Petit Mort Mort Mort.
By Mike Atkins
Guitars are inanimate objects. Thats not a fact that I can accept easily. But after photographing god knows how many of them, it is something that I have to accept. Im performing an elaborate arithmetic in my head to calculate how many pictures of guitars I can get away with publishing, since too many pictures of inanimate objects is, in reality, nothing more than a catalog.
Sorting through these photographs, Ive realised that I have something of a guitar fetish. Im comparing a picture of a regular six-string, with one of a bass. The six string is shapely, with a lurid cherry-wood finish, while the bass has four thick, heavy strings; which make it quite exciting watching a hand manipulate them. The six string is very pretty too, but the delicacy of her strings is overwhelmed in these dark environs, and she lacks a presence. -While the bass holds its own, propped up proudly against an amp.
Guitars also have necks, and heads that jut provocatively into the air; -similarly, so do microphones on mic stands. A singer needs their mic to be on a mic stand if theyre going to be playing guitar at the same time as they sing. they could, of course, delegate one of those jobs. -But then they wouldnt need a mic stand.
To say that rock music is about performance undersells the extent to which its not just about music. Its about these objects. For all its utilitarian dirt, punk is the worst offender. Its all back to basics this, and just two guitars, and a drum that, -its about the fetishization of these objects.
It all started with this image... What on earth is someone doing at the very front of the stage with their fingers in their ears? Given that I have the platform, it was tempting to make fun of her; but that seemed mean, -she probably had her reasons. I forgot about it. Then I saw others doing it, and the temptation to make fun of them became stronger. But the problem was not one of meanness, but of hypocrisy. I was not really paying attention to the music either; having a job to do isnt an excuse at all.
I am trying to get my head around phenomenology, and from what I can tell, rock is anti-phenomenologist. If phenomenology is about describing, and reviewing nothing more than the feeling and sensations that things give you, rock is not that. Its all about back stories. Its all about what the appearance of the man on the stage can tell you about him, and his philosophies on art. Even on a record, that rock genre tag tells you that this music was made, not assembled, and even though that makes no difference to the sound of the music coming out of the speakers, it makes a difference to you.
...And me. I would be a hypocrite if I were criticising this approach to music. This way is silly, and arbitrary, but its our way. -Besides, what art isnt silly, and arbitrary in some way? We tacitly acknowledge this when we talk about going to watch a band, rather than going to listen to them.
And its a state of things that Ive lived my whole music-listening life with. Dont take these as the words of someone whos had this bug them for a while, and needs to get it off their chest. I never would have noticed it if I hadnt been taking the photographs as well. To me, It was just the way things naturally were.
I hadnt done gig photography since I was a teenager, and back then my self-reflectivity only went as deep as I cant believe theyre letting me do this. -But there was one trick that I learnt from that: its tough to get good shots in the heat of performance, so you can fake it by taking shots of the band setting up. In a still photograph, taken from a low angle, it could be impossible to tell the difference between someone plugging in their wah-wah peddle, and them doing that intense kneeling, and praying to the gods of rock thing that they do.
I was snapping pictures of Die Die Die setting up their band kit, when I was approached by a guy with hole expanders in his ears who asked me if Id ever seen Die Die Die before. I answered that I had, and shared the story1, and he shared his. His involved sleeping on Die Die Dies stage, and being at most of their shows since they started. Of course, i did the only logical thing, and made an awkward joke about him being like a groupie. I dont think its ever gone that far, has it Andrew? was his answer, looking up at Die Die Die lead singer Andrew Wilson, who was coiling some sort of coaxial cable around his hands, and wouldve been face to ace with us, if it werent for a raised stage. Andrew gave the sort of awkward smile that couldve either been embarrassment, or I have no idea what you just said, and a heartier pretend laugh might lead to more things being said to me that I wont hear, and went back to sorting coaxial cable.
Writers typically suffer from a kind of delayed wit. -We write witty things later, we very rarely say witty things at the time. When given the opportunity to make a joke in conversation, we make the most obvious one possible, so why was that the most obvious joke? All music is sexual, but rock, with its obsession with the origins of everything, has the audirnces sexuality directed forward, -toward the performer. So, a focus on the sensuality of the instruments is as natural as peacock feathers.
I was going to submit it as evidence for this thesis, that I was at perfect eye level with the bass players crotch, and he was doing quite a bit of thrusting, but that wouldve been a red herring. -Thats typically how you move, when youre moving to something rhythmic, and the bass is a rhythmic instrument. But the audience enjoyed it. It wasnt till Die Die Die had really worked themselves up into a frenzy, that the audience joined in (totally normal, -that thing about white people standing stock-still at concerts, -completely true. Getting them into a frenzy at all is enough of an achievement). When they did, there was something visceral about it, -violent as all-get-out, but it was an alternative rock band that wrote an instrumental called Sex Is Violent.
Then everyone blew their loads, and went home. Im sorry, that was gratuitous. I cringed as I wrote that sentence, I wasnt going to do it, but it was just too apt. This wasnt going to be an everyones-up-till-5-am-because-the-party-doesnt-even-get-started-till-then type thing. Yknow what: ignore the first sentence of this paragraph, and infer from that what you will.
The story is pertinent, but wouldve broken the flow of this story. I think It was about two years ago, just after their second album came out. The venue was Fu & Zen. I remember kid, who cant have been old enough to be there legally sitting on top of a stand of amps the whole time.
Id been there most of the evening, drinking with some friends. And so that was my excuse for being there well before the band started, the kid had no such excuse. He seemed genuinely surprised that the band hadnt come on at the doors open at time. he was fidgety, and nervous, and so he filled his time by burying his head in a well-worn copy of John Dixs Stranded In Paradise. He struck me as the quintessential rock fan in embryonic form.