The Corner

PC Culture

Guitar Center Has Bigger Problems Than the Pedal Guy

Guitars belonging to British music icon Eric Clapton displayed at the Bonhams auction house in New York March 4, 2011. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Guitar Center has entered itself into the woke-capitalism sweepstakes, boycotting an effects-pedal manufacturer because the owner of the firm made some ugly and unsympathetic remarks about the recent riots originating in Minneapolis. It wasn’t racist stuff, just profane and ugly: “The pussy Mayor and Governor don’t give a s*** about small businesses, and it’s never been more clear,” that sort of thing. The owner later apologized.

This follows a familiar pattern: woke capitalism on the cheap. Franklin Templeton was happy to fire a nobody employee after an awkward confrontation in Central Park, but when the son of the firm’s CEO (and brother of the current CEO) went to jail for beating his wife so badly that he broke her facial bones, he eventually ended up with a seat on the board.

Similarly, Guitar Center is willing to make a cheap gesture when it comes to a small-ball business.

But what about, say, Fender?

Fender is a name practically synonymous with electric guitars. It also employs as a brand ambassador one Eric Clapton and markets very expensive Clapton-branded guitars. Many people believe that Clapton’s most egregious offense against the ears of the public was “Wonderful Tonight,” but he is also an infamous “Keep Britain white!” man, an admirer of Enoch Powell, self-proclaimed foe of “coons” and “wogs,” etc. Britain’s The Week writes:

Like Enoch Powell, Clapton has never taken back his comments or compromised his position. As recently as December 2007 he appeared on the South Bank Show and told Melvyn Bragg that he wasn’t a racist but still believed Powell’s comments were relevant. Unlike Powell, however, Eric Clapton’s career has enjoyed a resurgence — he was given a CBE in 2004, reunited with Cream in 2005 and will be headlining this year’s Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park. Like David Bowie, who once told an interviewer that Britain would benefit from a Fascist dictator, “Slowhand” Clapton has managed to emerge from the allegations of racism seemingly unharmed.”

Fender for a time also offered a Joe Strummer–branded guitar. Guitar Center sold them and still promotes them on its website. Maybe we should talk about, say, Strummer’s estimate of Jamaica: “. . . the place where every white face / Is an invitation to robbery.” Or how about Strummer’s “White Riot,” a call for “a riot of our own”?

Black man gotta lotta problems
But they don’t mind throwing a brick.
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick.

Gibson, another giant in the guitar business, sold Jimmy Page–branded guitars. Fender sells them today, and Guitar Center stocks them. Should that be read as an endorsement of Page’s creepy history with 14-year-old girls? Guitar Center stocks a lot of Aerosmith-related merchandise in spite of the fact that Steven Tyler once went so far as to take legal custody of an underage girl with whom he was sexually involved in order to facilitate the relationship. Guitar Center will happily sell you a Chuck Berry–branded guitar for ten grand, no mention of that awkward prison term or the 14-year-old girl at the center of that story.

If Guitar Center wants to be the moral arbiter of American public life — I cannot think of any obvious reason why it should be or any good that is likely to come of such a blisteringly stupid arrangement — then it can’t credibly do so only when it isn’t too inconvenient as a business matter. The pedal guy is pretty small-time. Fender and Gibson are giants.

What say you, Guitar Center? Are you serious about this or not?

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