Fat Cat Plankton

Nonsense in extensia

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Anyone Can Play Neil Young's Guitar

Is it just me, or is everyone trying to play guitar like Neil Young nowadays? Pearl Jam caught a bunch of flak back in the day for joining forces with 'ol Shakey to create insta-classic-rock, but PJ never actually sounded like Neil, never actually played their guitars exactly like him.

Fast forward to 2004, and everywhere you look, awkwardly overearnest, vaguely rootsy neo-trads have appropriated Neil's messy, buzzy, overamped guitar tone and beautifully inelegant playing style, exactly why I don't know, probably trying to artificially lend some of Neil's wounded animal grace to their own songs w/o having to think of a new way of doing it. Neil's guitar solos let you know this was a humble guy who was grappling with Big Problems, an Everyman ill-equipped to handle great burdens and challenges but resigned to give it a shot, knowing he would pour every ounce of his unworthy self into something that was doomed to failure. The solos are both a brilliant ruse demanding underestimation and a painfully heroic act of self-martyrdom, Neil skewering himself for failures that were wholly self-orchestrated. It was a distinctly lonely place those solos occupied, always Neil by himself fighting against the current, against the elements, against the other instruments, against the notion of what lead guitar was "supposed" to sound like.

And then you wonder why Allison Moorer, Jeff Tweedy, and David Bazan would want to manufacture those same struggles in their own music? All three want desperately to be taken seriously as artists of substance and considerable gravity, and all of them are very good at positing themselves as the lonely, tortured genius in the reluctant spotlight. Moorer on The Duel's "I Ain't Giving Up on You," Tweedy on AGIB's "At Least That's What You Said," and Bazan on Achilles Heels' "Keep Swinging" - in each case, it's all about stacking the deck overwhelmingly in the opposition's favor, then fighting back valiantly armed with nothing but a makeshift, rudimentary guitar.

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