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MY INDIE-ROCK GUITAR HERO BLOG

Posted by Amoebite, October 29, 2008 11:40am | Post a Comment
by Daniel Tures
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Guitar Hero!

The expression conjures denim-y visions of long-haired axe '70s victims on stadium stages, tossing their ringlets while shooting out silvery torrents of liquid metal... Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Ritchie Blackmore, Ted Nugent, Peter Frampton for God's sake... whammy bars whamming, wah-wahs wawwing, while the smokepots explode, the amps overload, the groupies squeal and the wastoids drool... THE GUITAR HERO. A mythical metal man with a Strat, stealing from the rich and shredding to the poor!

The great hard rock and heavy metal guitarists have been well-documented and complimented to death.  BUT DID YOU KNOW... there's another kind of guitar hero out there? Just as heroic, but more flannely?  More of a van- riding kind of hero, modestly sqwawking his stuff on the beer-soaked stages of the alternative landscape?  Not your ordinary guitar hero, I'm talking about.. the INDIE ROCK GUITAR HERO.

Yes, it's true, there are indie rock guitar heroes too! Dare I say it! We self-loathing, mumbling indie types have our own low-budget version of the big-rig metal demigod, and to my mind some of them are just as wanktastic and wailing as the big guys, and deserve a little blogspace. Now, once we get into this, there are gonna be opinions and opinions. I myself greg ginnam more of a fan than an expert, and I certainly suck at guitar, so I hereby humbly present to you my own biased and incomplete and endlessly revisable list of
indie rock guitar heroes.  Dispute these choices and add your own!

In no particular order... so let's start off with Black Flag founder and serious shredder Greg Ginn. SST founder and SoCal punk legend Ginn is far more experimental and metal-oriented than most of the amateurish guitarists from the first wave of American punk. He's a wild noodler and a very emotive player, with no effects but his lucite Dan Armstrong Ampeg. Often called "the punk rock Jerry Garcia," Ginn does kind of make like a very angry Deadhead with his wandering, mid-range jam-punk, perfectly complementing the angst and musclebound humor of singer Henry Rollins. It's more accurate to compare him to free-jazz players like Ornette Coleman or James Blood Ulmer, especially on instrumentals like Slip It In's "Obliteration." Sweaty, gnarly, rude, uplifting, free-thinking punk axe wankery!

One of my all-time favorites is Television guitarist Tom tom verlaineVerlaine. This New York art-punk legend favored a clean sound, complex harmonics, ringing Stonesy riffs descending into extended filigrees and odd phrasing. Along with his enigmatic, poetic vocals and interplay with Richard Lloyd, Verlaine's guitar work made Television's first two albums classic landmarks that inspired a legion of '80s postpunk as well as bands like the Cars. Subtle, but awe-inspiring, uncompromising stuff.

While we're in New York, let's not forget Thurston Moore... Sonic Youth's fearless, squalling, droning, experimental choogaloo comes from this tall, lanky, pleasantly-spoken axeman, who makes masterful use of "wrong" tunings and can express a range of emotions from grandeur to druggy blankout to oceanic melancholy. Though born of New York's minimalistic No Wave scene, Sonic Youth has progressed in musical power and prowess to become towering heroesomar rodriguez-lopez worshipped by alternative bands everywhere.

A more recent indie guitar hero is Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, of scream-prog weirdos Mars Volta and At The Drive-In. This skinny, Afro-ed ex-Texan is a master of wild and weird sonic gizmos that make his guitar sound like everything from a kaleidoscopic alien scream to a dead whale decomposing on the beach. From the relatively straightforward (if hyperpowered) emo of At The Drive-In, Omar's new combo dives straight into the deep end of '70s prog, veering all over the road stylistically within a single song and conjuring everything from Rush to Emerson Lake & Palmer.  And he never forgets to throw in a little Latin soul from his bordertown roots.  Weird and wild and not for those with short attention spans!

I guess we could go all the way back to Robert Fripp, a contemporary of Brianj. mascis Eno's and equally traiblazing. Fripp has been making ethereal drones and punishing, ugly storms of sound since the '70s, on solo records and with King Crimson. He pioneered his own hyperlayered guitar style, aptly called
Frippertronics!

No indie fan would deny that J. Mascis makes some of the most fun, grinding, retro-'70s virtuosic guitar crud ever to hit the '90s airwaves... this quiet wizard with the croaky voice and long gray locks can make mincemeat out of a Cure song, blast out almost intolerable space-fuzz hurricanes and still chop off a good-time AM power riff. With Dinosaur Jr., Mascis made it OK for alternative kids to headbang.

While we're in the '90s, let's not forget Stephen Malkmus...the Pavement guy is more of an artsy player than a big-time shredder, cranking out catchy riffs and jokey references with a studied amateurism and gloriously bad gear. More recently he's getting into ironic Deadhead sludge, running up and down the fretboard like a low-budget John Coltrane and choogling off into the sunset.  

Doug Martsch and Greg Sage would make any indie-head's guitar hero list...  Built to Spill's Martsch joey santiagowails out epic, mournful indie space-rock like an avant-garde Dark Side of the Moon. The bearded, bespectacled fellow can add a truly inspired tornado of sound to his soaring sadness too. The Wipers' Sage is a bit of an anomaly... starting in the late '70s, they kicked out pioneering classics of tight, heavy punk rock with leftfield guitar wankery that made them hard to categorize. Idolized by fellow iconoclast Kurt Cobain, Sage gradually ventured further from punk, eventually adding elements of metal and psychedelia to what would eventually become alternative rock. Truly searing, unforgettable guitar mania!

Bands like the Wipers wound up inspiring bands like the Pixies... Joey Santiago is equally quick with a riff, a waterfall of ugly noise, a plangent melody or a harsh, searing metallic freakout.

Don't let's forget about those postpunk guitar heroes... Gang of Four's Andy Gill made harsh, staccato punk-funk that you could dance or write a political manifesto to. Will Seargant of Echo & the Bunnymen crafted dark, Doorsy trenchcoat rock that youjohnny marr could dance or write some Gothic poetry to. Public Image Limited's Keith Levene made night-black, staggering, squalling epics of avant-rock sound, sizzling out moody hate and wrong notes that made everything right. Daniel Ash of Bauhaus is like a postpunk Mick Ronson, conjuring voodoo glam, arch Ziggy Stardust swagger and Link Wray-esque rumble from his stadium-sized amps. Bob Mould jumpstarted the alternative sound with the powerchording, lo-fi angst of Husker Du... as the fi got less lo throughout the '80s, his guitar power shone through until it was clear that he had infused Roger McGuinn's sparkling strumminess with pure punk power. Johnny Marr gave The Smiths a clean, multi-tracked, pure pop sound with debts to rockabilly and complex '60s pop like Love and the Zombies -- ringing, melancholy, playful and unforgettable.

The list could go on and on. Us bedsit losers need guitar heroes too, and since we're socially awkward and nobody loves us, we've got more time to practice. I'm sure I've overlooked plenty of indie guitar legends -- add your own favorites to this list!