The Guitar as Artifact and Icon: Identity
Formation in the Babyboom Generation 1
John Ryan and Richard A. Peterson

Oh guitar which I had in my youth Sing that I might forget my grief Remind me of the winds of bygone days When an and music were always with us

(From the poem, My Guitar by Rabah Seffal 1998: 294.)

For me, I think the only danger is being too much in love with guitar playing. The music is the most important thing, and the guitar is only the instrument.

(Jerry Garcia, quoted in Sudo 1998: 87.)

Each rising twentieth-century generation of youth has had a characteristic way of relating to popular music. Some times it has been through a new dance form such as the Charleston, the monkey, hip-hop, or rave. Some times it has been through a new electronic medium of communication such as the 78 rpm record, MTV or the Internet. Musical instruments in the hands of professionals have sometimes been emblematic for fans, but only in the era of the rising babyboom generation roughly those born between 1956 and 1965 - did a considerable proportion of male teenage youth at least dabble with playing and performing with the instrument of their pop idols. 2 As one of our boomer interviewees put it, ‘back then there was no variance in the “play guitar” measure because everybody played guitar (at least boys)’. Why did the electric guitar serve the boomer generation, both female and male, as what Steve Waksman (1999: 4) calls an‘instrument of desire’? Most generations give up their youthful enthusiasms as they mature, so why then have a goodly number of boomers returned to their love of guitars as they have reached their middle years?

Our examination of the place of the guitar in boomer consciousness considers four related topics in turn. First, through an extended life-history case study, we explore the evolving place of the guitar in the life of one boomer. Second, we report the findings of interviews with a number of boomer performers to show the


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Guitar Cultures


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