Everyone thinks smashing a guitar is the coolest, most rock n’ roll thing you can do until someone does it in a way they don’t like. Then it’s “wasteful” or something.
When Phoebe Bridgers did that on SNL this past weekend, I actually didn’t catch it live. I don’t catch most SNL episodes live. Or at all. But, when I went on Twitter on Sunday morning, everyone was freaking out about one guy freaking out about Phoebe, who did, in fact, smash a guitar at the end of her performance.
Here’s the thing about Phoebe Bridgers. I think she’s cool. I think her music is very good. I thought her performance was great.
I think this guy, BrooklynDad_Defiant! is a dork. He might not even be a real person. From the minute or so I spent scrolling his account, he seems more like a Resistance Twitter bot, but that’s neither here nor there.
The point is that BD_D! here, assuming he is a real person, was so disgusted by “this woman’s” performance that he let go of his pearls long enough to tweet about it. He even had to add that smarmy comment about not liking song, either.
I could go on for a while about how there’s the likelihood of sexism and misogyny in guys like this telling Phoebe Bridgers not to smash her guitar, while celebrating Kurt Cobain or Pete Townshend or Chris Cornell or John Belushi doing it. Or I could just point and laugh at this dude a little more. But, that’s already been done a lot, so I don’t need to add to it.
And Phoebe Bridgers certainly doesn’t need me to fight any battles on her behalf.
What I can do is put this in perspective. Not in the spirit of whataboutism, but maybe in the hopes of reminding people like BD_D! and other people like him to cool it, and maybe focus their energy on something that does cause real harm to people. Don’t get upset about a magician sawing a woman in half on stage when people are actually getting murdered, you know?
Off the top of my head, here are a handful of televised performances that were more harmful to people than Phoebe Bridgers smashing a cheap guitar with permission from the company on the most watered down TV show around.
1. The time Prince actually destroyed the dude from The Roots’ vintage guitar without his permission
In 2013, Prince performed on Jimmy Fallon. Before he went on, he had complemented a 1961 Epiphone Crestwood belonging to Captain Kirk Douglas of Fallon’s house band The Roots. Prince asked him if he could use it during the performance, and he agreed. What he didn’t agree to was Prince getting all amped up in the moment and throwing the guitar about 10 feet over his head, which resulted in a ruined headstock.
According to SPIN, Douglas was a real peach about it and asked Prince to at least sign it so he could keep it as a memento. Prince said no.
2. The time John Frusciante was out of his mind on heroin and ruined the Chili Peppers’ performances on SNL
Anthony Kiedis wrote about this in his book. This was pretty much the last straw for Frusciante’s initial stint with RHCP (welcome back again, John). On drugs and jaded with the fame that the band had found during the early ‘90s, he jazzed his way through “Under the Bridge,” switching the key, fucking with the guitar part, keeping the rest of the band on their toes with the time signature, and then screaming like hell during the song’s big finale.
Frusciante was hurting himself here. Kiedis hurt him, too, giving him a firm kick masked as his karate-dancing in retaliation. Isn’t seeing a guy in the throes of debilitating (and almost deadly) opioid addiction on live television much more concerning than someone destroying their own inanimate, inexpensive property for theatrical effect?
3. The time Ashlee Simpson got caught lip syncing on SNL
Do you know what’s worse than the destruction of property? Lying.
Do you know what’s worse than lying? Creating a precedent for lip syncing on TV and giving James Corden and Jimmy Fallon a reason to be on a screen even more than they already are.
4. The time Billie Joe Armstrong threw a fit at a festival and they all smashed their guitars
Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, poster child for protest culture in America and sworn enemy of George W. Bush, was having a hard time at the 2012 iHeartRadio music festival. He apparently thought they weren’t giving him and his band enough time, and he did this.
Again, like Bridgers and unlike Prince, that’s his guitar. He can smash it all he wants. But, unlike Bridgers, this was done as a tantrum and an act of misguided aggression toward the festival producers and, weirdly, Justin Bieber. I don’t think Justin Bieber made them cut your set time short, BJ. This was shortly before Armstrong entered rehab for substance abuse, too. Like Frusciante’s situation, seeing a mental breakdown in front of a giant audience is something I’d worry about more than Phoebe Bridgers thumping a Danelectro guitar on a fake monitor to the point of creating fake sparks.
One thing that makes me laugh about this, though, is bassist Mike Dirnt reluctantly being like “Fuck, we’re doing this? Ugh. Alright.” *smash* I think Billie Joe even made fun of people who do that kind of thing once…
5. The time the Weeknd played at the Super Bowl during an international pandemic
You know what’s also worse than smashing a guitar worth around 100 bucks on SNL and lying? Continuing to spread a wholly preventable disease by packing a stadium full of people to listen to a medley of songs about coke.
The thing with The Weeknd’s performance, other than the fact that the sound mix was terrible, was that it didn’t commit to either end of the COVID safety spectrum. It did some things with safety in mind, like creatively putting backup dancers in facial bandages that doubled as face masks, but then they all jumped around on top of each other in a small little hallway thing and packed the field in front of him.
They kept him on stage by himself, but still had fans present. Either do it (don’t) or don’t (do that). We’ve seen how easy it is to film things remotely. You can even see holograms of performers who have been dead for decades zapped onto a stage. Why can’t we do that for just one halftime show?
Say what you want about Phoebe Bridgers smashing a guitar on SNL – a guitar she owned and with which she could do what she pleased – but she at least wasn’t the centerpiece of a super spreader event. Most of these performances were examples of artists hurting themselves physically, ruining their careers, or damning us with Carpool Karaoke. This, like Simpson’s, is an example of a performance that truly has the potential to impact your life and the lives of the people you care about.
Next time you see a musician whose work is perfectly good do a perfectly good performance on TV, even if it involves some form of “destruction of property” think to yourself, “Is what she’s doing actually hurting anyone? It’s not? Well, I guess I won’t worry about it then.”
Smash guitars. Don’t smash guitars. Whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody. Just don’t smash other people’s vintage guitars. Don’t do heroin, and don’t piss off your bandmates by ruining a big opportunity. Don’t blame someone for your own misunderstanding of a festival structure and throw a tantrum. Don’t validate your friend’s bad behavior by doing it, too. Don’t lie to America and tip the first domino on the track that ends with Carpool Karaoke and Lip Sync Battle. And please, don’t perform at giant in-person events that continue the spread of COVID, forcing everyone in normal places (i.e. not Florida) to lose loved ones and miss out on live music for over a year with no end in sight.
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Can you think of another live performance that did a lot more harm to someone than Phoebe Bridgers’ very good performance? Let me know.
Today’s Snakes and Sparklers musical guest is Lithuania.