Saint Noise

Kyle Smith on the Met’s new exhibit of notable musical instruments of the rock and roll era.

Read the whole thing. But I thought I’d pullquote this:

Yet the mystical power of some of these objects drowns out the racket. Here is a surviving fragment of the guitar Hendrix doused with lighter fluid and set on fire at the Monterey Pop festival in 1967, in a gesture intended to one-up Townshend’s guitar-ruination. Hendrix famously knelt in a pose of ecstatic worship behind the burning object, conjuring spirits from the vast deep. What was the meaning of that act? Hendrix was playing off the attraction of all things pagan for the hippie generation, but on a deeper level the ritual sacrifice cast rock as an art whose genuineness, hence its attractiveness, was tied up in its inability to control itself. Rock mesmerizes and destroys as fire does. To burn his own guitar showed Hendrix reveling in evanescence as not just the natural passing of youth but also a kind of death wish, an appetite for self-destruction. Like many of his peers Hendrix set fire to himself, and some part of it was performative, dutiful. Three years later he would be dead at 27.
It may be that the age of rock gods has already concluded, like the Jazz Age or the Big Band era. The youngest artists represented at the exhibit — Tom Morello, Lady Gaga, St. Vincent — seem unlikely to inspire veneration, or even much interest, circa 2049. Some alchemy of sound and performance on the one hand and societal tumult on the other made rock a leading cultural indicator, for a time. “You’ve left your fingerprints on the audience’s imagination,” Springsteen once said, “and they stick.” Rock matters, or at least mattered, and the Met’s imprimatur on the form is well justified.

That was certainly what grabbed me as an adolescent with more emotion than reason.

Still does, in some ways.

3 thoughts on “Saint Noise

  1. That was awful deep for the topic of a popular music genre. I think the Rolling Stones understood it better, “I know it’s only rock’n’roll, but I like it“.

  2. That was certainly what grabbed me as an adolescent with more emotion than reason.

    Me too. Why, as a 16 year old observer of the human condition, I remember thinking, “Wow. Hendrix has transcended the bourgeois concept of…”

    Wait. That’s utter BS. I was probably thinking I needed to make sure Jack didn’t bogart the joint, hoped Bill would be able to score a 12 pack and wondered if Jill was really as easy when she was drunk as everyone said.

  3. That was certainly what grabbed me as an adolescent with more emotion than reason.

    As a performer, absolutely. But Swiftee does capture some of the consumer aspect as well.

    As an aside, although the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame itself is a dubious enterprise, it’s worth a visit if you’re ever in the Cleveland area. You can buy a twofer ticket that gets you into the RRHOF and the Pro Football HOF in Canton, about 45 minutes to the south.

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