Yesterday a buddy and I randomly started discussing Rolling Stone magazine's stupid lists they come up with to rank the "greatness" of music according to their personal panel of music "experts." The 500 Greatest Albums, The 100 Greatest Artists, 100 Greatest Guitarists. All these lists are completely arbitrary and shouldn't be read as the gospel, but the guitarists list is particularly ridiculous. All you need to know is that Kurt Cobain is only ranked 58 spots of Eddie Van Halen on the list, and Slash didn't even make the cut. Anyways in discussing who were truly the "greatest" guitarists of all time, I thought to myself..whatever happened to the guitar hero? I'm not talking about guys who were just..you know..good at playing the guitar (although they are in short supply as well). I mean a true guitar GOD. A deity among musical mortals. A guy that made you say..."THAT is one rad dude."
Back in the day through generations of rock music, there were always guitar heros for people to worship and plaster posters of on their wall. In the late 1960s you had Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton rocking out psychadellic solos with their trusty axe and wah pedal. Then Jimmy Page came along and wailed out metal blues jams through the 70s drenched in the most evil possible. In the late 70s and 80s you of course had Angus Young of AC/DC bouncing around in a schoolboy outfit and Mr. Edward Van Halen shredding out good old fashioned loud rock and roll. Stevie Ray Vaughan stepped onto the scene and revived the concept of the blues guitar hero. Then the concept of the guitar god possibly peaked in the late 80s with the arrival of..Slash. Slash was so fucking badass he didn't even have a real person's name. And why should he? He wasn't a real person...he was a guitar hero. Slash was more of a persona that came with a uniquely badass rock aura. Not simply the name of a guitarist. After Slash however, I don't know what happened. The concept of the guitar hero pretty much disappeared after Slash. Guitarists became just faces in the background. Just another member of the band. No longer instantly recognizable as the engine in the band that made the rock n' roll train go. This really pisses me off.
Now once again I can't emphasize enough that being a guitar hero is not all about being able to shred out a marvelous solo, or dirty riff. I mean Keith Richards is not a very good guitarist in the technical skills department. In fact he is pretty average. He is still however, a guitar hero. You see being a guitar hero is not about your chops on the Les Paul. It is about being a fucking badass. A guy that looks cooler than you thought humanly possible. He exudes confidence. He stands up on stage and makes you believe in the passion and power or rock. He carries himself with a constant aura of rad. Generally, off stage or in interviews the guitar hero is the guy in the band that doesn't do much talking. It's the lead singer's job to talk about what inspired the title of their new album. The drummer is the drunk lunatic that says crazy outlandish shit. The guitarist however, is the coolest dude in the band. He plugs in and lets his axe do his talking for him.
If you're a guitar hero, you can't just dress like an average Joe from the burbs. You can't just go onstage in jeans and a t-shirt. That is fucking lazy. You have to have a LOOK. All great guitar heros had a unique look. First of all guitar heroes were always ugly motherfuckers. You can't be a pretty boy and be a guitar god. You had to be ugly. You had to look disheveled. You had to have long unkept hair. You might need to have ridiculous facial hair depending on what genre you fall under. Then there was the matter of your outfit which had to look completely rad. That is to say you had to look as ridiculous as possible, wearing an ensemble that was thrown together in the most random combination. Ideally you wore boots. Then your pants were either torn up jeans, spandex or leather. Your shirt ideally is some ridiculous color or design, and features some form of ruffles. Or you can just go shirtless if you're especially awesome. Then you throw on some shades. After compiling all these guitar hero essentials, the rest of your wardrobe is up to your own creative discretion. You can compliment your guitar god ensemble with some ridiculous top hat, or a scarf, or feather boa. Now you're ready to fucking rock the masses once you light the cig that'll be dangling from your mouth or smoking in your axe's headstock.
(If you're Jimmy Page you can skip this whole routine by throwing on your rad dragon design covered onesie and call it a day.)
Anyways, I don't know what happened to the totally awesome character I just described. Today guitarists are all boring. They have no personality. They have no ridiculous wardrobe. They don't roam the stage with an aura of rad. They're just regular Joes that go onstage and play an instrument that happens to be the guitar. The only guy I can think of that comes close to the guitar hero model of past generations is Jack White. He at least makes some effort. He has stupid mustaches, and unkept hair. He wears outlandish outfits in crazy color combinations and rocks a top hat. He at least kinda looks the part. He's still however, not quite on par with the guitar heros of the past. He just doesn't have that full aura of badassness surrounding him at all times. I hope somewhere out there a kid is throwing on some boots, leather pants and a top hat and turning his amp up to 11, practicing to be the next great guitar god. Rock and Roll doesn't need just another regular six-string ace. It needs a hero.