The question, perennial, dull and unanswereable, was posed once again by the Guardian. Here’s my take. I don’t think they understood it:
[Disclaimer: I improvised this, so it’s just over the word limit. It’s un-proofed, un-edited, and undercooked.]
Frank Zappa once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Ironic, then, that the readers’ panel, in itself in effect a competition to see who can write the most affecting piece of short prose, ought this week to concern the evaluation of another mostly subjective artistic production: the rock guitar solo.
The question is not which solo is ‘the best’, because there is no such thing, but how can one hope to evaluate objectively something so plainly subjective. This is a question which has eluded the finest philosophical minds the earth has produced. The Guardian, naturally, has produced a tie-breaker: whomsoever scrawls the best piece concerning the best guitar solo wins.
We, the readers, are therefore being invited to produce prose solos, flights of fancy in which our own opinions on what parameters constrain the guitar solo are not explicit but implicit. Is our piece technically brilliant? Does it dazzle the eye with its juggling of abstruse words and complex metaphor? Is it improvised or carefully constructed? Does it change the way writing about guitar solos is undertaken? Does it make the reader smile? I could go on, but there’s a word limit. Listen to Zappa’s Watermelons in Easter Hay, Jackson’s Beat it and Gabriel’s Waiting for the big one.
Once, Scott Henderson played a guitar solo for Joe Zawinal, and asked if he could re-cut it. Why? asked Joe. Because it didn’t say what I wanted it to say, replied Scott. Why did you play it, then, retorted Joe. Harsh, but there’s a kernal of truth in it. The above paragraph works for me. There’s a thesis to be written on the replies printed by the Guardian … because they’re exactly what I predicted: prose solos. Some short, tasteful and punchy. Some flamboyantly in thrall to their own vocabulary.