| Back to

all songs considered
e-mail Us

From "How Bluegrass Destroyed My Life"
by John Fahey

It is the Buffalo Folk Festival.
And it is very late at night.
Sometime in the late sixties or early seventies.
I cannot remember exactly what year it was.
But, nevertheless, it was.
Everybody is very tired and irritable.
By “everybody” I do not mean the audience.
They all seem pretty happy.
No, I mean all the people backstage. The entertainers, the festival staff, sound engineers, producers, promoters, managers, booking agents, newspaper reporters, prostitutes, drug pushers, cameramen from radio and TV stations, photographers, groupies, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, catamites, gunsels, sycophants, bodyguards, pretenders, and many other people whose precise relationship to the festival and the entertainers is unknown.
Unknown to everybody else backstage.
And there are lots of these occult figures wandering around.
Taking up space.
And there is not very much space.
But we cannot get rid of them because somehow they all have backstage passes.
And so in addition to everybody being tired and irritable, everybody also has claustrophobia.
Many backstage are having anxiety attacks.
Fortunately, there is a doctor and some nurses backstage.
It is around 11:00 PM or midnight.
The last three acts to go are Roosevelt Sykes, me, and finally Steve Goodman.
That is the schedule.
And that is what everybody expects.
Except Steve Goodman.
A staff walks quickly into the room.
Goodman isn’t there, however. Goodman is too important to be there. He is somewhere else where there is more status and he can relax and he can feel more important.
Staff addresses Roosevelt Sykes, the greatest piano-playing blues singer alive.
Staff: “Say, uh, Roosevelt, Steve Goodman’s got an early show tomorrow night back in the City. He was wondering if you could trade him time slots so he can get out of here earlier.”
Sykes: “Why, certainly. I’ll play whenever you want me to. That’s fine.”
“Oh, OK, Roosevelt, great,” says the staff and without thanking him walks out. Sykes stays cool. He doesn’t seem to care.
But I care. And I’m mad.
I mean, Sykes was getting up there in years. He was probably more tired than I was. But I didn’t say anything about it right then.
And I wondered what the story with this Goodman guy was. I had never heard of him before this festival. But then I never did pay much attention to phony folk musicians, anyway. I didn’t consider myself to be a folk musician, phony or real. But that’s what I got billed and booked as. So I didn’t really care. Call me whatever you want. I just want some gigs now and then. That’s what’s important.
The previous day I had seen Goodman perform. To me, he was mediocre. So I asked around what the big deal was about him. And I was told he had written a very “important” song, “The City of New Orleans.” Not only was it “important,” it was also “relevant.”
Har, har, har. What the hell my informants meant by “relevant” I never did find out.

-- How Bluegrass Destroyed My Life
John Fahey

back to top

      Copyright 2005, NPR