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Beware the Guitar

What part of the human consciousness created this instrument, this wizard’s wand, this hypnotic tool? And, more importantly, why?

Gibson says its SG Gothic Morte is “a radical reincarnation of a guitar that was born to be wild.” Ready for an exorcism? Photo courtesy of Gibson Guitars

I witnessed an exorcism last night. The exorcism was conducted by one very beat-up Gibson SG. The person whose demons were exorcised was a young woman in the front row of a Greenhornes show. The only thing missing was green projectile vomit.

But before I go into that more, I want to discuss a couple of deep questions. And I want to go beyond “Can a guitar have a soul?” I’ll start with a simple question: Is the human consciousness the result of a higher power? Well, if you’re spiritual, or believe in God, ghosts, or Ouija boards, or if you feel uneasy if a black cat runs in front of your car, or have any other number of superstitions or spiritual beliefs, you should’ve answered “yes.” If we are truly connected to something—something we just can’t comprehend or agree on—we can at least agree on some simple truths. There is joy and sadness, darkness and light, wickedness and righteousness, good and evil.

What does this have to do with the guitar? Well, I’m wondering where the guitar came from. What part of the human consciousness created this instrument, this wizard’s wand, this hypnotic tool? And, more importantly, why? Stay with me here.

Albert Einstein once wrote of “spooky action at a distance”—things we just don’t understand. And I think most of us believe in some spooky stuff we don’t understand.

Now back to the exorcism/ rock show. As I observed the crowd, I saw plenty of alcohol, some drugs, and women and men prowling for deviant-behaving partners. Through the smoke-filled room, I could see small groups huddled in black leather jackets giving their attention to the stage as the electric guitar gave it’s sermon. This was no church. This was no Mormon youth convention.

I thought about a book I’ve just read, The Lennon Prophecies. It’s a well-written book that makes the case that John Lennon may have sold his soul to the devil to become the biggest rock star in the world. I know, what a bunch of crap, right?

But after reading The Lennon Prophecies, I’m kind of freaked out. In the author’s view, Lennon commits the ultimate act of blasphemy against the Church (one of the requirements from the story of Faust)—he turns a generation away from it:
Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. —John Lennon March 4, 1964.
Some believe you can’t choose to go down to the crossroads—you don’t choose to sell your soul. Something chooses you and you allow it. The book contends that Lennon understood this and started seeking help from Christian leaders before his death—a death he predicted.

I began to think about the guitar and its role in all this. Is it a creation of man or is it a creation of something else? Is it magic? A product of the dark side? Or just another innovative manifestation of the human consciousness? Which takes us back to that nagging question: What is human consciousness? I’m not the only one who feels there might be something spooky going on here.

One of my favorite poems was found inscribed into a 17th-century lute:
Was alive in the forest. I was cut by the cruel axe. In life, I was silent. In death,
I sweetly sing.

A few hundred years later, the Gypsies of Andaluc’a used the 6-string as a tool to seduce their women into trance, eventually creating the flamenco dance. In the early 20thcentury, the guitar became the soundtrack to the darkness of poverty, suffering, and heartbreak in a dark form of the blues epitomized by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf ’s lyric, “I asked for water, she brought me gasoline.” And, of course, later in that century, in Britain’s ghostliest city of Liverpool, the modern rock band was conceived.

In the Bible, God cursed the ground so that men would have to work hard. It seems to me this thing called the guitar might be cursed as well—work it hard and enjoy the fame, fortune, wine, and women. But beware, the devil’s curse comes with a price. I have no proof of any of this. That’s the thing about this kind of stuff— there’s never any proof, just a gut feeling. There is never any proof of religion, just faith. Practice hard, my friends.

Randy Parsons builds guitars for Jack White, Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, and other adventurous players using out-of-the-box materials like bone, flowers, copper, and solid ebony.