wrote letters and John finally answered his phone and we arranged a date for me to come up and see him in Oregon. He stood me up and it was a final ending. I had to let go. He told me he had tried the hardest with me then anyone. I don't know if that was true but I think he thought it was. I don't think he had any reserves. His health was poor and they always say if you don't have a good relationship with your Mother it's very difficult to have a relationship. John said we both needed someone to take care of us. He wanted me to marry someone really good. John where ever you are I did..


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