Honestly, what is more civilized than the electric guitar?
Take it one step back: Making music is civility defined. Hearing it and taking part—in any manner or form—is too.
Order; consonance; harmony; repetition; amplification; performance; applause—each is an elemental chunk of how we collectively experience musical sounds, together thriving on the constraints and building blocks of organized civilization itself.
Civic values steeped in the histories of many an ancient society have supported the development of music as art, moving deep into our notions of culture and media today. At the same time, a thread of primeval order—and disorder—situates itself closely to the inner workings of music and its many exponents. While so-called “roots” music may sound agrarian and pastoral with a side of cutesy, retro sentimentality (depending), signs of its birthing are below ground, covered in ages of heaped dirt, decay and destruction readily available for music’s swirling, swarming, now-market-based unpredictability. The base-level drones of throaty, spiritual chanting is just below the surface, despite the blips eroding your eardrums from a wired device.
The beggar on the corner offers a song from their guitar in exchange for a dollar towards a meal. A post-punk band interprets the industrial clanks and cancer-riddled sounds of a city into visceral noise songscapes to a crowd of angry straight-edgers searching for a masochistic social happening. The sound of animal skin covering a wooden cylinder—or maybe just a log—being struck by a smaller object to create rhythmic phrases which mimic the sounds of the woodpecker up above. A group of somewhat-random instruments attempt uncharted musical history in contempt of organized sonic structure, ripping apart imposed genres and structures, in favor of a completely liberated, improvisational music form—inclusive but incredibly insular, and definitely standoffish. Language is woven with passing, languid movements on a guitar, the human voice emulating sparrow chirps with poetic word pairings. The music of the wave’s lunar swell—the swishing and slamming of foamed matter.
We’re all in this together—living, and nonliving creatures the same—as reflected in music’s moving mirror of sentient self-reflection and broad indeterminacy. Music is alive. Music is random. Music is moist.
In the twenty-tens, there is a sense of polarity that exists surrounding the global understanding and influence of the “standard”, six-stringed guitar which mirrors the dual-sided undertow playing out in the socio-economic turmoil and climactic upheaval of our times. There is incivility everywhere, amidst a sea of strange, often universal beauty. In the end, we’re all just animals looking for food.
Jarring news stories depicting widespread terror and unease are juxtaposed against our decadent cultures of hedonistic entertainment, as well as the technological advances which seep into our every-waking-minute.
The guitar is at once a ubiquitous, post-modern folk object and a harborer of revile and widespread ill will. From its sheer electrified volume, to its primordial presence around campfires and celebrations across the world, the essence of the modern guitar is divisive (turn that thing down!) and utterly quotidian (smash that thing!). Long a harbinger of revolution and full-fledged sonic revolt, it exists at the crossroads of the angry (punk), the sad (blues), and the future (electro-acoustics).
We’ve delved headfirst into an era of internet connectedness hereto never before reached, and yet, the guitar remains remarkably similar and commonplace: Ancient but wired into the matrix; flashy and totally weird. Its inherent contradictions and dualities form a complexity rooted in the everyday; we all know what a guitar is but can’t quite describe its allure or omnipotence.
Enraptured in this newly digital patina, we see the guitar moving forward through history as a strong and steady cultural symbol, adjusting to our new complexities and remaining altogether unchanged. When the phones go, the guitar will remain—undoubtedly.
It is from this steadfast, front-porch-sound-box-turned-post-industrial-folk-art-tool that we derive a sense of punky simplicity, crossed with a vortexed complexity. Teenagers around the world are actually practicing their guitars, burying their heads deep into a world of musical dreams, aspirations and creation while they document the whole process in posts and feeds which make up their cloud identity—the type of thing parents actually want their children doing, while still maintaining an arms length from total cooperation. It’s for once O.K. to be a nerdy, know-it-all shredder—especially if you can play “Stairway to Heaven”—oh, and individuality definitely counts (so does weirdness). Guitar playing has become not so much a status symbol, but rather a cultural achievement built on personal empowerment and discovery: How many of us across the entire world have tried to figure something cool out on a guitar alone in our bedrooms or down in the basement?
So, societies crumble and ecosystems collapse as we spin into massive human and non-human exploit into further incivility, with all its terrible beauty and inevitability. And what will remain of the decadent cultures from the 2010s we might ask? There’ll surely be some splendid Guitar Uncivilized erupting from the rubble as we celebrate the earth around a post-apocalyptic campfire, with those freaky, folky jazz chords to keep us warm, or cool—it’s hard to say for sure, but the more the merrier in this regard, and there’s sure to be a guitar lying around, and maybe it’s on fire.