In The Fretboard Journal #29, writer and musician Jeff Broome pens a lenghty tale of his occasional correspondence with fingerstyle guitar master John Fahey in the mid-1970s. We did our best to run most of the letters from Fahey in this print magazine edition, but here are the entirety of their contents. Please note: Some of the language is not appropriate for all audiences.
From John Fahey (mailed June 16, 1975):
My dear young man: Listen to me & think about what I tell you. (I have not yet received the demo tape you mentioned but will treat it exactly as I would any other demo tape)
Someday you’r [sic] going to have to grow up & be a big boy. By this I am certainly not encouraging you to conform yourself to the world, or to learn how to do so. I hope and pray you will continue to hate it the rest of your life. But you should think about things before you do them. For example: You write me a letter 1) raving about a demo tape I’m going to receive anyway 2) mentioning the fact that other copies are going out to other record companies — thus trying to manipulate me into “jumping” at the chance of recording someone I haven’t even heard, 3) attempt to capitalize on (I don’t know how you know this but you do & there are only 4 others who do know) your secret knowledge — & KEEP IT SECRET DAMN IT — that I am a fellow worshiper of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, by writing biblical references all over your letter — which it is not your business to do, ie., [sic] preach to me. (& perhaps insinuating that since we are in the same “club,” so to speak, I ought to listen to you (more than to someone else) & give this demo tape extra – special attention.
Also, adding the Hebrew or aremaic [sic] for “it is finished” (which occurrs [sic] only in the Gospel of John, ie., the latest written gospel (90-110 AD) — does not appear in any of the synoptic gospels & is therefore one of the more questionable passages — why the Hell do you write this to me on a letter whose purpose is to encourage me to do something of a purely secular nature. If anything, your letter has prejudiced me negatively.
You owe me an apology & you owe yourself an examination of your conscience, ie., “Why did I write that letter, what were my motives, why did I write all those biblical references to John Fahey, what is my attitude towards John Fahey,” Are you in a position of idolatry re/ John Fahey or this other guitar player [Michael Gulezian], or musicians or “pop” stars, worldly, or, seemingly worldly public figures? Marana(n)thae [sic] indeed! (Mickey Mouse Christianity)? “I’ve decided to give my life to Jesus.” Not Christianity Bumper stickers GARBAGE. The life of faith is not something we do in cute little catch words, biblical references, bumper-stickers, clubs, cheap publicity, biblical literalism, etc. Christianity is something you do in your closet, ie., unobserved, unadvertised. It is not just one more thing advertised cheaply among other things & of, consequently the same nature & same class as those other things. You poor kid, if that’s where your faith is, if that’s what you think Christianity is all about you allready [sic] have your reward.
Let us call it childish Christianity. But, you must have received the call, so, don’t let this letter get you down, don’t think I hate you, or look down on you. Just do what I say & our friendship, limited as it is by brief acquaintances, will be restored.
I think you need to spend more time meditating, alone, on what you have read in the Bible & thinking about what it means — what it really means, — apart from what your acquaintances, personal [friends] or books, tell you what it means. What is the Christian life? That sort of thing. If you pray that God will help you He will. There is no doubt here that he will show you the way. & I will pray for you to [sic]. But don’t expect anything startling to happen overnight. God moves very slowly & w/ infinite wisdom & only gives you a new task or a new understanding when you, yourself are ready, capable of handling it.
We are talking about an entire life. & life is long. Very, very, boring, tedious, painfull [sic], dangerous — but you probably don’t know that yet. You’ll find out.
& there is only one way out. & stupid slogans will not help you on judgement [sic] day.
From John Fahey (mailed September 26, 1975)
Domestic problems here. Another “contentious” wife. Girlfriend, what’s the difference – argue, argue, complain, complain.
I must apologize for not calling you last Sunday night. I was busy arguing w/my wife. I ought to beat her up again soon. She’s getting too upity [sic].
By the way (I’ll get to the tape [Michael Gulezian] in a minute.) In your early epistles to me you seemed to be quite worried & upset about “sinning,” esp. i.e., going out and fucking some chick. First of all, in this society, the way they dress they ought to all get raped. They all dress like whoars [sic].
Secondly, your [sic] getting the works/faith thing mixed up. If we go out & fuck some chick (be prudent, use a rubber so she won’t get pregnant) what has this to do w/your faith in Christ who has allready [sic] forgiven us for everything? Xians [Christians] are sinners, who know they are sinners, but believe that through the crucifiction [sic] all their sins past present future are forgiven them.
It is much worse for you to sit around and be horney all the time & be debating in your head rather to fuck or not to fuck – – – This DESPAIR, this PREOCUPATION [sic] W/ WORKS – is more sin. Go out & fuck! But be prudent!!!
In this regard I will quote Martin Luther. Whenever I get in a bind like that over any kind of “sin” I sit & I read Martin Luther until my brain starts working right for it makes Satan much happier that you sit & despair & worry than that you go out & fuck some chick!
Kierkegaard rightly said (somewhere) the opposite of sin is not virtue but FAITH. DIG? & sin is singular, not plural. Sin is rebellion against God — A desire to take God’s place & be God. Sin is hatred of the old idea of God who sits upon a cloud & has a notebook for everybody & puts good or bad marks in it for everybody. * If God is anything at all like that, omnipotent etc., then I hate God. But whatever God is I am reconcilled [sic] to him through my faith in his Son.
The best book out on this problem of syncretism & hatred of God that I have ever seen
Jurgan Moltmann The Crucified God
Harper & Row, Publishers
But it may be over your head – a lot I had a tough time w/ a lot of it but it really helped me.
I hope, if you haven’t read it, you will read it someday. There is no better Christian novel ever written than The Brothers Karamazoff [sic] by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. & second to that is Crime and Punishment. Don’t trust what they teach about these books in college. You have to be a Christian to understand them. & remember, no matter what they tell you in college, Dimitri (Mitya) is the hero of the Bros. K & NOT IVAN which is what these atheistic college professors teach. I have studied the matter thoroughly & I know what I am talking about. & don’t even believe Dostoyevsky when he says Aloysha is the hero. He had to say that so the book would pass the censors.
Beware of college professors. No shit. My major was philosophy & religion & I specialized in the “existentialists.” You get some jerk telling you Sartre is more profound than Kierkegaard, call me up. We have a little talk, eh?
Can’t find Luther’s quote I wanted but here’s one from the N.T. “You are neither cold or hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, & neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”
Luther called reason “the devil’s bride, a beautiful whore,” and finally “God’s worst enemy.” “Reason must be deluded, blinded & destroyed,” & “faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, & understanding.”
“The God of popular theism does not exist; or he is in reality the Devil” John Fahey
Here’s the Martin Luther quote I love so much. “If you are a preacher of grace, do not preach a fictitious, but a true, grace; and if the grace is true, carry a true, and not a fictitious sin. God does not work salvation for fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin vigorously; but even more vigorously believe & delight (be joyous) in Christ who is victor over sin, death, & the world.”
“All is sufficient that we recognize through the wealth of God’s glory, the lamb who bears the sin of the world; from this, sin does not sever us, (from God’s Love & Salvation J.F.) even if thousands, thousands of times in one day we should fornicate (fuck J.F.) or murder.”
I think I have studied all, or almost all of the well-known &/or significant attempts to comprehend Christianity. & I must say that at least to me no attempt can make the New Testament consistent except rather extreme Pauline understanding. Of course we should do good works like everyone else. But that is not Christianity. Not faith. & the churches do not teach this. Neither do they teach other hard-to-digest doctrines, directly ascribable not only to Paul but to Jesus & in more than one gospel such as hatred of the world. Do you hate your life in this world? I do.
Of well, I had to work this energy off. These are my opinions re Christianity. I don’t mean to preach. It is not my vocation. I would have written all of this earlier — in fact I did & then tore it up & didn’t send it to you — because I was afraid you might consider me as Guru & I ain’t going to play Guru w/ nobody. But now having spoken to you over the phone you seem to be a reasonable fellow & if you wish to exchange opinions re/ a topic (Xianity) in which I have reason to believe we are both interested, this letter is in content an invitation to do so. As friends. No Guru nonsense. But I feel a little like an older brother towards you having gone through this problem of sex, guilt, faith/works/sin a long time ago. & for many reasons, as I was once advised by an older friend when I was going crazy because of sex, or rather abstainance [sic] therefrom & the church I went to seemed to be teaching this works – is – Christianity bull shit I honestly, in my conscience, way down deep don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t go out & FUCK! (w/ prudence) or drink or whatever. That is better than sitting around, wanting to do it, not doing it. Then your mind is crazy & it is 10 times as difficult to pray & meditate on Jesus. & what the churches and the fundamentalists teach is for the most part & very rarely it is not Christianity. Beware of preachers like Hal Lindsey – he doesn’t understand Xianity. He makes a big-to-do about the precise events that will bring about, lead up to the “second comming [sic],” when Jesus himself said “Do not speculate about the time of these things. No one knows but the son of man. It will come like a theif [sic] in the night.” (pardon my memory if my quotation is not precise) & beware of these popular groups of Jesus-freaks going around singing Maranatha or whatever. Christianity is not a Goddamn rock & roll band; it is not a popular movement. It is something private, should be kept secret, in one’s closet, & guarded like a precious jewel – it is not a group activity. Jesus said, “I am a stranger to this world,” or something to that effect, in John. He did use the word “stranger.” Xians are lonely, strangers to this stupid world. Group-groping, w/ Christianity is a betrayal of it.
Read Kierkegaard’s “Attack Upon Christendom,” sometime. Good book.
Ah, yes, the reel to reel tape [17-year-old Michael Gulezian] finally arrived. It was stamped “received 7/15/75.” & I just got it [September 1975]. Somebody is going to catch hell at the office. Now I can really hear it, but there are no titles to all the different songs so how can I comment thereon? There is a medley of songs at one point of mostly old songs like Home on the Range. Basically I like everything after that and no thing before it. He sounds as if he had been coached to sound like Leo Kottke. I need to have a recording of additional material, specifically what his favorite stuff is. J.F.
* The only specifically Christian sin would be to hate, or to avoid coming to grips w/ the fact of Christ – crucified for our salvation – the crucified God idea. It is a very offensive & outrageous idea to both our intellects & our emotions. It makes no “rational” sense at all that one man has paid for all our rebelliousness against the Father. No sense at all. If it did make rational sense then we could not have faith in it, for faith is only in what cannot be demonstrated by reason or science (empericism [sic]).
Also, the crucified Christ is a picture of God. Christ on the cross is like God saying “Here I am & this is what I am like.” We must get rid of these theistic ideas the church borrowed from the Greek philosophers & alamagated [sic] them w/ misaprehensions [sic] of God in the Old Testament. Christians should neither be atheists or theists or agnostics. Xianity is something other than these.