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I saw a comment on an article on Nirvana:

“The next big thing won’t be a guitar band. Enough of the guitars already…”

and that triggered an avalanche of angry responses. But I’m a little concerned about the quality of the responses. Some people said that guitar music was on the way out on the eve of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and REM becoming really big. Fair enough. But that was 20 years ago. Saying “there was great guitar music 20 years ago” is not really exactly the same as saying “guitar music is here to stay”, is it?

And inevitably somebody brought up Decca rejecting the Beatles because boy rock bands were on their way out. But that was 50 years ago!!!

The amplified guitar music formula that ushered in rock and roll has seen many revisions over the years. There was Chuck Berry and rock and roll in the beginning. Then there was the amplified blues meets tin pan alley of the Beatles and the Stones. Then there was the proto-punkish Kinks and the Who. Then there was the super-loud amplified hard rock of Cream, Led Zep, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and most importantly Hendrix. Then there was the early punk of the Detroit bands, Grand Funk, MC5 and the Stooges. And then actual proper punk of the Ramones and the Buzzcocks. Also in the 70s, there was the Glam rock of Queen, Slade, Bowie, New York Dolls and T Rex. There was the heavy metal of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. In between, Nile Rodgers was showing that you could do really funky stuff with a guitar on a disco record. The other inventive uses for a guitar continued with jangle pop. REM and the Smiths were heirs of the Byrds. Hardcore was a fusion of metal and punk. And of course there was the Pixies, Sonic Youth, Pavement and grunge. Not to mention shoegaze.

The trouble started at the end of the century, when the Strokes and the White Stripes were lauded for taking us back to the great garage music of the past. But while grunge was a big tip of the hat to Led Zep and Black Sabbath, and Sonic Youth was a tip of the hat to Hendrix, it seemed as though this was one regurgitation too many. I’ve often wondered about the Strokes’ “Is this it” and its status as one of the great albums of all time. I’ve never considered it to be half as good as “Marquee Moon”, as much as the Strokes are compared to Television. I sense that there is a desperation for people to continue believing in great guitar bands.

Why does the human mind forever commit the fallacy of thinking that the future will be like the past? Don’t you think that it’s possible that we are on a cusp where there’s nothing truly new to come from guitar music anymore? If, at the beginning of the 60s, you had said that jazz would run out of steam pretty soon, and be almost dead within 20 years, people would have said that you were mad. But that’s basically what happened. That’s what usually happens when there’s nothing truly new to discover. Then what happens is that people will continue playing the oldies, things will seem normal for a while because of the momentum generated. But it could be that guitar music is from now on permanently on a downward arc.

I mean, c’mon, guitars. What have you done for us lately?

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