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Posts Tagged ‘hunt’

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Photo: Decca
British songwriter Bill Fay in 1970, when a Decca imprint released his debut album. After the release of ‘Time of the Last Persecution’ a year later, he seemed to disappear.

Who doesn’t love a mystery? Thanks to mystery fiction, I’ve waded deep into topics and places I would never have known anything about. Nonfiction mysteries can be even more fun. Today’s story is about a songwriter who really wanted to know why the musician behind an obscure album his father loved disappeared from the music scene after the album came out.

Grayson Haver Currin at the New York Times reported on the quest in January: “Joshua Henry never understood why his father owned ‘Time of the Last Persecution,’ an obscure 1971 psychedelic-folk album by the British songwriter Bill Fay.

“Henry, a 40-year-old songwriter and producer devoted to old-school analog technology, grew up in the woods at the edge of California’s Sierra Nevada. His father, Jamie, wasn’t a record collector: He reluctantly served in Vietnam before becoming an antiwar activist, then spent his final four decades as a hardscrabble logger. ‘Last Persecution’ was never issued in the United States, and barely caused a blip in England’s very crowded singer-songwriter scene of the early ’70s. After its release, Fay vanished from music.

“All his life, Henry remained curious about the Fay LP, with a portrait of a disheveled singer on its stark black cover. When he was caring for his father, who was battling cancer, the album became a lifeline between the two men. They’d listen to Fay, dissecting his peculiar mix of apocalyptic vision and hopeful grit. After his father’s [death], Henry began trying to make good on a fantasy they had shared: to find Fay and help him make his first record since 1971.

“[In January, Fay released] ‘Countless Branches,’ his third album in the 10 years since Henry tracked him down and urged him to return to the studio. Fay — now 76 and married, almost all he’ll allow about his personal life — has made as many studio albums this decade as in the previous six combined. …

‘When Joshua told me about his dad and that he’d grown up listening to my music, it was real and profound,’ Fay said by phone from his North London home. …

“Fay stumbled into music in the ’60s. As a college student in Wales, he began to forsake his electronics curriculum for writing songs featuring piano and harmonium. … His self-titled 1970 debut featured idealistic odes to friendship, nature and peace swaddled in swooping strings and cascading horns. But only a year later, he’d turned to thorny rock for ‘Time of the Last Persecution.’

“Fueled by the horrors of the Vietnam War and the violence of the Jim Crow South, Fay railed against social corruption for 14 fractured songs, framing life as a revolving door of chances to get right with God. Dense and challenging, the album flopped. …

“Labels rejected subsequent demos and his father died from an aneurysm, leaving Fay as his mother’s longtime caretaker. During the next four decades, he raised a family and worked as a groundskeeper in a London park and a fish packer in a supermarket. Still, in a quiet corner of his home, he slowly built a meager recording rig with a cheap eight-track and a little keyboard, shaping full-band arrangements of songs he never intended for anyone to hear.

“ ‘I was disappointed,’ Fay said, ‘but music was never my living. And I wasn’t like other people, who had become part of a scene. I went back to what I had always done, which is the gift and blessing of working on music in its own right.’ …

“Jim O’Rourke found Fay’s music while researching Ray Russell, the electrifying guitarist on both Decca albums. … When a small British label reissued both albums on one CD in 1998, O’Rourke began telling his friends. As O’Rourke worked on Wilco’s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,’ he played Fay’s debut for Jeff Tweedy.

‘I was astonished: How have I not heard this? How is this not something that is part of our DNA?’ [Wilco’s] Tweedy said of the first time he listened to Fay. … ‘It’s music that sounds like it was designed in a laboratory for me to fall in love with.’ …

“O’Rourke also sent ‘Last Persecution’ to David Tibet, … Despite rumors that Fay had absconded to a Christian cult, Tibet began looking for him; within a week, a British journalist connected him with a guitarist who had once played with Fay and became their intermediary. The two became fast friends.

“In 2005, Tibet released ‘Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow.’ …  In early 2010, Tibet also issued a two-disc sampler called ‘Still Some Light,’ culled from decades of Fay’s home recordings.

“A year after its release, the liner notes in that set finally gave Henry the lead he needed.”

Read what happened next at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, from 1890. A new book describes one man’s hunt for Shakespeare’s library.

There are people I’m sure you know who get a bee in their bonnet about some topic, often to the point of wearing out their friends and relatives with a barrage of random facts. But although their enthusiasm can be wearing, there’s no doubt that their research provides benefits to many of us, whether their obsession is about an ancestor of ours or someone we all claim as our own, like Shakespeare.

This report is for Laurie, who is likely to appreciate the enthusiam of Shakespeare hound Stuart Kells.

Alison Flood writes at the Guardian, “In an autumn in which scholars have unearthed Milton’s copy of Shakespeare in Philadelphia and parchment fragments from the 13th-century epic Le Roman de la Rose in Worcester [UK], Stuart Kells, author of the forthcoming Shakespeare’s Library, would like to be clear: he has not uncovered the Bard’s book collection, despite what the title might suggest.

“ ‘But I have confirmed its existence, clarified its scale and scope, and documented what happened to it,’ says the author, who has spent 20 years on the trail of Shakespeare’s personal library, and lays out his search in his new book. ‘It would be a very different book if I had gone out and discovered his library. No one has done that. It isn’t in one spot.’ …

“Kells is by no means the first person to have embark on a quest to find Shakespeare’s library during the last 400 years. As he writes, “for every species of book person, the idea of Shakespeare’s library – his personal collection of manuscripts, books, letters and other papers – is enticing, totemic, a subject of wonder.’ …

“Those not sold on his death, or destroyed or lost, ‘are sitting quietly, in cabinets and on shelves, in public and private collections around the world,’ he speculates. …

“ ‘There are things out there still being found and that’s part of the fun. … People are still finding chests of early letters, and there are volumes of multiple plays all bound together.

‘Play scripts were thought of as low literature for some time – they were slightly disreputable and weren’t taken seriously.’ …

“One of his tantalising findings is the potential former owner of a theologicial work by Agostino Tornielli. The book was published in Milan in 1610 and shipped to England, where it was bound in brown calfskin in 1615, the year before Shakespeare’s death. The cover panels on the book include an image of Pyramus and Thisbe, and the edges of the text block are decorated with elaborate patterning.

“The owner of the four bindings is not known, but there are a few hints.. … Writes Kells. ‘In tiny letters, the cover image is signed “I. S.” No one knows whether the initials are those of the block-maker, the bookbinder, the bookseller, the book’s owner, a patron or a dedicatee.’ … But the initials match those of Iohannes Shakespeare, William’s father, who dealt in leather hides – ‘no doubt some of them for bookbinding,’ Kells writes.

“Kells believes that one of the reasons for the disappearance of Shakespeare’s library is that the playwright was not an ‘avid inscriber of books,’ or much of a letter writer. ‘Practically minded and commercial, he does not seem to have been driven by abstract ideas of fame and posterity,’ Kells writes. …

“ ‘I’m quietly confident things are going to turn up,’ he says. “We now see the quarto editions as some of the greatest literary treasures in the world but, up until the 19th century, they were thought of in a different way. They are slight documents, little pamphlets, so it’s very probable they’re out there. We now have clearer eyes to search for these things and different ways of analysing them and dating things. We’re in a golden era of discovery right now.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. I must say, it takes imagination to interpret the initials of Shakespeare’s father on a piece of leather this way, but it is surely imagination that will find and assemble the lost library.

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flowering-tree-BostonlEven though it was a bit chilly early on, the flowering trees and sunshine suggested that spring isn’t going back on us.

After church, we had a lively, chaotic Easter egg hunt and marching band with grandkids who are 1, 2, and 4 and very funny.

Then came a leisurely brunch with a beautiful fruit salad from my daughter-in-law, and new recipe for egg strata that turned out very well.

My husband and I got a little bonus time with Suzanne and Erik as the three of us tried to tire out the two-year-old in the playground before his car ride back home.

Suzanne is always up for an Easter egg hunt. In fact, Liz, her roommate, used to do the honors for her back in college. Liz sent Suzanne a text this year to make sure that everyone’s Easter was being taken care of.

Easter-at-churchdyed-eggsWhatever you celebrate, I hope you had a sunny weekend.

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