This article first appeared on KCPR.org. Mustang Media Group is a student-run organization that encompasses Mustang News and KCPR. They collaborate to cover news, arts and culture for Cal Poly and the greater San Luis Obispo community.
The rising face of alternative singer-songwriter music Phoebe Bridgers took the stage of Saturday Night Live as the evening’s musical guest on Saturday, Feb. 6. She unhooked the strap of her Danelectro Dano ’56 baritone guitar from her shoulder and sent it smashing into an amp in front of her at the end of her performance of “I Know The End” — causing sparks to fly.
Bridgers’ was quick to receive backlash for her treatment of the guitar, receiving multiple critical tweets directed at her in the aftermath of her performance. Yet, in typical Bridgers fashion, she took to Instagram to rebuttal.
“Got some really great feedback from my performance! Next time I’ll just burn it and it will be more expensive,” she said.
Despite the criticism Bridgers faced for her actions, instrument destruction has served as an iconic part of rock history — whether it be for artistic flair or a sign of frustration from the performer.
Though instrument destruction has a long-winded history in the art of live music performance, many note the fathership of guitar smashing to Pete Townshend form The Who. He once mistakenly snapped the headstock of his Richenbacker guitar and then decided to break the rest of it. Townshend would reportedly smash his guitars in a particular manner so he could glue them back together to smash them again.
The Clash bassist Paul Simonon is seen destroying his white Fender P-Bass on the cover of their album “London Calling,” which is coined as one of the most iconic rock and roll images of all time. The act was captured by photographer Pennie Smith, and it allegedly occurred during a moment of frustration with bouncers at The Palladium, who tried to restrict the show’s crowd from standing.
The art of guitar smashing defies the constraints of genres, with the legendary personas of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain partaking; even country singer Garth Brooks has joined the fray. Its timeless appeal serves as an emotional, dramatic statement piece that aids the meaning of the music and showcases the end of a performance.
The dramatic approach to ending a performance is not always rejoiced by the public as was duly apparent in the criticism Bridgers’ faced for her own guitar smash. However, for the critics, please remember that Bridgers did this in the same spirit of Townshend, Simonon and her other predecessors — she did it with emotion.
Smashes can serve as an artistic symbolization and act as a melodramatic ending to the frustrations of performing, as well as the message of the music itself. Given the heart-wrenching, nostalgic nature and the musical build-up of the track “I Know The End,” Bridgers performed, her response was warranted. Bridgers’ role as a young woman and tastemaker amongst the alternative scene is an important addition to the story of guitar smashing throughout music history.