Sunday, December 23, 2007

new shoes!; good guitar

Damn the hiatus; I feel like blogging. Ed Baker kindly suggests that the malaise implied in my last post is the result of – you got it – the holidays themselves: "all holidays are too divisive and are cause of your current sicknesses/angst... they are all about buying things and murdering "them infidels" or about celebrating some invented 'happenstance' (phantasy)." To which I can only reply, yeah, I think you're right.

We were – horrors – in the local hi-tone mall the other night, & the spectacle of massed consumerism was rather like the shark-feeding scene in Moby-Dick; me, I turned into the shark who gets so enthusiastic that he starts swallowing his own entrails. In short, I bought new shoes [see above]. Pretty boss, no? A pair of New Balance trainers whose design – according to the press release –
pays homage to 70’s Grindhouse Cinema through a hard-hitting collage of the era’s slickest iconography. From the streets of Harlem to the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, [Sean] D’Anconia’s fusion of 70’s funk, yakuza and kung-fu imagery brings his unique pop-fusion universe to life in this limited-edition New Balance Creation.
I dunno. I just think they're cool. I'd draw your attention to the fact that the very hip gentleman on the inside of each shoe [see image to the right] has an actual crushed velvet afro.
Last week I wrote about bad guitar playing (ie, my own). This week I've been thinking about good guitar playing. It's time of course for that dreaded year-end phenomenon, people's lists of "best books of 2007," "best albums of 2007," etc. [The Poem of a Life, it seems, was released too late in the year to make anyone's list, tho it does happily appear on Pierre Joris's year-end list of "books I should have sent in to Steve Evans's Attention Span project," where he's kind enough to comment, "Still in the process of reading it, and so far completely delighted. A must for anyone interested in the most secret of the great American poets of the past century." And Su, bless her heart, says nice things here.]

Any way, while I can't claim to have anything like an encyclopedic knowledge – or even a cursory knowledge – of the records released over the past year, I'd hasten to put in a plug for my old flame Richard Thompson's latest electric release, Sweet Warrior. Every time RT comes out with a new band album, I'm inclined to think "this is the best thing since Rumour & Sigh" (1991) – & then, after listening for a couple months, decide that it's a good album but perhaps not quite up to R&S, which is after all pretty close to a perfect record. But Sweet Warrior (which I'll blog at length sometime soon, perhaps) is the real thing.

But I'm struck at the moment by a little note on the front page of RT's spiffy official website, letting us know that oor man made the top 20 of Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the "100 greatest guitarists of all time" (number 19, in fact). I'm abnormally fascinated by such lists, which seem to mime the process of classic literary canon formation. Unfortunately, RS doesn't provide any information on how they came up with their pantheon of guitar heroes: did they just throw out names around the office? is it the result of an online or print readers' poll (as I suspect)?

And what makes a "great guitarist"? Here, for your perusal, are the top 20:
1 Jimi Hendrix
2 Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band
3 B.B. King
4 Eric Clapton
5 Robert Johnson
6 Chuck Berry
7 Stevie Ray Vaughan
8 Ry Cooder
9 Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin
10 Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones
11Kirk Hammett of Metallica
12 Kurt Cobain of Nirvana
13 Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead
14 Jeff Beck
15 Carlos Santana
16 Johnny Ramone of the Ramones
17 Jack White of the White Stripes
18 John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
19 Richard Thompson
20 James Burton
It's pretty hard to argue with some of these: Hendrix, B. B. King, Duane Allmann, James Burton, Robert Johnson are all pioneers of their idioms, breakers of new ground (as Pound might have it); Santana, Jerry Garcia, Ry Cooder, & Kirk Hammett are very very fine players, impeccable technicians as it were. But what does Stevie Ray Vaughan have to offer that isn't already in Hendrix? And what in the world are Jack White & Kurt Cobain – iconic figures, & decent players but no more – doing in this top 20, many strata above such marvelous musicians as Ali Farka Toure (#76), Tom Verlaine (#56), & Vernon Reid (#66)? Are the rudimentary stylings of Lou Reed (#52) & Ron Asheton (of the Stooges, #29) really "greater" than the impeccable madness of Lightin' Hopkins (#71) & Robert Quine (#80)?

Rock music, however, has always been about more than just music itself, which goes some way towards explaining why Jimmy Page outscores the late, great, & much lamented Robert Quine by 71 positions. After all, who wouldn't vote for the romantically hairy, bare-chested Page, who in the eyes of his fellow guitarists wore the bloody guitar too low to bang out a decent solo in concert (ever wondered why the solos are so much better on Led Zeppelin's studio albums than on their live releases? wonder no more), over the bald, bespectacled Quine – Mr. Magoo with an electric guitar?

I'm an unabashed fan: I love all his work, from his stuff on Lou Reed's best albums of the 1980s to his solos on Matthew Sweet's records to his work on various John Zorn & Tom Waits releases. But if I had the choice of which tour bus I get to ride along on, I'm pretty certain that I'd choose Zeppelin's floating orgy over whatever studious accomodations the ex-legal student Quine might have to offer.

Out-on-a-limb statement of the day: Eric Clapton is the single most overrated popular musician of the last quarter of the 20th century.

[Robert Quine, 1942-2004]


Joseph said...

Well, J. Mascis isn't even on the list, so I can't accept it.(I remember the early-90s Spin Magazine cover parodying "Clapton Is God" -- Mascis Is God)

Ed Baker said...

Ike Turner (don't 'buy-into' the media-Tina version of things mostly pure moo-larky)

Joe Cocker
John Fahey
Papa Chubby

cheers, Ed

ps your new book now on amazon "like new" $13.. sure are a lot of fast "readers" out there..

pretty soon the postage will be more than the book!
while here I am yet "stuck" in A-6

thanks to Cid pointing something out to me years ago

Ed Baker said...

how cld I forget::::

the Absolute greatest: ROY BUCHANAN

both he and Fahey lived around here John across the street

Roy was lynched in a jail-cell over near Peace Cross

Ed Baker said...

it was A-12 Cid pointed me towards in a 1972 or 3 letter part of the letter with quote from A-12 CC typed in on page 4-5 of RESTORATION POEMS (on my site) part of that particular letter

that was SOME group of poets/friends there in Manhattan!

all were "in it" for the poetry and not for the
credentials/jobs...just like today, huh?

Josh Hanson said...

Dead right with Clapton.

And where does Robbie Robertson fall on that list? I might argue that he too creates his own idiom.

Mark Scroggins said...

Roy Buchanan = #57
Robbie Robertson = #78

both of them far below the Edge (#24) -- a nice guy, & a fellow baldie, but nobody's idea of a great musician...

Unknown said...

It's kind of hard to not be overrated when you have people calling you God, but I still think Clapton belongs on the list. Certainly not as high as he was--number 4? I'm a fan and I think that's excessive--but he's certainly been influential.

And I think the SRV thing is generational more than anything else. My parents weren't into Hendrix, I didn't have an older sibling to guide me into it, so I came to SRV before Hendrix, and I'm more influenced toward SRV as a result.

Josh Hanson said...

As for The Edge: they should have Eno and Lanois in parenthesis.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark. Do you think Clapton might have been acknowledging his overratedness when he titled one album Slowhand? I agree he's overrated, but I suspect he'd agree too.

Where's Robert Fripp? And what about the best guitarist I've ever seen live -- Buddy Guy? He's what Hendrix wanted to be/would've been if he'd lived. I saw Guy onstage with B.B. King four or five times during my Memphis years, and King was-- even in his own club -- more than willing to step aside to the superior ax-man.

Paul "Stonehand" Naylor

Mark Scroggins said...

Brian--don't be pulling that "generational" thing on me, old man! Of course, my fundamentalism was maybe a bit less harsh than yours -- I remember getting my first Hendrix album 2ndhand from my youth group leader, who cautioned me that the guitar playing was great, but that some of the lyrics were "very very dangerous"... When SRV came out, it all seemed very familiar.

Josh--I'd rather had Danny Lanois playing on my record than the Edge any day.

Paul--Buddy Guy is #30 (2 down from the dopey Steve Stills), Robert Fripp #42. I think I may have linked the list itself up there somewhere, if you want to see it in all its weirdness (eg, Joe Perry outscoring John McLaughlin).

--Mark "Thumbfingers" Scroggins

William Keckler said...

Where is Robin Guthrie on that list? I guess reinventing the guitar doesn't count. Did that sound bitter? Bilious? Atrabilious? Keep going. Mark, like Sparks, I PREDICT: You will never wear those sneakers. You will build a shrine as they are demanding right now. Listen carefully...I can even hear it up here in Pennsylvania..."if you build it, they will come..."

Mark Scroggins said...

Oh Double-you-bee, ye of little faith! I've already worn 'em twice, & have been told (by someone who oughta know) that they're very "me." I have a history of dead stylish/extremely tacky shoes, like the red Diesel trainers I like to wear to conferences & funerals.

Guess what? No Robin Guthrie on the list; nor Fred Frith; nor Bonnie Raitt; nor PJ Harvey.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the compliment on my shoes! Glad you like them!
Sean D'Anconia