It used to be that the most rock and roll thing you could do was to smash and burn your instruments on stage, after a gig. That was a potent and visceral symbol of rebellion and of “sticking it to the man” – where “the man” was understood to be the corporations that made the gear and the institutions of society that forbade such wanton destruction. “Look at me, man! I defy!” Well that was then. The same people wanted to die before they got old, didn’t they?
There’s been a shift in perceptions. As people become more environmentally conscious and participate in the actual making of things, even if only on a hobbyist basis, they have learned about the value of made objects. They’re precious. They use irreplaceable resources, such as precious, slow growth, hardwood, rainforest timber. They take effort and each one turns out to be handmade and unique, irrespective of the propaganda about factories, automation and mass production offered as the standard narrative about Capitalist progress. Each electric guitar is, in point of fact, assembled, set up and finished by the hand of a craftsman. They are a gift of incredible skill and care made by the artisan. A little appreciation of their value is due. A little respect for the object, its maker and the materials is only right.
I think we’ve begun to see out planet the same way. It’s no longer something endlessly and infinitely exploitable and despoilable, for greed and gain. Plunder and waste is no longer cool. This sentiment finds its way back to rock and roll instruments. Smashing your guitar is not at all cool anymore. Respecting the object, its materials and workmanship and the skills, care and application of the people that made it has become far more rock and roll.
In the Harry Potter books, author J.K. Rowling has a similar idea about the things the Goblins made. It was said that when the owner of the artefact was finished using the thing the Goblins had made, it was not theirs to destroy or sell on. The object reverted back to its original maker – the Goblin who made it. Only the maker had the right to determine what happened to the object next, once the user had no further use for it. Imagine if that ethos applied to all made objects and to intellectual property. If your Fender Stratocaster reverted to its makers, when you had finished with it, you would be honour and duty bound to return it, in as good a condition as possible. If intellectual property couldn’t be sold on like some orphaned child prostitute, the inventors would be given their due.
What we would see is a return to caring about the maintenance, repair, care and longevity of made objects and ideas. This would, in turn, eliminate the mountains of land fill waste that we, as a society, generate in obscene quantities, just to keep the wheels of Capitalist production turning. Planned obsolescence would be a crime. Selling shoddy or poorly made things would also be a reprehensible act. We’d use fewer raw materials and probably not have to cut down as many forests or mine as many sites of natural beauty to fuel our obsessions.
You still see dismantled and badly damaged guitars on eBay. People feel they can abuse an instrument and still make a decent amount of money, when selling it on. Others have calculated they make more money from selling the parts separately, rather than from selling the complete guitar. It will all end. It’s not cool. It’s rather repugnant and repulsive to those that care about the making of things, the things made and the people that make things.
There has been a marked shift in “cool”.