ELLIOT EASTON: LEFT OUT IN THE COLD
Throughout history, according to the Internet, lefties have always had it a bit rough. During the 15th and 16th century, left-handed people were often accused of consorting with the devil or being witches. Towards the end of the 19th century, Cesare Lombroso, often referred to as the father of criminology and most widely recognized for his “born criminal” theory, wrote: “In criminals and lunatics the right lobe [the lobe that controls your left hand] predominates very much more often than in normal persons,” and identified left-handedness as an indicator of savagery and/or pathological behavior. In fact, anti-lefty bias even exists to this very day as recent studies find lefties earn an average of ten percent less than their right-handed counterparts. All of which brings us to left-handed guitar players.
There is, perhaps, no more pitiable a creature on Earth than a lefty guitar player mournfully scavenging the walls of Guitar Center for one of the six left-handed guitars that don’t come with its own “start-r-kit” decal stickers and three-watt children’s amplifier. Like the raccoons scouring the dumpsters behind the guitar shop, lefties must meticulously claw their way through racks and racks of the most beautiful and diverse collection of right-handed guitars ever produced only to end up in the used section, leaving with something someone else basically threw away. And that’s not even the top and bottom of their seemingly endless list of difficulties. Their left-handedness not only seriously hinders their ability to purchase a new guitar, but effectively eliminates their ability to play someone else’s, be it at band practice, a friend’s house, or in any house-party type scenario in which picking up the old acoustic guitar in the corner would significantly improve one’s success with the ladies.
Now, I personally like to think of my generation as being ever so slightly more reasonable than witch burners and debunked quasi-phrenologists. In fact, I often take pride in it. As Mahatma Gandhi (who was also left-handed, according to famouslefthandedactivists.biz) once pretty much said: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most left-handed members.” And to that end, I must state that I can no longer stand idly by while my left-handed guitarist brothers and sisters remain mired in this pit of inconvenience and disrespect. Which is why I’d like to directly address the greatest example of anti-left-handed bias our culture has ever witnessed. I am finally willing to put my left foot down and proclaim that Cars guitarist Elliot Easton is one of the top ten best guitar players in the history of rock ’n’ roll.
Although you’ll never hear his name mentioned when discussing the Mt. Rushmore of rock ’n’ roll guitar players, Elliot Easton has probably penned at least three or four of the top fifty great guitar solos ever written, including the solos to Shake It Up and It’s All I Can Do. The subtle magic of Easton’s playing lies squarely in his immense understanding of space and time – and I don’t mean that in metaphysical Twilight Zone kind of terms. What I mean is Easton understood that fast fingers and flashy gimmicks are not what makes a guitar solo truly great. He understood, better than any of his substantially more famous and more spandex-laden peers, that a guitar solo is its own work of art, and that a great solo could and should be as lovingly and meticulously crafted as the very song that surrounds it. Easton’s playing is almost literally perfect in every metric one could fathom: technical prowess, taste, ingenuity, style, utility – even the most bigoted right-supremacist must admit he scores at least a nine out of ten in every one of those categories. Listen to his solo on Just What I Needed and try to pick one note that could be removed, added or changed in any way; it simply cannot be done without destroying the entire song. Like a fine sculptor chips away at the marble to reveal the beautiful statue within, Easton masterfully frees the most perfect guitar solos from the cast of unwarranted pomp and superficial flash that surrounds them.
Of course, none of this is to say that you’d be hard-pressed to find examples of other great lefty rockers. Just as four out of the last eight presidents have been left-handed despite comprising roughly only ten percent of the population, an un-proportionally large percentage of lefties seem to dominate the upper tiers of rock ’n’ roll. McCartney, Hendrix, Cobain, Iommi – each one of them left-handed and almost universally accepted as the very best their specific genre has to offer (if I get ONE email claiming Randy Rhoads or, god-forbid, Zakk Wylde, is a better guitarist than Tony Iommi I’m seriously going to vomit). But despite all of that, I’ve always felt as though Easton never got the proper credit he deserves, especially when considering just how against-the-grain his style was during the years of neon guitars and blown-out hairstyles. Cartoonish 80’s guitarists who valued style over substance, like Eddie Van Halen and C.C. DeVille, seem to hog all of the glory of that era. But when compared to Easton, most of Van Halen’s guitar solos sound as though they were written in an isolation chamber no less than five blocks away from where the rest of the band were busy penning the catchy parts of Beautiful Girls. Eddie’s solos, while always physically and technically impressive, just never quite fit. They were, looking back on them now, a bit of a novelty. Sadly, it seems that Easton was just another victim of the times (and a few bad mullets).
So it’s time now for lefties and righties to awkwardly join hands and proclaim that Elliot Easton is one of the top ten best guitar players in the history of rock ’n’ roll. He was, and remains to this day, perhaps the single greatest composer of guitar solos ever born, and flaunted his no-nonsense approach during the heyday of outlandish gimmicks. He revolutionized our collective understanding of what a guitar solo should be and bridged the expansive gap between face-melting solos and catchy tunes more solidly than any of his peers, contemporary or otherwise. And as if that weren’t impressive enough, he did it all backward.