The Objectivity Bomb
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John Fahey - "Sligo River Blues" (1959)
John Fahey - "Sligo River Blues" (1964)

If you're listening to a version of John Fahey's "Sligo River Blues" right now, I can only assume that you don't understand the most basic fact of the here and now: Today we slip into the august August of The Summer of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Don't do anything else: don't go to work, don't clean the house, don't check the post, don't eat a meal; just listen to "Second Hand News" and don't stop listening until you've heard the last notes of "Gold Dust Woman," at which point, if you have any interest in maintaining a modicum of happiness in your life, I recommend starting the process anew.

John Fahey had his summer, but this is not it, so keep on scrolling, there's nothing to hear here.

Do you remember The Summer of The Milk-Eyed Mender? Since The Summer of Rumours = The Ultimate Summer, this was our preantepenultimate summer, and, it just so happens, it was the last summer that Sean, Dan and I lived in the same city. That city: Ottawa. Pretty much every night Sean and I would go to a bar and play Scrabble. (Sean is a fine Scrabbler, but an incorrigible cheat.) I'm not sure why we went to bars so often, since we rarely got drunk (Sean is also more or less a teetotaller (i.e. BORING)), but there we were: me embarrassed, Sean ordering a hot chocolate. It was, with the exception of Sean, The Milk-Eyed Mender, and a few other saving graces, a truly awful time.

I don't know what Dan was doing - dictating a novel to his secretary through a megaphone? - but we rarely saw him.

I also wrote four songs that summer. The first, fourth, fifth, and last on the album that my band will release in the next few weeks.

There is a tension in art between inspiration and technique that comes into stark relief for me as I prepare to release upon the expectant masses these songs I've been working on for three years. Even as the songs have been, in some sense, vastly improved through the stages of creation - arranging, practicing, recording, mixing, mastering - they have also, to some extent, become alienated from the ideas that inspired them. The me who continues to edit is necessarily different from the me who wrote - I haven't seen or spoken to Sean in over a year, and all of the turmoil of that time has subsided and faded away - and as I revise and redact, how can I be sure of which me to trust. Surely some artists must continue to believe that their work is interesting and vital beyond the point when it ceases to be so. It's a sad fact that, with few exceptions, mathematicians do all their important work before the age of forty. Sad, too, the unlikelihood that they are able to perceive that anything has changed in themselves. Scary!

Undoubtedly, Lindsey Buckingham has listened to Rumours and thought to himself Oh man, I wish I'd done x or y differently. But do we trust Now Lindsey Buckingham - so removed from the album's emotional inspiration, his aesthetic re-shaped by the intervening years - to make a change to Then Lindsey Buckingham's masterpiece?

Even John Fahey, the great purveyor of the Beautiful Mistake, was prone to re-recording his songs years after the original with better equipment and improved technique. And, almost always, the second versions are worse than the first, even when they were recorded at a time when he was doing other, more interesting original work. Yes, "Sligo River Blues" (1964) is played more precisely, more densely and recorded more perspicuously than the original. And yes, the marshaling rhythm is tighter and the verses more achingly syncopated in Fahey's second attempt, but there's something essential to the original that Later Fahey couldn't recapture. Specifically, the moment between 2:55 and 2:59, when, maybe by mistake, maybe not, Fahey gets stuck in the first half of the riff he's been repeating throughout the song, and what is played is a small circle of sound, a snake eating its tail, a tautology, something necessary in the song that only its inspired, unrefined author could perceive.


Posted by Jordan at August 1, 2007 6:53 PM

Good call, Jordan. This very afternoon, in fact, I was listening to the Magnetic Fields' "No One Will Ever Love You" in oppressive heat and thinking hell, why aren't I just listening to Rumours?

Posted by Mark at August 1, 2007 8:51 PM

I always thought I heard a french horn playing along on parts of the 64. It must be a mic tone or something. But it's neat, like a ghost sound.

Posted by dkeifer at August 1, 2007 10:35 PM


this was the spring of Rumours, for me; and it's the summer of Tusk.

great post.

Posted by Sean at August 2, 2007 12:38 AM

Yeah, you seemed to knock them back with no trouble. I, on the other hand, was wobbly rather too soon.

Posted by tuwa at August 2, 2007 8:29 PM

Oh Sean, you're so contrary!

Posted by joel Taylor at August 4, 2007 9:12 PM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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