Be Plenty Fearful
Moments of musical inspiration in I Am Trying To Break Your Heart were fewer and farther between than the acclaim for the Wilco-at-work movie would have you believe, the mythos of a band battling The Man occluding the actual music they were making. But one truly arresting instant, therein, showed Jeff Tweedy astrummin' on "Be Not So Fearful," Bill Fay's old ode to faith and acceptance whose calming qualities the Wilco leader saw as a balm for post-terrorist-attack America.
The song would become a part of Wilco's repertoire —and for Tweedy solo and in Jim O'Rourke-aided side-project Loose Fur— and would, in turn, turn listeners onto Fay, a forgotten figure who, up to that point, had been one of those holy grails for record collectors. Fay was an English singer-songwriter who made a pair of albums in the early '70s —a self-titled set in 1970, Time of the Last Persecution in 1971— and then disappeared.
Listening to his two albums, it's not hard to hear how it happened. On his debut, Fay played a set of perfectly-eloquent folk-pop with obvious echoes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen; authoring a series of songs that feel reassured in their simple, devotional faith. Merely a year later, and Fay had changed completely; as if embodying the fall out from the utopian Age of Aquarius into something darker. One look at the man on the cover of Time of the Last Persecution, a ragged, bearded figure starting disconsolately into the nothingness shows someone in a bad place. Spiritually speaking. Musically, Fay was flirting with greatness.
Time of the Last Persecution is an album whose Christianity has taken a turn towards the wild-eyed and paranoid. The album was inspired by the Books of Revelation and Daniel, and it suggests that Fay's biblical study had him convinced a return to biblical times was imminent. Which isn't to say that there weren't, in 1971, plenty of cultural cues that an apocalypse loomed, but Fay's second album doesn't feel like a work of tangible nuclear fear (as in, say, This Heat's Deceit), but a paranoid terror of prophesied End Times.
Time of the Last Persecution isn't a narrative album, but the album starts with a classic opening gambit: "Omega Day" finding Fay singing a tale of meeting a 'mind-reading' stranger who warns him that the rapture is nigh. From thereon out, the rest of the LP's collection of short songs find Fay unhinged. "Please don't take the sun from the sky," he sings in "Don't Let My Marigolds Die." "Satan's in the garden shed/he'd like to screw you all," Fay snarls on "Release Is in the Eye." "It is the time of the Antichrist," the title-track solemnly intones. "Some say messiah coming," he portends, on the incredibly beautiful "I Hear You Calling."
Caesar is a recurring figure, used as a symbol for unholy rulers, for despots, for hateful hubris, and mortal delusion. "Pictures of Adolf Again" brings up the villain —"Christ or Hitler? Christ or Vorster? Christ or all the Caesars to come again?"— in a song of prescient media savvy, where the return of Hitler's visage to newspapers and televisions is like letting an antichrist back into our lives; Fay seeing this as symbol of how society creates and empowers its own tyrannical rulers; how it shall ever be that way until —unless— the Son of God returns to unite the world, be it by peace or by brandishing a sword.
Musically, Time of the Last Persecution reminds me a lot of Tom Rapp's Pearls Before Swine: a Dylan acolyte taking his literary, lyrics-centric craft and pushing into into deeper, darker, more pained places; whilst the music, in turn, grows increasingly psychedelic. Producer/collaborateur Ray Russell plays lead guitar all over the record (and 'over' may be the way he plays), scrawling wild licks and discordant snarls with evocative garishness, slashing the simple prettiness of Fay's piano-based songs with jagged electric tones.
There's grander orchestrations at hand, too; a trio of horn players providing, for the most part, warm brassy tones. But both guitar and brass draw in more experimental, free-jazz-inspired tendencies, and when —as on the apocalyptic title-track— Fay wants to convey the wild darkness of which he sings, the songs leap into discordance, atonality, and noisiness.
"And others will join you there," Fay sings, as "Time of the Last Persecution" marches towards its squalls of rapture, "and you wait for the ships in the air. And you wait for a sign like a trumpet sounding. And you go out and walk to the Christ."
Record Label: Deram
Release Date: February, 1971