Bill Fay’s Time of the Last Persecution has been on my turntable a lot in the last few weeks. It was first released in 1971, the same year that Marvin Gaye put out What’s Going On? The song below was apparently penned in response to the Kent State shootings in 1970, but the album isn’t as overtly political or public as Gaye’s.
Persecution’s political message, whatever it is, comes mingled with the Biblical themes suggested by the title. And those themes are delivered through surreal, half-mystical images and poetic phrases. Fay internalizes everything and uses personal visions to convey desperation, disbelief, fear, and finally exhaustion. There’s no mention of parties, particular leaders or events, or of social reform. Instead, Fay writes about soldiers, factories, pollution, the coming Messiah, Christs, Hitlers, Caesars, and the death of nations. He sings about harbors floating away, and an anonymous force removing the sun from the sky.
As Jo-Anne Green explains: “While the Beatles flew off to meet the Maharishi, Fay fell under the spell of a 19th century compendium of commentaries on the Biblical books of Daniel and Revelations…” What he took away from those commentaries looks only vaguely Christian, but it can sound absolutely apocalyptic. Ray Russell’s awesome guitar playing contributes to that, as do the inclusion of various horns and reeds. On the title track, Fay stacks them all on top of each other until they transform into a raucous wave of noise.
It’s a great record, and this song in particular blows me away each time. Check it out: