Sunday, January 08, 2012

What John Fahey Taught Me About Wine, Women and Song

A reminiscence

College life was one of my most cherished periods. I was away from home and the parents for the first time. My college was in the San Francisco area and the era was the late 1960’s - early 1970’s. Radio stations in the Bay area were progressive and the music scene was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Sure, during high school I had gone to concerts and love-ins; seen Jimi Hendrix and Iron Butterfly, Country Joe and The Electric Prunes. I’d had the rock ‘n roll indoctrination just like all youth in that generation. But when I got to Northern California, the music scene took me in a direction I had never expected. Folk music was still popular, tied in with the anti-war movement, and the general changing of the guards associated with the times. One night I’d even sat around with a group of folks and we all had dinner with Joan Baez. My little town upbringing, somewhat isolated in the desert of Southern California, didn’t prepare me for the larger world I was stepping into. But that was alright with me; I was all ears and eyes and heart as I stepped into an uncertain adulthood.

John Fahey was an acoustic guitarist who made simply some of the most melodic and beautiful music I had ever heard. Listening to his music was like falling in love over and over again. And it seemed some of the young, long haired ladies in my generation also fell for his music.

Small venues, whether it was Fahey or Leo Kotke, Dave Van Ronk or Robie Basho, were an opportunity to connect with all the loves of one’s lives in those days. Tom Rush had an instrumental hit that played daily like a mantra, called Rockport Sunday. How many couples laid by one another in the afterglow of love? I could only imagine.

It was because of John Fahey that I was able to put wine and women together with song. Whether it was a simple Chianti or Frascati from Italy or by chance a Grignolino from Heitz or a Barbera from Sebastiani, it seemed that life was so darn full of the hope for love, even in a time when war was pulling young men like me into its vortex of destruction.

Because of the dearness of the time and the fragility of existence, those dark haired lasses with their long dresses and longer legs seemed like a way to forestall the impending doom waiting around the corner. The sweet music and the even sweeter lips, tasting of wine and youth and raging hormones. There wasn’t a sweeter wine than those moments. And the soundtrack of those times was the acoustic guitar of folks like Fahey.

Music was the great cloak and overcoat for my shyness. I know now I shouldn’t have been so reticent. But that was how my path played out. Sitting on a blanket with a bottle of wine, listening to the music, with a young lady, man that was some heady stuff for me. It all seems so innocent now, but if you were to ask those two kids what they were thinking, or better, feeling, in those times, I am sure they wouldn’t have been able to really tell you. We were young; a little scared of the future, adulthood staring us in the face, the end of childhood in our rear view mirror, and all we had in that moment was right in front of us. John Fahey taught me that wine, women and song wasn’t something to be scared of. It was something to embrace and love and drink in and cherish the frailty of life, the foolishness of youth and the final inevitableness of life on this mad little planet.

It was an amazing period. I look back, just for a moment, with nostalgia and the inevitable sadness for a moment forever lost, but so very glad I was there in that moment.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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