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.