Smashing a guitar on stage is cool, or at least was cool when Pete Townshend of the Who popularized the act in the mid-1960s. The Who breaking their instruments in one form or another was the No. 1 spot on VH1’s 100 Greatest Rock & Roll Moments on TV and among the Top 50 of Rolling Stone‘s “50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll.”
But what does it really mean? Townshend admitted it started as an accident that then became sort of performance art. When you think of a band smashing their instruments these days, it seems like this big rebellious expression. It’s a statement that only lasts up to a certain point. Bands that are just starting out can’t really afford to break their stuff; it’s all they have. Big-name bands, however, can go hog wild and break everything, knowing full well that their manager or their label is going to produce new instruments at the end of the show.
Knowing that, the act loses meaning and seems wasteful. Matthew Bellamy of Muse holds the Guinness World Record at breaking the most guitars in one tour, with 140, and that just sounds expensive and cruel.
That said, I’m not sure whether Brian Michael Bendis is Pete Townshend or Matthew Bellamy.
WARNING: There’ some mention of this week’s issue of Uncanny X-Men, so grab your copies of Issue 30 and read along!
Bendis technically broke stuff first, with Age of Ultron (which, might I remind you, had very little to do with Ultron when it came down to it) and the fracturing of time and space. That let loose the floodgates of other reality-shattering events, a lot of which he did himself (although, if I want to continue my Who metaphor, I think this makes Jonathan Hickman Keith Moon packing the multiverse with explosives before going on The Ed Sullivan Show).
Uncanny X-Men #30 out-and-out kills three people: Like the sudden, violent smashing of a guitar, Cyclops and Magik are bombed into dust by S.H.I.E.L.D., and Emma Frost is punched into what looks like packing peanuts.
I can’t say these deaths really shocked me or got me excited to turn the pages. Even now, I feel resigned to the events because you and I know full well what lies on the horizon for the entire Marvel Universe.
Officially now, Secret Wars will merge universes to create a never-before-seen version of the Marvel Universe. Everything that’s going on now is temporary; no matter how big the changes made in the comics on our shelves this week, come Secret Wars, everything ends. In a way, new instruments are going to be provided, so feel free to smash the guitar on stage, and pick up your new one in the back. It would be foolish to throw everything out when the new universe is decided upon, so maybe we’ll keep the new Thor for a bit longer. In fact, the anticipation around who and what ideas will survive is a little like the way death used to be in comics. It’s weird, but better to probably not look at the death act itself, but rather start taking bets on when the resurrection will happen.
Because no matter how big the change taking place within comics is, there’s a natural pull to return to the way things were. Steve Rogers probably won’t remain a senior citizen and will most likely return to being Captain America in some fashion. Losing Cyclops, Magik and Emma Frost in Uncanny X-Men #30 just means we’ll see them in some new form in the fallout of Secret Wars.
Longtime fans make a habit of trying to think one step ahead of storylines and changes like this. We like to know where things are going, and that means taking a step back from the story we’re reading and thinking about things like creative teams, editorial mandates and company politics. Is the Marvel Universe changing because of the licensing deals between Disney, Sony and Fox? We can even get further removed by asking how the movie market in China will change how Marvel produces its movies and how that might affect how characters are portrayed. Thankfully, no one’s whipping out star charts just yet.
The thing about concerts is they’re of the moment. When a band is playing live on stage and you hear the music, that is the moment you’re supposed to be living in, so when the guitar is smashed, it’s a surprise and an act within that one performance, even though it might’ve been an expected outcome. If a concert is really good and the music is live and exciting and the fans are all in harmony, no one is thinking about what backstage catering is like.
So if Bendis is to be compared to Townshend, readers have to be in the moment of the story. We have to be invested and excited for what’s on our comic page rather than any outside influence. Sure, between now and Secret Wars everyone and anyone could die in a pencil flick, and we know that going in. But if the story pulls you in well enough, the death on page will be shocking. It will be a punctuation mark at the end of a completed sentence, even though there are pages still left in the story.
In an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, Townshend remarked rather tongue-in-cheek that smashing a guitar made a certain statement. When asked what that statement was, Townsend replied, “The concert is over.”
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