Posted on November 29, 2018
by Steve Janowick

Lack of technology is an imagination stimulator.  A kid will conjure up just about anything in his head when he has no stimuli entering it other than sound.

I spent many a summer day loafing under a shady tree with just a couple buddies and a boom box.  We’d all sit cross-legged and listen to it like those old families huddled around the radio in the pre-television days.

One of the older cats was way more advanced in his musical prowess than the rest of us and possessed a cassette collection to prove it.  We’d all sit around as he lectured us on what we were about to hear. Educating us about song meanings and instrumentations. I vividly remember being enthralled while listening to The Bee Gees, Jackson Brown and The Eagles.  Being sonically transported by the acoustic, mellow, summery sounds. Imagining what they looked like while performing this great music. The whole experience was pristine and airy and conjured up images in my head of flowing streams and peaceful easy feelings.

Then, it all changed.

A week or so later, he gathered us around under the same tree to listen to a song on a new cassette he had just made-from an album belonging to his 17-year old brother!  I could tell by his weighty expression and sense of urgency that this was some serious shit we were about to hear. He told us it was a very different sound. He said it would forever change the way we thought of music.

He wasn’t wrong about either.

My 10-year old heart was beating with anticipation as he hit play and the live version of Dazed and Confused started.  And twenty-six minutes later, when the song ended, and he hit stop, I was absolutely slack-jawed.  After a few seconds of astonished silence, I spoke up and asked what that crazy sound was? That loud, mean, scary, awesome sound?

“The electric guitar”, he said.

I was immediately confused.  How could that benign instrument with the strings make such noises?  I had seen lots of people play the guitar, in person even, and it sounded nothing like what I had just heard.

“You heard acoustic guitars.  The guy on this song, Jimmy Page, plays an electric one.  He plugs it into an amplifier and that makes it loud. That’s what you just heard.”

My untrained, naive ears heard a caged animal attacking his captor and ripping him from limb to limb. They heard a hot-rod blowing plumes of smoke from its tires as it speeds down the track.  My amped imagination saw the earth split in two and Satan himself emerge shooting fire bullets from his pitchfork. It saw a nameless man’s face literally melt right off into his hands.

And I friggin’ loved it!

And, thus began my obsession with the musical instrument that would encapsulate, and forever be synonymous with, hard-rock music.  These were the most guttural, raw, powerful sounds I’d ever heard, and to think that a mortal man was producing them just blew me away.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the electric guitar and the music it helped create had already taken over the world.  From Hendrix to Clapton and Eddie Van Halen to Jimmy Page, the ax wielder was king. He was the backbone, the star, of every rock group out there.  And I was hooked! This instrument spoke to me. It was aggressive. It was loud. But it could also be trippy and melancholy too. It knew all my different moods.  It understood what I was feeling as a maturing boy yielding to manhood.

And I certainly wasn’t alone.  Hard, guitar-driven rock was a staple for many young men and women.  It sold millions of records (and made a lot of millionaires while doing so). But just like all of youth’s proclivities, it eventually fell out of favor with the next generation.  “My Dad liked hard rock? Well, no way, man. That’s not cool. I’m not listening to anything that my parents listened to.”

And just like that, the electric guitar was the red-headed stepchild.  Only revered by underground metal heads or aging rockers whose hair was a little too long or non-existent.  Today, the relevant, mainstream, American kid would much rather hear a dope beat from his laptop than a screaming guitar.  A laptop? Really? Yep, the hero of the day. I know, it seems sacrilegious, but you can’t fight “progress.”

But I call bullshit!  You can’t play “air laptop” while drunk at a party.  You can’t slither your tongue and make the devil horns while playing the laptop. There’re no dudes wearing leather, flannel or spandex while shredding a laptop! Kids don’t sit around wondering who the greatest laptop-ist of all time is. These things all belong to the legend, man.  The electric guitar!

And just like the old saying goes.  Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.

Rock on!

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