I speak once again, if I may, to the possibly apocryphal Younger Enthusiast. (Most of you geezers are just as old as my crinkly ass.) But there used to be a job called Rock Star, and another one titled Guitar God.
There may still be rock stars, but there are certainly no more Rock Stars, and no one has seen any Guitar Gods for a while and we won’t again, probably. The only reason for the continued existence of rock stars, though, is the malleabilifying of the term: “rock star” has been stretched like cheap taffy to mean “anyone who did anything even vaguely cool at any time.” It’s more of an adjective than a noun lately.
Rock Stars were winners, amplified triumphant, and they would put their feet up on the monitors and lean out so the crowd could see just how cocky they were; they were never the underdogs: Rock Stars were the cool kids. They would come to town, fuck the hottest chicks, burn down the Ramada, and make you look at their crotches for two hours at the local sportatorium.
There was no one who looked like this where you lived, and they did not sell these clothes at your local mall. They were prancing erections with good hair and the ability to throw tantrums. (There are entire sub-categories in the Encyclopedia of Rock Stories dedicated to various Rock Star tantrums: backstage, offstage, onstage, in the studio, on a plane, at a party, during an interview. A true Rock Star could throw a tantrum no matter the environment: they were like Marines when it came to being petulant; they improvised, adapted, overcame, and then threw a chafing dish full of ribs at the promoter.)
Rock Stars were allowed to kill people, Younger Enthusiasts. (Go look up “Razzle Dingley” and then come back and apologize for doubting me.) And fuck 14-year-olds, and walk around in short-sleeves with caked blood in the crook of their elbows. They emigrated to avoid taxes, put on charity concerts to avoid jail time, and fled the jurisdiction in a Learjet to avoid prosecution. (I make no value judgement about the very last thing in the preceding paragraph; everything else, I reserve the right to be self-righteous about. If the DA wants to ask you questions and you have a Learjet, then you should get in the plane and fly away.)
The 50’s had the Angry Young Men, but the 70’s and 80’s had Horny Young Men: it is impossible to overstate pussy’s pervasiveness. Getting pussy, looking for pussy, on the pussy hunt, pussy pussy pussy. Groupies and chicks and stone-cold teen foxes, and road skank: Rock Stars got more pussy than you, and better pussy than you, and they let you know it simply by the tightness of their trousers.
You’re saying, “TotD, these behaviors still exist,” and I congratulate you on your cynicism; the difference is the celebration. There no longer is applause for open substance abuse, and fucking everything that moves, and punching strangers on airplanes; in 2016, that’s not a sexy rebel, that’s next year’s reality show (and not even on a good network).
Rock Stars were braggarts, fit for the Roman Republic. We’re an Empire now. Their like won’t be seen again: there are no more Horror Hosts, and there are no more Pin-Up Girls, and there are no more Pen Pals, and there are no more Rock Stars. What’s the point of being on the cover of the Rolling Stone any more?
And there are most definitely no more Guitar Gods. Garcia was one, and so was Eddie Van Halen. You needed an origin story (wood-chopping accident with brother; switching instruments with brother), a distinctive look (muppet beard, goofy smile), and it helped to be standing next to a handsome guy with great hair (Bobby, David Lee). Angus Young, Jimmy Page, etc. All iterations of the same Christ.
A Guitar God also needed a magical guitar. Excalibur, the General Lee, Luke’s lightsaber: heroes get a gift at the beginning of their journeys; it identifies them as the protagonist, and enables them to defeat the bad guy in the third act.
And damn the facts, of course. B.B. King had Lucille, but Lucille was actually over a dozen Gibsons, replaced over the years like Lassies on a backlot. Jimmy Page played a Les Paul through a dozen Marshall amps, except he didn’t. Go ahead, think of a Led Zeppelin song. Chances are the guitar sound you were thinking of was made by a paisley-pink Telecaster run through a tiny little Fender.
Perhaps you could have a unique guitar: Randy Rhoads had his Jackson Flying V, with its asymmetrical points, painted with polka dots; Brian May built his legendary Red Special out of wood from medieval fireplace and smelted the copper for its pickups in his shed. Like May, Bo Diddley was his own luthier, but he was a bit less elegant and went with “rectangular” for the shape.
Eddie Van Halen was the greatest of all the Guitar Gods–Zeus, if we’re to continue the metaphor–and so his Magic Guitar was the most specialest of all. It looked like this:
He called it the Frankenstrat, but there were no Stratocaster parts in the thing, just local Southern California shop pieces: Eddie got a discount on the body because there was a knot in the wood. It’s in the Smithsonian now, but the object itself is a bit of a ship of Theseus; Eddie replaced parts on the sucker constantly: new necks and pickup and electronics.
But the paint scheme stayed. It’s tough to go wrong with red, black, and white; it is fairly easy to go Nazi, though. (You have to be conservative with the black; that’s the key. What you want is a lot of red and white, with some black highlights. If the three colors are in equal parts, then you’re evoking unpleasantries.) Eddie would play other guitars in his career, but the paint scheme stayed.
The Guitar God got a solo in every song, and a spotlight, too. Sometimes–often, actually–the whole show would stop so that the Guitar God could deedle and bwee for ten minutes in front of a stadium, unpestered by pedestrian bassists and workaday drummers. He would make faces while playing his guitar, and then he would lean way back–the guitar has so much power!–and sometimes his picking hand would be blown skyward by the fierceness of his riffery. Were he to drop to his knees, it would be understandable.
Before Eddie Van Halen, there was Jimi Hendrix (and Clapton, I guess, fine, whatever); after Eddie Van Halen, there were no more; not for lack of trying on C.C. Deville’s part, or Don Dokken, or Steve Vai, or any other of those Guitar Center wieners.
It wasn’t the guitar (though Eddie has the coolest guitar), and it wasn’t the hair (he had awesome hair), and it wasn’t the trousers (so very tight): he was a musician, while his imitators were guitar players.
Here, listen to this. You’ve heard it before:
Now listen–fucking listen–to it: it’s a three-act story. Classic Rock radio has inured you through repetition, but hear it again deeply and for the first time, with zits on your face and a mullet cascading proudly down your neck.
It starts loudly, the whole band, but by ten seconds on we’ve gone to a confusing and questioning chord; at 00:30, Eddie does the fast-picking thing–like Garcia’s fanning but way speedier–and the hero is in danger. The chord–minor? diminished?–is discomfiting and the notes sprint through the woods ahead of monsters and madmen.
And now go back–please go back, it’s worth it–go back and listen to 00:47. After the danger, there is silence. A second-and-a-half of atmospheric nothing, just the sound of thick air, and then BRANGdiddleiddlediddle Eddie attacks: it is a brilliant sound, and violent, but listen underneath the notes because like a boxer he is only seemingly flailing and punching; the chords underneath set up the next bit, the famous bit, the cool bit, the star-making bit. The finger-tapping section.
For years, guitarists had thought they knew all the ways to play a guitar: pick, fingers, lap, etc. Then, at 00:58 of Eruption (and that is a perfect name), guitarists discovered that their knowledge had been incomplete. If, instead of plucking the string with your finger or a plectrum, you bipped at the sucker with your fingertip right onto the fretboard, it made a completely new noise. Playing with a pick real fast sounds like DEEDLYDEEDLYDEEDLY, but this new thing sounded like BOODLYBOODLYBOODLY, and many record buyers were interested in these new findings.
That’s the famous part, the mold they cast an idol out of, but the passage isn’t famous for just technique. Fuck technique: tricks last for a night, but stories last forever. Go back again, just one more time, for your buddy TotD, and listen to 00:58.
Don’t listen to the notes. Listen to the chords. Listen to the melody, which is not spelled out for you like you’re a moron; it is more than a little Bach, obviously. A current in the stream of the same story we’ve been telling ourselves for hundreds of years. Johann Sebastian, whose children grew up to be musicians, refracted through a grinning and coked-up guitarist from Pasadena, the son of Jan, who was a musician.
That which is glorious iterates, and never dies.
There are no more Guitar Gods. Songs don’t even have guitar solos now: the featured rapper takes a verse. Eddie Van Halen was the last one, and I don’t know if he is any more, Younger Enthusiasts; I don’t know if you can keep showing up at a job that no longer exists; I don’t know so many things.
I know that there are no more Rock Stars, and certainly no more Guitar Gods; they used to look like this:
But they don’t make buggy whips any more, and the factories that made mimeograph machines are long closed.