By now, everyone has probably seen or at least heard about Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong's very public meltdown at the iHeartRadio Music Festival a couple of weeks ago. It's elicited a lot of response from all sides and made Armstrong's quotes "I'm not fucking Justin Bieber" and "I've been around since 19 fucking 88" this season's pop culture catchphrases along the same lines as Charlie Sheen's "Winning" and Borat's "Sexy Time."
The Green Day camp quickly went into clean-up mode and put out a press release stating Armstrong had entered rehab. To me it really seemed like a genuine meltdown and I can only empathize. I've had enough experience around addicts to know that it's anything but a picnic, and behaviour as erratic as Armstrong displayed at iHeartRadio is quite heartbreaking. I feel for him, but I also feel for his family and bandmates whose loyalty and patience gets tested during things like this.
However, there was one thing that bothered me about the whole thing: at the end of the meltdown Armstrong and his bandmate, bassist, Mike Dirnt both smashed their guitars. I'm sympathetic to Armstrong's tantrum, and I appreciate Dirnt's need to stand beside his bandmate, but I just don't understand the knee-jerk decision to smash their guitars. In fact, I've never understood this overused stage antic that bands have been aping since Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix did it back in the '60s. You know, like, 50 years ago. I get why Hendrix did it, the dude was on acid! But in 2012?
I also understand the concept of upholding long-standing rock 'n' roll traditions, but in these tough economic times smashing one's guitar seems more wasteful and affected than anything close to symbolizing outrage or rebellion. I'm a little more forgiving when KISS' Paul Stanley smashes his guitar at the end of Rock and Roll All Nite considering KISS is a band whose popularity and success have rested on their extravagance. Still, smashing a guitar after thousands of dollars have been sunk into pyro, lights and costumes always seemed a tad underwhelming.
I hate to infuse a little bit of pragmatism in all this intended hedonism, but what happens to the broken bits? Are they collected, put into a bag and given away? Or just thrown in the trash? I've never smashed a guitar on or off stage in my whole career, so I have no idea.
Unfortunately, I could never really afford to. Does the guitar tech piece the guitars together afterwards, fashioning them back anew? If so, does this happen every night? Wouldn't that diminish a band's public image of excess into nothing but a hollow pose? I've known punk bands who trolled pawn shops and bought $30 guitars to smash later that night on stage in front of 50 people, but it was done more to mock the overindulgence of "Rawk" than to bask in it.
Much has been made about the almost requisite need in rock 'n' roll to behave badly. Trashing hotel rooms, dressing rooms, flipping people the bird and generally acting like an overgrown adolescent seem to be par for the course. What astounds me is the added zeal to destroy perfectly made guitars, especially Armstrong's wonderful signature Gibson Les Paul Jr. Unlike Green Day, most guys in bands straddle the poverty line on a consistent basis. And I don't see the good in destroying the one thing you're banking on to get you out of the poor house. That's like a carpenter setting fire to all his two by fours then complaining he's got no building materials.
In fact, if there is anyone out there, including Armstrong, who is thinking of destroying their guitar at their next gig, do me a big favor and give it to me instead! I'll take it off your hands and maybe, just maybe, finally write that riff that will yield me some Paul Stanley/Billie Joe Armstrong money so I can start smashing some guitars of my own.