Instrument destruction

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The destruction of musical instruments is an act performed by a few pop, rock and other musicians during live performances, particularly at the end of the gig.

Pop music is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid-1950s. The terms "popular music" and "pop music" are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many diverse styles. "Pop" and "rock" were roughly synonymous terms until the late 1960s, when they became increasingly differentiated from each other.

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily on the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly on a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

Concert live performance of music

A concert is a live music performance in front of an audience. The performance may be by a single musician, sometimes then called a recital, or by a musical ensemble, such as an orchestra, choir, or band. Concerts are held in a wide variety and size of settings, from private houses and small nightclubs, dedicated concert halls, arenas and parks to large multipurpose buildings, and even sports stadiums. Indoor concerts held in the largest venues are sometimes called arena concerts or amphitheatre concerts. Informal names for a concert include show and gig.


Early years

In 1956, on the Lawrence Welk Show , a zoot-suited performer billed as "Rockin' Rocky Rockwell" did a mocking rendition of Elvis Presley's hit song "Hound Dog." At the conclusion of the song he smashed an acoustic guitar over his knee. [1] US country musician Ira Louvin was famous for smashing mandolins that he deemed out-of-tune. [2]

Zoot suit mans suit style of the 1940s

A zoot suit is a men's suit with high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. This style of clothing became popular in African-American communities, latino, Italian American, and Filipino American communities during the 1940s.

Elvis Presley American singer and actor

Elvis Aaron Presley, also known mononymously as Elvis, was an American singer, musician, and actor. Regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "the King".

Hound Dog (song) single by Big Mama Thornton

"Hound Dog" is a twelve-bar blues song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Recorded originally by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton on August 13, 1952, in Los Angeles and released by Peacock Records in late February 1953, "Hound Dog" was Thornton's only hit record, selling over 500,000 copies, spending 14 weeks in the R&B charts, including seven weeks at number one. Thornton's recording of "Hound Dog" is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll", and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 2013.

A broken guitar. Hank's - Shattered Guitar.JPG
A broken guitar.

Jerry Lee Lewis may be the first rock artist to have destroyed his equipment on stage, with several, possibly erroneous, stories of him destroying and burning pianos in the 1950s. [3] Several contemporary musicians, including Annea Lockwood, Yōsuke Yamashita, and Diego Stocco, have incorporated piano burning in their compositions.

Jerry Lee Lewis American singer-songwriter and pianist

Jerry Lee Lewis is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and pianist, often known by his nickname, The Killer. He has been described as "rock & roll's first great wild man."

Annea Lockwood is a New Zealand born American composer. She taught electronic music at Vassar College. Her work often involves recordings of natural found sounds. She has also recorded Fluxus-inspired pieces involving burning or drowning pianos.

Yōsuke Yamashita Japanese jazz pianist, composer, author

Yōsuke Yamashita is a Japanese jazz pianist, composer and writer. He is praised by critics for his unique piano style, which is influenced by free jazz, modal jazz and soul jazz.

Jazz musician Charles Mingus, known for his fiery temper, reportedly smashed his $20,000 bass onstage in response to audience hecklers at New York's Five Spot. [4]

Charles Mingus American jazz double bassist, composer and bandleader

Charles Mingus Jr. was an American jazz double bassist, pianist, composer and bandleader. A major proponent of collective improvisation, he is considered to be one of the greatest jazz musicians and composers in history, with a career spanning three decades and collaborations with other jazz legends such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Dannie Richmond, and Herbie Hancock.

Nam June Paik "One for Violin Solo" 1962: Over the course of five minutes, Paik very slowly and intently lifts up a violin in this on-stage action on 16 June 1962 and then smashes it with one blow on the table. Simultaneously, the lights go up in the auditorium. After the long drawn-out suspense, only one, final sound has been produced by the instrument.

Nam June Paik American video art pioneer

Nam June Paik was a Korean American artist. He worked with a variety of media and is considered to be the founder of video art. He is credited with an early usage (1974) of the term "electronic super highway" in application to telecommunications.

In London, 1966, a group of artists from around the world came together to participate in the first Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS). According to the event’s press release, the principal objective of DIAS was “to focus attention on the element of destruction in Happenings and other art forms, and to relate this destruction in society.”2 Events were scheduled to occur throughout London. During the course of the symposium, Raphael Montañez Ortiz performed a series of seven public destruction events, including his piano destruction concerts, which were filmed by both American Broadcasting Company and the BBC. Two years later, New York City hosted the second Destruction in Art Symposium at Judson Church in Greenwich Village. The artists who gathered around this art movement and its development were opposed to the senseless destruction of human life and landscapes engendered by the Vietnam war.

The Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) was a gathering of a diverse group of international artists, poets, and scientists to London, from 9–11 September 1966. Included in this number were representatives of the counter-cultural underground who were there to speak on the theme of destruction in art.

Raphael Montañez Ortiz is an American artist, educator, and founder of El Museo del Barrio, in East Harlem, New York City.

In the mid 1960s, guitarist Pete Townshend of the Who was the first guitar-smashing rock artist. Rolling Stone Magazine included his smashing of a Rickenbacker guitar at the Railway Tavern in Harrow and Wealdstone in September 1964 [5] [6] in their list of "50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll". [7] A student of Gustav Metzger, Townshend saw his guitar smashing as a kind of auto-destructive art.

Keith Moon, the Who's drummer, was also known for destroying his drum set. The most famous episode of this occurred during the Who's debut on U.S. television on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. Moon overloaded his bass drum with explosive charges which were detonated during the finale of the song, "My Generation." The explosion caused guest Bette Davis to faint, set Pete Townshend's hair on fire and, according to legend, contributed to his later partial deafness and tinnitus. Moon was also injured in the explosion when shrapnel from the cymbals cut his arm. [8] VH1 later placed this event at number ten on their list of the twenty Greatest Rock and Roll Moments on Television. [9]

Jeff Beck, then a member of the Yardbirds, reluctantly destroyed a guitar in the 1966 film Blowup after being told to emulate the Who by director Michelangelo Antonioni. [10] Jimi Hendrix was also known for destroying his guitars and amps. He famously burned two guitars at three shows, most notably the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. [11] In an effort to out-do the Who's destruction of their instruments earlier at the same event, Hendrix poured lighter fluid over his guitar and set it on fire, even though "I'd just finished painting it that day" as he would later remark. [12] In 2004, Rolling StoneMagazine included this in their list of "50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll" alongside Townshend's first guitar smashing in 1964. [12]

Instrument destruction has also featured in other musical genres than pop and rock music. Towards the end of Peter Maxwell Davies's monodrama Eight Songs for a Mad King , first performed in 1969, the vocalist seizes the violin from one of the musicians and smashes it.

Later examples

In 1968 a piano was dropped from a helicopter near Seattle, WA to publicize an outdoor concert. In 2019 it was exhumed by Jack Straw Cultural Center and displayed in a gallery. Several local composers and musicians performed on the recovered instrument. [13]

Charly Garcia with a smashed guitar. Charly Garcia - Argentina - En Casa Rosada - 25MAY04 -presidenciagovar (2).jpg
Charly García with a smashed guitar.

Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow smashed guitars in performance through the 1970s. [14]

Paul Simonon of the Clash famously destroyed his Fender Precision Bass only once at the side of stage, out of frustration over the bouncers at the show not allowing the audience to stand up from their seats. A photograph taken by Pennie Smith of the event became the iconic cover to their London Calling album. [15]

Kurt Cobain and the members of Nirvana smashed guitars and other equipment at performances throughout the band's career. [16] [17]

When on tour, "Weird Al" Yankovic frequently performs a novelty acoustic ballad, "You Don't Love Me Anymore", holding an acoustic guitar, but never actually playing it. At the song's conclusion, he smashes the guitar, emulating the conclusion to the song's music video.

Matthew Bellamy of Muse has the Guinness world record at breaking the most guitars in one tour, with 140. [18]

In the famous toga party scene in the movie National Lampoon's Animal House , John Belushi's character Bluto comes across a folk singer (portrayed by singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop, who is credited as "Charming Guy With Guitar") performing "The Riddle Song" for a group of college girls. Bluto abruptly takes the singer's acoustic guitar out of his hands and smashes it against the wall, then hands a splintered piece of it back, simply saying "Sorry."

In 2007, Win Butler of Arcade Fire destroyed an acoustic guitar at the end of a live performance of "Intervention" on Saturday Night Live , after a string had broken during the performance. [19]

Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill famously smashed his 1972 Gibson ES-325 on stage at the 2011 T in the Park festival out of frustration over a recurring sound problem. He later asked the audience to return the pieces and had the guitar put back together by Gibson's Repair & Restoration department. After its restoration, Followill continues to play the same guitar on stage and in the studio to this day.

In 2012, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong destroyed his guitar along with bassist Mike Dirnt, with drummer Tre Cool smashing his drum set at the end of a live performance of iHeartRadio music festival in Las Vegas as a sign of outburst of not given enough time for his performance. [20]

John Hiatt criticized the practice in the title song of his 1993 hit album Perfectly Good Guitar .

In 1991, country artist Garth Brooks and then-band-member Ty England smashed their acoustic guitars at the end of "Friends In Low Places" at the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas. [21]

Besides destroying instruments, many rock musicians have also been famous for vandalizing hotel rooms. [22]

See also

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