This past week I’ve been obsessively watching and rewatching the new Who documentary that was just released. I’ve also been musing on what is it that keeps their music fresh for me, while most other music of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s only conjures a mild nostagic glow. The Who’s music is just as powerful for me now as it ever was.
Between you and me, I never “got” Hendrix. Or Clapton, for that matter. Of course, I rarely utter this in public, because were I to do so, everyone would look at me like I’m some sort of heretical philistine. It is The Received Wisdom that the Best Guitar Player ever is Jimi Hendrix, and the Best Still Living Guitar Player Ever is his royal highness, Eric Clapton.
It did my heart no end of good to hear a young Pete Townshend disdainfully describe Hendrix’s performance at the Monterey Pop Concert as “he played alright, I guess.” The statement was no doubt made out of the hubris of showmanship, but even so, I much prefer Townshend’s guitar playing. It’s less flashy, but is at once more powerful, more economical, and more complex. I have no doubt that those other two Guitar Gods have more dextrous skill, but it’s all flash, and ultimately doesn’t create a piece of music that has any content or meaning. All of the technique that’s on display is designed only to awe the rest of us schlubs. It’s just like those acrobatic and nimble displays of athletic legerdemain in all those Hong Kong movies. None of them contribute one iota of illumination to the overall stories told in those movies.