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The Essay
Show #251
The Seven Hypotheses
David Gunn

With all of the hubbub in the Vermont legislature these days over same-sex this or domestic partnership that, and the inherent rights of similar-species groups versus those of traditional xenophobes, it may be instructive to visit the origin of the first trans-gender musical instrument, the electric guitar.

Seven hypotheses, all of them true, explain the evolution of this controversial musical gadget. The first hypothesis comes from Taoist myth, and also from a listener in Algonquin Corners, who writes, the guitar was invented by the ancient Chinese as a musical extension of the I Ching. Each of the instrument's 64 strings represented one of the interrelated philosophical hexagrams, and the three foot pedals symbolized the yin, yang and Jung's "The Psychology of the Unconscious." During the ensuing 23 centuries, many of the strings fell off, or "modulated," and by the time of the French Revolution, or second hypothesis, the number of working strings, as opposed to those that were purely ornamental, had decreased to 20. But those 20 strings could do much more than twang. Their uncanny dowsing ability, for instance, once detected hundreds of augmented fourths lurking beneath the floorboards of le Palais des Choux. Still, the electric guitar's raison d'être in those days was as an instrument of torture and, as the Peasants Separatist Movement found out, at that it excelled. At the proper hands and in the proper volume, it could peel the spots off of a ceramic dalmatian at 50 meters. By comparison, the guillotine was little more than an extra close haircut.

A hundred and forty years passed before Anton Webern devised the third hypothesis. Having discovered in his uncle's sea chest an electric guitar that was constructed entirely of fiber optics, the Viennese klangfarber was poised to swap his serial stew for Spice Girls-like techno-pop songs when an agent for the U.S. Show Tune Council shot him. As he lay hemorrhaging in the Salzburg swamps, he somehow managed to uproot a cypress tree and extract enough sap from its branches to fill his fountain pen with which he sketched out a design for an acoustic guitar. (The guitar, unlike typical instrumental development, was electric long before it was acousticized -- an oddity that can best be explained as Hypothesis 2A.)

Only a year was to pass before the fourth hypothesis reared its fretted neck. Unfortunately, copyright restrictions do not allow us to discuss it over the air without forking over a large royalty check to Karlheinz Stockhausen, Inc. Suffice it to say that thereafter in the hierarchy of pop music, the electric guitar ranked second only to the magneto-harp in excessive number of amperes per note played.

For the next 50 years, the electric guitar suffered through the fifth and sixth hypotheses as it helped guide the careers of Tex Ritter, Muddy Waters, Adam Clayton Powell, Django Reinhardt, Louis Farrakhan, Merle Haggard, Jim Henson, Dolly Parton, Ted Williams and William Walton. Hypothesis 6A occurred just two weeks ago but turned out to be an electric red herring. Due to a typographical error, it was confused with inflammation of the nasaline mucous membranes -- and more on that next week -- which, of course, is the guitar's step-cousin, the catarrh.

And what of the seventh hypothesis? By an astounding stroke of luck, it will take place here today on the 251st episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar with a live performance by the hydrophonically-energized, ontologically free-range band, the Devil's Advocates. And here to begin the festivities is a rendition of Jimi Hendrix's Star Strangled Bomber stirringly ululated by our own Kalvos.