Monday, May 27, 2013

The Who and the benefits of being incompetent.

I am a big fan of the Who, especially Pete Townshend.  Pete wielded his double cutaway Gibson SG like an executioner's axe.  He would jump up in the air and he had this windmill style with his strumming hand that added to the spectacle of his performance.   If that was not enough, he would smash his guitar at the end of the show. 

But like a lot of great innovations, his unique style of guitar playing came from some accidental circumstances combined with a lack of technical skill.  One of the reasons Pete started having such an outlandish, violent stage presence was because he felt he couldn't play the guitar that well.  To (over) compensate, he started swinging his arms and eventually his guitar around.  Once, he swung the guitar high on a stage with a low ceiling and smashed the top of his guitar clean off.  Pete was shocked to see what he'd done to his precious working tool, but meanwhile the audience was going crazy. 

The destruction perfectly matched the rebellious thread that ran through the actual music of the Who.  The Who gave the world an alternative to the pretty boy Beatles or the rough and sexy Rolling Stones.  For the Who, it was about the anger and frustration of being a youth in the 60s.  But, ironically, it never would have happened without a lack of competence and some happy accidents. 

Later, the Sex Pistols, the ultimate punk group, was formed on this basis.  Malcolm McLaren basically dragged four guys off the street who had limited or no musical experience, but who had the right anger and frustration level.  The Sex Pistols created a brash, primitive collision of sound that was a real kick in the face to the reigning genre of the day, disco. 

And then after the Sex Pistols was U2.  The guitarist, the Edge, says his sound comes from an original lack of technical proficiency.  Instead of playing scales, he used the time to figure out how to get the most from guitar effects the little electronic boxes in front of the amplifiier. 

Somewhat scarily, I think my teaching style parallels Pete's, the Sex Pistol's and the Edge's.  I've been blessed by a whole bunch of happy accidents (remember "serendipportunism"?).  And I have had to compensate from a lack of technical skill: I can't follow a lesson plan to save my life, my own or someone else's; I'm not a great oral communicator, and I get tongue-tied sometimes and confuse myself when I try to explain something; and there are some things that I just don't know about that others have great expertise in.  So like Pete, the way I compensate is: instead of following lesson plans to the letter, I am flexible and responsive to the flow of the classroom and my students; instead of being a good speaker, I try to be a good listener or I try to find different ways to get my meaning across or I try to give students opportunities to find out for themselves; and to compensate for not knowing, I try to find all sorts of things out or I make things up as I go along. 

Unlike the Who and the Sex Pistols though, I don't really have anything to be rebellious about (I am a pretty happy, lucky guy).  Though not a full on rebel, I do have a slight subversive streak. 

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