[RIP] Jim Marshall: this one goes to el-heaven

There are only a handful of people without whom, without their intervention and insight, the world would be a different place. If Henry Ford hadn’t allowed his madness lead to the mechanized human machine that is the assembly line, we’d all be sitting around with soldering guns trying to put together our own iPhones from a kit we ordered in the mail. And if Jim Marshall hadn’t decided to tinker with the guts of then-cutting edge electric guitar amplification, we might not have a popular music culture obsessed with the loudness and aggression that is by now considered the norm for young-person artistic expression.

Marshall passed away at the age of 88 on Thursday at a hospice in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire; he leaves not only an empire with his name on it, the Marshall Amplification behemoth that has provided the backline for most rock musicians for the past four decades, but a legacy of sculpted volume that assisted in the “rocking up” of world culture since the 1962 incorporation of his company. He, along with the help of yes-that’s-his-actual-name-and-not-a-Dickens-character Dudley Craven, carved out “the Marshall sound” in the late 60s, responding to the requests of burgeoning guitar gods like Pete Townshend and Ritchie Blackmore that he make a really, really fucking loud amplifier that sounded rad and would allow them to machine gun minds in their audiences.

It’s one thing to come up with the idea of really super-loud guitar rock, but it’s another thing to actually make it happen on a technological level. And much the same way that someone like Steve Jobs is posthumously recognized for his pioneering innovation in ushering in the digital music age, so should Marshall be properly eulogized for ushering in an earlier disruptive technology that a) made old people feel old and young people go crazy and b) encouraged creativity in the musical arts. Remember, it wasn’t a given that the late 60s was going to be an era of loud music: coming on the heels of a folk revolution that had young people flocking to coffeehouses and celebrating the proletariat joys of acoustic music, 60s rock, Hendrix/Who style, was just as much a techno revolution as a cultural one, as rock musicians were able to express themselves in an individualistic style that was louder than the audience, louder than the critics, and louder than god/God/g_d.

Marshall himself was a drummer when he was a player prior to his amplification career, and in a sense, the development of the 100 watt head could only have come from the interface between a guitarist like Townshend desperate for ohm-age and a man who was both a tinkerer and a drummer, because drummers know that small band rock is a battle between the volumes of the respective instrumentalists. As playing became more aggressive and audiences became larger, guitarists needed to be heard over both the thundering drums of the then-dominant brand of UK tubthumping and the spotty public address systems being used to placate insane crowds of rock-starved teens. When a Hendrix or a Blackmore strode onstage in front of a few 100-watt heads run through a wall of 4-by-12 speaker cabs, no one was going to be able to talk over the barrage of sculpted chaos. It was the individual id given a ludicrous sonic platform, and it was both glorious and undeniably destructive. In short, Jim Marshall’s monster helped usher in the post-war individual-based personality mindset that shaped the Baby Boomers, the Me generation.

Or maybe he just made some cool amps that sounded great and were used to great effect by generations of barrier-breaking musicians in a burgeoning genre-- either way, my advice is to acknowledge his accomplishments and legacy over this Easter weekend by going somewhere fun and loud and punishing your eardrums in celebration of the man who led us on the modern day path to loud.
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