Saturday, December 29, 2007

Guitar unsmashed

For Christmas my nephew gave me a copy of The Rolling Stone Interviews. Bless him, he probably thought it an astute choice as I, being nominally a Baby Boomer, must of course be vitally interested in the self-obsessed maunderings of such iconic personages as Jim Morrison, Phil Spector, Joni Mitchell and others.

Never mind that I came in on the tail end of the Baby Boom, such that by the time I hit my youthful peak all the purported good times were over. Worse still, all we had to look forward to were the Seventies. Beyond that we might have looked forward to the End of History, if it weren’t for the fact that this happened to coincide with the End of Certainty.

But I digress. I’ve determined that I should immerse myself in my glorious Boomer heritage, and that my nephew’s gift of this absorbing tome must not go unread.

First up is an interview in 1968 with Pete Townshend, the motive force behind archetypal rock band The Who, and (as I read elsewhere long ago) “the thinking man’s rock guitarist”.

Townshend’s interlocutor, Jann S. Wenner, begins by asking:

“The end of your act goes to ‘My Generation,’ like you usually do and that’s when you usually smash your guitar. You didn’t tonight — why not?”

To which Townshend quite reasonably replies:

“Well, there is a reason, not really anything that’s really worth talking about...”

Well, of course — except that the interview then goes on for four pages about why he didn’t smash his guitar, why he’s done so up to that performance, how it affects his guitar playing, etc. This interview is dated September 28, 1968, so by this time Townshend has been smashing guitars as part of his live act for perhaps a couple of years or more.

In other words, Townshend has persisted with the practice for as much as two years after guitar-smashing had been roundly debunked by Michelangelo Antonioni in his 1966 parable of ‘Swinging London’ Blowup.

In the film, we find swinging Londoner David Hemmings at a Yardbirds gig in some swinging London venue. Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck are both doing their swinging London guitar-hero thing, climaxing with Beck doing his swinging London guitar-smashing thing, after which he hurls the remains of his instrument into the reverentially watching crowd of swinging Londoners.

A struggle ensues among the spectators for possession of the holy relic. Hemmings somehow wrests the coveted thing from the pack and legs it out the door, hotly pursued by several of the faithful.

Cut to the next scene out in the street, where Hemmings, having evaded his pursuers, examines the smashed guitar a few moments before disdainfully tossing it into the gutter. As Hemmings strides off down the street, a couple of long-haired swinging London bystanders pick up and examine the wreckage before similarly discarding it for the worthless piece of junk it has become.

Antonioni’s searing demystification of ritualised guitar-smashing seems, therefore, to have been completely lost on such leading exponents of the practice as Townshend. Thinking man’s rock guitarist, indeed!

Phew! Only four pages into the first offering of the 450+ pages of The Rolling Stone Interviews, and already my progress seems to be stalling. Watch this space for further reports as they arise of snippets that may or may not be of interest.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Caz said...

I have the same problem Jacob, in that I am, quite happily, the very last twinkling of the baby boomers, but people seem to forget that for any generation, 15 years is a very long span to supposedly be sharing a sociological context.

The Beatles weren't holding hands by the time I knew who they were, and the Rolling Stones had already crinkled up. Protest marches passed my little self by, along with pretty much everything else.

We had Skyhooks and Sherbert, and treads, and sharpies and skinheads, and a lot of really ugly clothes.

Probably quite odd that the 60s ushered in such a clunky and ugly subsequent decade.

I've always been a bit miffed about that.

29/12/07 10:27 PM  
Anonymous Kathy said...

I knew we were twins separated at birth Caz!
I too am quite happily," the very last twinkling of the baby boomers,"

" Probably quite odd that the 60's ushered in such a clunky and ugly subsequent decade."

Yeah, pissed me off heaps too.

What about those stupid chunky high heeled shoes for guys.
And those super big bow ties and frilled shirts that the groom wore at Weddings.

And.. don't get me started on those Stubbies shorts!

29/12/07 10:57 PM  
Anonymous Jacob said...

Stubbies were those little sixties shortie pants that little sixties boys kept wearing after they grew out of them. They're the underwear you wear when and where you're not supposed to wear underwear. Hence often worn as an ensemble with a singlet.

Yes, Caz, I too never actually discovered the Beatles' really 'groovy' post-moptop stuff until they were in the throes of splitting up and thereafter. The Beatles' stuff really is better than it sounds, with its 'datedness' due to their insistence on using outdated recording technology, which was unfortunately all that was available in so-called swinging London.

It's significant, I think, that Stairway to Heaven became 'iconic' of the seventies.

Whole Lotta Love (c. 1969?) in fact was the last gasp of energy and originality from Led Zepp. Best heard blasting at distortion level out the jukebox of The Wedge swimming pool whilst sucking on a Sunny Boy. (That's possibly a Melbourne thing that hopefully won't be misconstrued uncharitably...)

30/12/07 12:12 AM  
Blogger Craig w said...

I was born in 1964 and while I remember Skyhooks and the countdown scene from around 1974, my musical awakening was with the Sex Pistols. I never really got the late 60's hippie stuff and I guess maybe it is the punk background but I loathe hippies with a passion.

I would agree that the mid - late 1970s was pretty bad if you followed mainstream music and fashion, but there was a whole sub culture out there that has never really died out. Emo anyone?

I admire your ability to even read a few pages of rolling Stone Jacob, its a few more than I could manage thanks!

Not sure if 1964 is Baby boomer or Gen x, but I dont relate to boomers in attitude Im afraid.

Hope everyone had a nice Chrissy break. Finally decided to have a look at the usual sites and blogs... Club Chaos is as dead as the proverbial dodo, webdiary is trying to elevate David Hicks to Maytr status and Damo is trying to work out a way to blame the Jews for bhuttos assasination.

Somethings never change do they?

30/12/07 12:12 PM  
Blogger Father Park said...

Jacob, Jacob. Tch, tch.

Whole Lotta Love (c. 1969?) in fact was the last gasp of energy and originality from Led Zepp.

I believe that...wait for it...we are going to vio..vehe...disagree however we last did...again

Kashmir anyone? Battle of Evermore? No quarter?

Alright, call me an unreconstructed rocker.

And, yes, I did wear stubbies. To the backyard, to the pub, to b-b-qs, to the pub and also to the pub.

1/1/08 7:46 PM  
Anonymous Kathy said...

Ah, Mike, I admire your honesty mate!
Even.. if it means that you will most probably be branded as a "dag!"
Bet you Anne- Marie doesn't let you were 'em anymore eh?

P.s. Have you partaken of the Wirra Wirra
Chardonnay?
It's supposed to be a good drop.

1/1/08 9:22 PM  
Blogger Father Park said...

It might well be a top drop. Unfortunately it is chardonnay so I will likely never know.

Were chardonnay a red I'd be able to fill you in...

2/1/08 8:51 AM  
Anonymous Jacob said...

Just between you and me, Compadre, I used to wear Stubbies myself. That was until I realised they were evil.

Actually I can understand truckdrivers etc. working in extreme conditions wanting to wear faux underwear. But really, why not just wear your jockettes?

Okay, perhaps I've given Led Zepp shorter shrift than possibly they deserve. But look, having Stairway as more or less your signature tune is bound to reflect awkwardly on one's general level of achievement. (Or perhaps Stairway might have been better remembered had it not been thrashed so mercilessly on radio for the last 35 years or so...)

Craig, I'm now going to alienate myself further with my reader-base by declaring Punk/New Wave an overrated flash-in-the-pan aberrant phenomenon.

Really, garage bands are best heard in the neighbour's garage, not reproduced with high fidelity recording technology.

True, people with actual musical ability such as Joe Strummer and the Clash, Elvis Costello, etc. affected the posture of Punk/NW, but that was just fashion, as ephemeral as hippy beads.

As Red Symons once quipped: Whatever the New Wave is or was, there were a heckuva lot of old surfers trying to catch it. And the younger surfers all really wanted the affluence and success of the rock dinosaurs they so derided, but as with any generation of wannabees, very few had the actual talent and ability to enjoy enduring appeal.

It's been a busy Chrissy/New Year period with us, with lots of gadding about visiting friends, kids over from interstate, car breakdowns, blah blah. Hence haven't been posting much in the last week or so.

Anyway, my best wishes to all for a Happy & Prosperous New Year.

2/1/08 8:22 PM  
Blogger Caz said...

Craig W - even the baby boomers don't relate to their alleged "attitude".

You're an early Gen X.

The boomers ended in 1960.

The generational things is, contrary to the variations you'll often see in the media and even academia, a span of 15 years. I gather that the rule of thumb was originally the period of time before a generation can start reproducing itself.

//end today's educational lesson

Ah, Jacob - Sunny Boys! Although I did, and still do, prefer the rasberry.

5/1/08 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Kathy said...

Me too Caz!

7/1/08 12:01 AM  

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