When It's Good to Be Bad

What the guitar can teach us about ourselves

Hey there guys, gals, and pals. I’m moving this newsletter to Tuesdays instead of Mondays. If you noticed that I missed the last two weeks, 1) why thank you, I’m so glad someone cares enough to notice that! and 2) I’ve been busy on weekends and haven’t had the time to write. Hopefully giving me an extra day helps me get this thing out consistently. Thanks for your patience as I figure this out! Now onto part 1 of a 3-part series on why we should try to suck at what we do a lot more often.

When perfection is prized, play a different game

When the electric guitar and amplifier rose to prominence in the early 20th century, manufacturers and musicians focused overwhelmingly on achieving an accurate, clean guitar tone.

The whole point of an amplifier was to simply project the sounds a guitarist made to a larger audience, or to make the guitarist as loud as their bandmates playing drums, brass instruments, etc.

A good guitar amp made the guitar loud with as little distortion to the sound as possible.

That is, until Link Wray showed up.

This mad lad.

In 1958, Wray was playing a live gig in support of the clean cut crooner group The Diamonds when he and his band came up with this distorted, gritty sounding instrumental track that sounded unlike anything played at the time.

Rumble was born.

That night, the audience loved the instrumental so much that they demanded Wray play it over and over again.

The song caught fire among young fans and was eventually recorded to vinyl.

But at first, the studio recordings didn’t sound the same. They didn’t have that punch that the live performance did. It didn’t feel alive.

So Wray did what nobody else thought to do: he used a pencil to stab holes into the speaker cone of his amplifier. He ruined the thing by the standards of the time!

But Rumble became a hit. It climbed to number 16 on the US pop charts and 11th on the R&B charts. It was covered by tons of other bands. Bob Dylan called it “the best instrumental ever.” It’s appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, and Hall of Famer musicians like Jimmy Page and Iggy Pop cite it as catalysts to them pursuing music in the first place.

Where countless other bands played the clean, undistorted guitar to the standards of the time, Link Wray bested them by being worse on purpose. By actively undermining the best practices of the time, Link Wray sacrificed the perfection pursued by others in favor of music that had real conviction and honesty to them.

Conviction > Perfection

It turns out that people want performances with conviction, not perfection.

In a world of picture-perfect Instagram influencers and LinkedIn posts, there’s a distinct lack of rawness in our world today.

Insulated from the tragedies of the old world and the third world, we so often see a world that is increasingly sterile, uniform, and boring. So it’s refreshing when we hear something that subverts our expectations.

But someone has to be willing to take the risk to subvert those expectations.

Why not you?

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