A Martin guitar with plastic back and sides and a ‘richlite’ plastic fretboard is not a Martin at all. The only decent piece of wood, of warmness and resonance is that sitka spruce top, and that is hobbled by all the cold unvibrating plastic around it. Plastic, man, doesn’t belong on guitars. Plastic for light switches, for the frames of glasses I cannot afford to buy, for vacuum cleaners and refrigerators, but for something whose entire reason for living and breathing and existing, depends on vibration, for something that transmits sound and emotion and the juice of life from it’s sound hole, that is coaxed by it’s fretboard and the tension of the steel strings, plastic just won’t do. When that plastic is rocking a Martin label, and price point, it is an abomination. I know, I tried some out, they were all dead. They felt dead in the hands, they sounded dead, they rang soullessly. Admittedly I went from a thirty year old rosewood back and sides, adirondack spruce top beauty (now ceased to exist, stolen by a drunk ass, and then smashed into smithereens by him in one of the cruellest acts of musical destruction and dismantling of a long held affection and friendship), to trying out plastic martins. Trees cannot be made out of plastic. They are living and organic. They grow and resonate, they move naturally. Guitars need to be made out of wood and ebony and bone.
There is no plastic on my cheap(er) Guild. It is bone and laminate wood and metal. No rosewood sustain but it’s mahogany sides and stained spruce top do the job. It’s the real deal. Does it sound as good as a thirty plus year old solid rosewood back and sides martin grand auditorium? No, of course not. It is less muddy in the middle range, but much colder too. Does it sound better than a plastic martin even though it is missing the big PA name? Absofuckinglutely, and for a fraction of the price tag. Fake martin or a real Guild? I’ll go for the Guild. People fool themselves into believing that the fake plastic guitars sound good, that the ‘technology is there’. People persuade themselves into believing a lot of things. ‘We sold paradise and pppppput up a parking lot” full of fake plastic trees. Thom Yorke was right about plastic plants and plastic people and the plastic curse of a life lived phoney. Thom is real, from the jerk of his stimulant fuelled elmo-like on stage freak outs to his ‘faster johnny faster’ admonishments. Ain’t no one gonna be fast enough for yer, Thommy boy, yer flying at the speed of light, Mr Idioteque. ‘It wears him out’ sings our miniature hero of the underground, it might look like the real thing (tm colacola) but its all fake. I am sick of fake, of phoney, of the themepark jive talk of organizations that talk something like the talk, but the walk was given up for limousine rides and daddy’s racehorses, a million years ago.
I am interested in real things. Dead organizations bore me. Rolling Stone won’t consider a writer for their ‘exclusive culture council’ if they are not part of the financially successful establishment. They are not interested in the counter culture, in the people really living and influencing and creating and writing and thinking and surviving outside the confines of success, of popular approval, of insta-glory. There is this feedback loop of banal mediocrity that these leeches feed into and off of. Art is built out of adversity that merges with passion and new fresh thoughts and forms a chimera of new and glittering seductiveness. Art isn’t made by ‘principle departmental decision makers’ or ‘senior business executives’. The old art is dead wood. It ain’t even that: it’s corpse is a plastic martin. That which was made before it became stolid and establishment, all that protest and dirt, all that finger up to the man, became big money. Big money was the roundup sprayed on the harvested crop to dry it out and package it up, a poisoned feast for the people. Thin gruel. It might keep ya alive, but it won’t nourish the soul. No soul was nourished by someone who is ‘published by an ESTABLISHED publishing house’. Gatekeeping by setting lower limits of $50,000 bucks as the minimum earnings of an ‘influencer’ before they can be considered, is a sure way to make a plastic martin, to cut out the vibrations, the life, the warmess, the wood, and churn out more soulless, establishmentarian, lifeless content. But that is Rolling Stone. It was dying when Hunter S Thompson was being tortured by them, sent out to Vietnam and left drifting without support, it was on it’s last legs by the time Lester Bangs hated them. It ain’t even jerking and rolling on the floor like a Bull Lee bug. It’s dead.
There was a point where it was cutting edge, where Rolling Stone had the movers and the shakers, was a tiny little San Francisco publication, when it was underground baby, when it had its fingers on the pulse of culture and politics, of protest and the counter culture. That time has passed. It is all television shows, prescribed thought policing. BTS on the cover just about sent me into horror-spasms. If a band make money, Rolling Stone love ’em – ask Jim DeRogatis. BTS produce the most banal useless, sickening manufactured shit-pop I have ever had the misfortune to hear. They have the most toxic fandom in history. I am embarrassed for them with their fake Bieber yummy yummy butter bullshit. It ain’t music, they are pop dollies for little girls and adult human beings with serious ‘otonagai’ tendencies – a perfect Japanese word for adults who covet the trinkets of childhood. From their plastic faces to their plastic prewritten manufactured music, from their middle aged joan collins make up, to their carefully curated clothes and jewelry, from the gross way their company controls them, to the promoting of fake food macdonaldos, with fake flavors and fake fake smiles, they disgust me. It is everything that is wrong with music. Their psycho fans can bite me. One day they will grow up and form support groups to handle the shame of being part of such a fucking grotesque fandom, until that day, let em eat (carefully promoted) cake, and pose for Rolling Stone. They deserve each other.
On a little trip to get both my eyes tested and hop into City Lights, I came to the conclusion that nothing was real any more. City Lights only stock books that are sold via large distributors such as Ingrams. They are no longer Indie darlings, they are all about profit margins. They no longer promote the edgy, the real, the hyper-politicized and marginalized and the rebels. If a drunk as a skunk Kerouac walked in there today, they would show him the door. It is a Disneyworld of beat. Fake plastic rebellion. It has become The Establishment it once went to court against. Sure they stock Bukowski and the boys, (and MAN is it always boys, huh), but they are mired in the past, without having any sense of dignity or dedication to the cause of independent thought and writing. They are dead. The people who were behind it’s success, the rebels and the freedom fighters are gone now – RIP Ferlinghetti, last beat man standing. What once was cutting edge is now a tool of the dull and dying, the fake, the plastic, the industry ‘executives’ and the other solid ground standing whip hands of what has been. There is no vibration, there is no life, there is no growth, just back slapping old boy yawn inducing more of the same-ish-ness. I did wonder what it was about the place that I always found such a turn off about the place, now I know. It’s phoney. It didn’t use to be, it was the real thing. But the real thing makes money, gets old, is swallowed up by the machinery of success and becomes the phlegmatic bank manager ‘industry leaders’ who have not had an original artistic thought since 1973. Ok. Maybe 1995.
I have favorites, but I play favorites for a reason, they remained real and not phoney. Fuck I sound like Holden Caulfield and that ain’t good. REM never put out a sell out album. Radiohead’s output remained top shelf right up to 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, which feels like it was a see ya and thanks for all the fun without the big announcement. I hate the Foo Fighters because they are big phonies. I love Nirvana because they were real. There is nothing as pathetic as watching a bloated Axl Rose waddling across the stage, no verve, low energy, destroying his (and Guns and Roses) legacy through not knowing when it is time to call a day on being Axl, or at least to change the schitck into something realer. I would love to see him in bluesman suit, a pimp cane and rocking out with some dignity. I would love it if he had something new to say. That is where Dylan has stayed alive and breathing artistically – he grew with his music and career. Lou Reed managed the same, as did Bowie and Leonard Cohen: relevant and kicking society’s lazy ass until the eternal horseman caught their coattails and snickered. Are we not all afraid?
I long for something real, something new, something alive. I am no death-junkie. I love a good loser, I love suffering and pain – it betrays the presence of life and feeling, instead of morally, spiritually and physically dead and dull and artistically bereft. I promise the day I am comfortably sitting in some New York Upper East Side apartment, lost touch with the street and the empathy and have no taste for reality, just champagne and coke, I will hang up my pen and put aside my notebooks. I will not ever be a phoney. Perhaps I could go get a job in ‘industry’ advising them how to sell boy bands to little girls. I would hate myself. It would kill me faster than the Tenderloin.
What can I say? Support the indie, Lou’s ‘poor that just drink and die’. Buy that $10 painting from the homeless guy in the park, at least it is real. Vote with your dollars and your support. The counterculture became the establishment and the only way to new creations, to vital art that breathes, away from plastic martins and plastic rubber plants, and plastic men and women and pop stars created by slithery old men in offices, and promoted by dead organizations and publications in the pursuit of the great all-consuming yankee dollar, that lastest golden goose egg BTS or other quick buck maker with no thought as to the art of it. I am not adverse to success, heck I am not even allergic to money – I would love to be able to survive in a house. There is nothing good about the seductive real but destitute, the truthful unvarnished beauty of living and dying in modern America.
Creation is hogged by the devoid of new ideas, the old and the past it, the entrenched and rich, and there is no breaking through. It is covered with the mask of counter culture credentials that burnt out a long time ago, protected from inspection by past glories that were earnt when they were real and not fake, when they were alive not the propped up bones of what once was full of promise and newness and experimentalism.
Fake plastic art was hip when Warhol was doing it. Now it is yawnworthy. It has been done, boxed up and sold to Walmart. Fake plastic bands, fake plastic guitars, fake counterculture pretenses and presses whose moments of glory have passed. If you see something real, something that speaks, something that vibrates, snap it up. The real thing, that ‘word virus’ that Burroughs was so passionate about, those ideas which shift cultures are not found in the graveyards of hip that leave no room for new life. Give me 1966 Dylan. Give me 1973 Lou Reed. Give me Cowgirl in the Sand in 1969. Give me Joni Mitchell naked as a jay bird and twice as beautiful and free from the ‘chains of the highway’ on the For The Roses cover. Give me that vintage shit if there is no new fresh crop of artistic nouveau grog. Give me real bookstores, and real music, and real love and real art, give me real guitars that make real songs….or else I suppose we had all better accept that art and creation and the dream lives we live, rebellion and protest are on their last scrap of bootleather, falling into the ditch of money and grey suited men who thought if they couldn’t beat us, they would join the gravy train.