I love knowledge and learning, and it will come as no surprise to those who know me that I love the wikipedia.com site. I like to choose an article that I found interesting in the past few weeks and talk about it expand on it here.
This week’s article is “Instrument Destruction”.
Some of the world’s greatest mysteries reside in the field of popular music. For instance, Pete Townsend of The Who smashed guitars as part of the band’s performances. He wasn’t the first.
Apparently, the first widely regarded guitar smashing happened on the Lawrence Welk show. Rockin’ Rocky Rockwell performed a tongue in cheek version of Elvis’s “Hound Dog” in 1956 and ended by smashing his guitar over his knee. Weirdly, it’s possible that the pop counter culture got the idea for guitar smashing as a symbol of rebellion from within the depths of the status quo on Lawrence Welk’s show.
For context, Lawrence Welk’s show was so dedicated to the idea of maintaining a wholesome appearance that Welk once fired Alice Lon, the lead female singer of the show’s band, for crossing her legs while sitting on a desk. Punishment fits the crime as far as I can tell. In other early instrument destruction, Jerry Lee Lewis apparently smashed and set pianos on fire to express frustration and bewilderment when people were mean about him marrying his thirteen year old cousin.
Although The Who’s Pete Townshend is the icon of instrument destruction, one of the best stories belongs to Keith Moon, The Who’s drummer.
During a performance on The Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour (the Smothers were instrument destroying iconoclasts themselves), Moon packed his kick drum full of explosives, which he detonated at the end of “My Generation”—a beautiful, prescient, song about millennials. The fallout from the explosion was fantastic. Bette Davis, a film icon, was a guest on the show—she fainted. Pete Townshend is one of the great rock guitarists of the 60s, if not exactly a Clapton-style guitar god—the explosion caught his hair on fire and made him deaf in one ear (allegedly). Moon himself was chastised by god for his recklessness when a bit of exploded cymbal struck him in the arm.
But do you know why Pete Townshend of The Who smashed his guitars? It turns out that he was much put upon by a mouse named Jerry during many of his performances. He’d hold out as long as he could while Jerry taunted him by stealing cheese from the backstage crudités. By the end of the show, though, Jerry’s antics would invariably overwhelm him to such a degree that he’d lose all sense and try to smash the tiny mouse with his guitar, never succeeding.
In later years, Pete realized that Jerry was actually the source of much of his success. By encouraging Townshend to smash guitars, Jerry had transformed a young British lad who loved suspended 4th chords into a rock legend. The two made up and formed a detective agency together.