Thursday, August 16, 2012

Guitar Magick

A friend, let us call him The Animated Man, shared this link to Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing. It's intriguing in itself, even if, as one sourpuss in the comments there remarks, the Captain was not much of a guitar player himself. It's also a prompt to clear up a misapprehension about the indisputably excellent guitarist, Robert Johnson.

I don't buy Captain Beefheart's anti-thinking commandment in it's entirety. I find music theory quite helpful myself. It's sort of like walking backwards: at least you know where you've been. But the joy of guitar is playing is when the fingers find the frets themselves and all the mind has to do is listen, or that's the joy for me, I like that state of being in general, maybe not everybody does.
When the mind is in the audience rather than on the podium with a conductor's baton all sorts of interesting questions about consciousness come in to play. I find Captain Beefheart's magickal approach refreshing.
Your guitar is not really a guitar Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you're good, you'll land a big one.
Not that I'm buying all of this in its entirety either.
 Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the "devil box." And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you're bringing over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.
 This seems to me to draw on the old Robert Johnson mythology, which is misunderstood. In the unlikely event that you have never heard the story: it is said the Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads at midnight in exchange for his talent.
Robert Johnson was a mysterious fellow. Just for a start he seems to have ended up with two graves. We can factor the devil out of the equation, however. Someone from Louisiana, who knows  her folklore and her culture well once explained to me the origins of the myth. What Robert Johnson was supposed to have picked up, if he ever did, was a crossroads spirit. In the culture there is nothing necessarily satanic about these entities, they are just helper spirits, and the crossroads at midnight happens to be the craigslist of the spirit world. I am sure that Evangelical Christians do not endorse the practice (I'm not endorsing it myself) but a helper spirit is a long way from cutting a deal with Old Nick in person.

UPDATE: Changed the pic. From here

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