Nov. 23, 2006
I was reading a forum thread on Bill Nelson’s website that started out as a debate over whether Jeff Beck is a better guitarist or artist than Bill Nelson and evolved into a discussion about art in general. I put my tuppenceworth in:
As Bill said:
“Again, I’ve said this so many times but a true musical artist takes a wider interest in art than just his music. The key is reading good literature, watching great, high quality films, going to art galleries, reading up on philosophy, spirituality or whatever. Get your mind-set out of that narrow rut by whatever means possible, expand your horizons, learn to embrace the unknown and master it, get rid of the fear and insecurity that stunts creative growth.
Basically, I experienced the seemingly obvious revelation that, in the hands of a person with artistic sensibilities, music could be high art, as profound as any visual or literary art, and that it was possible to stretch the pop-rock envelope into shapes that provoked deeper thought than ‘who was the fastest guitarist in the land.’ ”
I think that Beck and Hendrix are great guitarists because they are (were) great artists and not the other way around. I also think that even though I and most of us apparently love and respect Beck’s, Nelson’s and Hendrix’s work for all the groundbreaking, envelope-stretching, getting the head above the clouds aspects, there is little doubt that memory is a powerful ally of beauty. I never thought I was particularly prone to cliché in my taste or in my playing. I do however use the archetypes to my advantage. I deliberately refer to the “guitar-hero” in my music as an artistic door to a particular time and feeling, perhaps a particularly visceral one. For me, as for many others, the ’60’s and early ’70’s were a special time, not only because it was the time that our personal musical kindling was lit, but because it was a time of tremendous creative and cultural upheaval. Its reverberations are still felt, though admittedly, as will happen, the message often gets distorted and diluted. In other words, seeing a Vox amp on stage has a particular meaning because it makes a particular connection. If the person playing through the Vox amp is a big Beatles fan and plays music that touches on the guitar sound of a Beatles song or album, if his (her) playing echoes that music because that’s the music that inspires him, I see nothing wrong in that. If there is nothing new brought to the table, it’s a shame. It’s almost inevitable that anything short of a “tribute” band would involve some creative work and therefore some of the individual’s own identity. But there is no question that successfully articulating one’s own artistic identity through the filter of the things that originally inspired one, assumes that one has worked at developing oneself and one’s art.