With Jimi Hendrix on the cover of the new issue, we've been thinking a lot about guitar heroes, and how to approach that subject in a way that doesn't summon images of leather-faced Saxondale types doing the Status Quo, thumbs-in-belt-loops dance.
Is there a modern equivalent to 70s leviathans like Page, Clapton, Blackmore? Do guitar heroes even exist anymore, in the same way? It's a tricky subject. For a start, the terminology is all worn-out. What to call a guitarist in 2010? Axe-wielder? Plank-spanker? Gunslinger? The synonyms are all so cheesy.
I blame video games. The very concept of the virtuoso guitarist has been corrupted by Guitar Hero, which rewards a specific type of canonical, classic-rock noodling. At no point are you required to thwack out, say, My Bloody Valentine's 'To Here Knows When', or The Smiths' 'How Soon Is Now?'.
That's a real shame. Personally I'd love to see a level in which players were encouraged to recreate the throbbing distortion in Fuck Buttons' 'Sweet Love For Planet Earth' by cramming the keypad violently down a waste disposal unit.
But anyway. For the past few weeks we've been asking readers to vote for the best guitarist ever. Until recently the front-runner was Joshua Hayward of The Horrors. No disrespect to Josh, who's a gifted and imaginative player, but this kind of illustrates the problem.
Josh is not a showman. He's not likely to machine-gun his guitar from shoulder-height, Steve Harris-style, while playing 'Count In Fives'. He's never broken off in the middle of 'Sea Within A Sea' to spew 10-foot flames from his headstock, a la Rammstein's Richard Kruspe:
Neither has he ever summoned a guitar theatrically from the heavens, and then shredded over all four of its necks, like this guy:
Obviously the above clip is ludicrous. Laughable. But isn't there something about it, a certain quality, that you wish were present in music today? A spirit of exuberance. Superfluity. Absurd flamboyance. A total absence of irony or guardedness.
Critics stroke their chins to the bone trying to rationalise Muse's colossal mainstream appeal. It's no great mystery: Matt Bellamy is a proper, jaw-on-the-floor guitar hero, and there aren't too many of those about. He plays with a skill that's beyond the reach of the average human being. It's inspiring.
I asked people on Twitter recently to name the best guitarists around right now. New York singer-songwriter Marnie Stern came up a lot. So did Avi Zahner-Isenberg of Avi Buffalo.
Those are both talented musicians. But they're not aspirational. They're not heroes. No teenager will ever spend a lonely, frustrating weekend slicing their fingertips into bloody ribbons trying to perfect the curlicues in 'Summer Cum'.
Joshua Hayward declared in the new issue that electric guitar should be "loud and exhilarating, not playing loads of widdly notes." Actually, I'd argue that loads of widdly notes can be supremely exhilarating - as anyone who's ever sex-faced along to the solo in 'Motorcycle Emptiness' would attest.
So give me virtuosity and excess, excitement and flash. I want to see a guy suspended from an arena lighting gantry, playing Flight Of The Bumblebee with his teeth on an emerald-studded Ibanez shaped like a swan.
I want to see guitars equipped with lasers. Arpeggios, lydian modes, humbucking pick-ups. Scalloped necks, flange pedals and a thousand writhing cables plugged into a Superfuzz Bigmuff.
I want to see the return of the guitar hero.
And no, bloke from Mumford And Sons: a banjo is not an acceptable substitute.
For more on Jimi Hendrix and the greatest guitar players alive today, pick up the new NME, on sale Wednesday August 11.
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