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Also, have you been in a music video and done that? I'd like to know why.

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Yes - that it's a brat band. – talonx Sep 1 '11 at 15:37
I'm not sure this is really about music, moreso about symbology. Presumably the symbolism is the same whether in a video or "real life", so I don't think the video tag is needed. – Matthew Read Sep 1 '11 at 16:23
If you say it isn't about music, care to take a guess which SE site would be a better match? In short, I disagree the question not having to do with music. Just because there might be no immediate answer, who's to say that after a while someone with actual solid artistic reasoning why they did it doesn't come along. Brat bands - not sure. Bullet For My Valentine and Rise Against seem to be successful enough and they've used it in at least one of their videos. Maybe I don't know what a "brat band" is, too. – lkraav Sep 1 '11 at 16:27
@Ikraav - It was a joke - I meant a band made up of brats who don't care enough about their instruments and break them in the end to look "cool". That's probably not the case, but I find breaking of any kind of instruments to be disturbing. – talonx Sep 1 '11 at 16:35
@talonx thanks for clarifying. I actually feel the same way. That is exactly the reason for the getting this question out there. – lkraav Sep 1 '11 at 16:41

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's well documented in many interviews that it all started with guitarist Pete Townsend of The Who, who accidentally broke the headstock off a fragile and expensive Rickenbacker electric guitar when he was performing with The Who in a hall with a very low ceiling over the stage. He lifted the guitar up over his head several times, and each time it banged headstock-first into the ceiling. Once the headstock broke off of this expensive guitar in mid-concert, he made a great show of smashing the rest of the guitar in front of the audience, out of frustration. The audience responded so enthusiastically that he decided to make this a regular part of The Who's stage show.

Soon, however, the drummer and the bass player in The Who decided to also smash their instruments together with Townsend at the conclusion of the show. Obviously this was interpreted as extravagant and decadent (as was the behavior of the members of The Who offstage and elsewhere in public as well) and delighted a certain segment of their fans.

I remember a few quotes that I have read in Pete Townsend interviews over the years. First, he has frequently expressed regret over smashing some rather expensive instruments. When asked about his attitude toward his instruments, he replied, "I don't have a love affair with the guitar. I play the *#$&^@& thing".

The other quote I remember was rather tongue-in-cheek, made in a radio interview with Terry Gross on her Fresh Air program. He said something like, "When I smash a guitar I want to make a certain statement."

Gross asked, "What statement is that?"

Townsend replied, "The concert is over."

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Yes, there can be a meaning. As I recall from the documentary Amazing Journey, Pete Townshend of the Who says he came to see breaking his guitars as an act Auto-destructive art. He had attended lectures by Gustav Metzger while at art college. Also, if I recall correctly, he describes a lecture he attended where someone sawed a double bass in half.

In the case of Pete Townshend, the initial incident seems to have been an accident, but smashing his guitars became a kind of performance art, and part of the show.

See also:

Entry on instrument destruction on wikipedia

List of Pete Townshend's smashed guitars

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+1, I really like your wording: "there can be a meaning". Considering for some performers it's probably just a gimmick (rather than an artistic expression). – jadarnel27 Sep 2 '11 at 19:04
I think "artistic expression" and "gimmick" is just two different ways of describing the same thing. It is certainly used in different context, but both describe basically the same concept in different forms. You may say that "artistic expression" is a fancy and maybe more sophisticated expression for "gimmick". – awe Aug 28 '12 at 7:28
Based on your link, I did a quick adjustment for inflation using an online calculator and I determined that the Rickenbacker guitar that Pete Townsend smashed would cost about US $5,450 in today's money. The shocking thing is that he went on to smash five or six other similar Rickenbackers during this time period (1967 or thereabouts?) before he switched to less-expensive guitars. He boasted in an interview that during this time he didn't even own a car or an apartment, but he was proud of the fact that he was regularly smashing "the most expensive guitars obtainable in London". – Wheat Williams Aug 31 '12 at 14:13

The meaning is the disrespect for music and musical instruments. What other meaning would there be ?

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I share your sentiment. But rock and roll has always been about rebellion, defying authority, and extreme behavior. In the case of The Who, they epitomized this. They are the ones who sang "I hope I die before I get old". It was an ethos of the time, even though many of those ideals seem meaningless to us today. – Wheat Williams Aug 31 '12 at 14:19
@WheatWilliams : I am glad you share it. Musical instruments are sacred. They allow Anyone to play Any music. Nothing can justify breaking one. And they are not cars, so not even Crash Tests ! – Skippy Fastol Aug 31 '12 at 15:50

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