It’s been longer between song posts than I’d anticipated, mostly because I had vowed that my next post would be new music. It’s so much easier to dust off an old tune, especially when they’ve been engineered by first-rate knob twiddlers. While recording rough demos of new tunes at my desk in the Singapore Woodshed, I must admit I’m sheepish about posting the warts-and-all results. So much of it turns into what I call “Halloween salad” – a mix so overly dressed in ear candy it makes me wanna puke. I hope to record better versions down the road. Meanwhile, as my brother Smitmon likes to say, “Nature in the raw is seldom mild.”
When I sat down to write the Ghost of Fairfax, I thought it was going to be a song about the town. The Fairfax Festival took place a couple of weeks ago and I was seeing several posts about it on Facebook. This is a favorite time of year for me in Marin, the beginning of summer and the outdoor music season. I was experiencing epic FOMO. The Fairfax Festival induces an especially potent strain of homesickness.
In case you don’t know, I’m referring to Fairfax California. (Not the 20 other American towns named Fairfax). This is the cool one. The Fairfax where the Grateful Dead played softball with the Jefferson Airplane, and where you bought your records from Van Morrison’s dad. Yeah, that Fairfax.
Destination for bohemians of all stripes for well over a hundred years, Fairfax was founded in 1865 by Lord Charles Snowdon Fairfax, tenth Baron of Cameron, Scotland. He named his estate Birds Nest Glen. Garden-variety hedonists from San Francisco have been visiting ever since. They used to chill their champagne in the creek. Who wouldn’t wanna party there???
Well, my Grandma Gertie for one. My family is from the more respectable neighboring town of San Anselmo. Fairfax had all the bars, all the music, all the fun! In quieter, more buttoned-down San Anselmo, folks stayed home to drank. (when they weren’t sneaking out to Matteucci’s.) And these small-town class distinctions are still very much alive today. So even as a little kid I loved Fairfax. It had the irresistible appeal of forbidden fruit and old time debauchery.
But what started as a song about Fairfax turned into a tribute to my late friend, Gordy Hall. In a town full of characters, Gordy was one of the greats. When I first met him he seemed straight out of a Zap Comic, a Furry Freak Brother brought to life. (But that’s an all too stereotypical, one-dimensional description.) He knew everybody in town and was beloved by the multitudes. He had a great handshake that started from high and behind, and swooped in like a red tailed hawk-- always genuinely happy to see you.
Truth be told, he was a man of many friends, and I wasn’t one of his closest. Our friendship was mostly centered around music. We went to shows together, jams, parties, and local bars. We took many road trips to Yosemite for the Strawberry Music Festival. But best of all I spent time with Gordy in his home, where I was frequently invited to come over and make music. Gordy was a human jukebox, and what he lacked in raw talent he mad up for in joyful enthusiasm. Jamming with Gordy was always an exercise in free play. I was encouraged to play any tune, any instrument, any clam. He was everybody’s biggest fan. When you forgot the words to your own song, Gordy would tell you what they were. He also got me a bunch of gigs. My best gig ever, (over 20 years of Sundays at Book Passage in Corte Madera) was thanks to Gordy. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who had anything unkind to say about the guy, with one small exception… there were a few who wished that he’d tune his guitar a smidge more carefully. But I’d give anything to play with him now, in-or-out of tune. I miss him like the dickens.
There were others in that regular circle of jammers that followed Gordy into the great beyond soon after he left us. His dear friend Steven Balick. His lovely wife Brilla. And if songwriting were not about “taking a small idea and making it smaller”, I would have included them also. They were very present when I wrote it and it brings me joy to remember them too.
And even though Fairfax will never be the same without Gordy and the Sleeping Lady, that vibrant, colorful community lives on. You should come visit. Go to the Bicycle Museum. Pay your respects at the Jerry Memorial. And by all means, go to Peri’s, or 19 Broadway, or Iron Springs, or any of the other watering holes and raise a glass to Gordy Hall. I’ll drink to that.