Songs I Like #2: John Fahey, “When the Catfish Is in Bloom”

Some lonely pre-internet scholar stranded at the Evergreen Branch Library on Highway 99 in Everett filled the CD shelves there with shit I took years to love enough. When I was thirteen, I tried, then decided I hated, the Pixies, Husker Du, Kate Bush, the Incredible String Band, Wayne Shorter, and John Fahey. When I was fifteen, I tried all of these artists again, and this anonymous music librarian cracked my heart open. The solo guitar views, prayers, and stories of The Essential John Fahey (actually just two of his Vanguard albums on one CD minus a tape-loop experiment) soundtracked my Seattle busrides and first terrible poems. And his namecheck was my cool-kid ticket to my first volunteer shift at the Zine Archive and Publishing Project in Seattle (did you know, one librarian told me, that he was a Christian? and drank four liters of Coke a day, added another? and was apparently mean, said someone who claimed to have met him?) in its golden-years radical infoshoppy location in Hugo House’s funky basement. I was alphabetizing hardcore zines alone and playing this CD loud when this song– the way its blood starts moving faster and faster, that swift 8th-note figure at 3:25 maybe?– made me suddenly stop what I was doing, sit up, and listen. You know those times where a work of art explores you instead of the other way around? I later spent a month-ish first figuring out the tuning for this song (it’s open C), then learning how to ‘play’ it (in the way a duck might observe a conductor’s arms moving and flap his wings in sympathy). Ask me to show you how it goes!

The title is, I think, a non sequitur Jimmie Rodgers pun; the story is all and only in the stately melody slowly adding tension, speed, and ornament up through that mic-saturating breakdown at 6:02.

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