Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ready Made For Protest Rock

Guitar maker Gibson has been raided again by the Feds, who are on a quest to rid the world of American made guitars with illegally harvest woods. Ebony and Rosewood are the usual suspects.

This is lamentable stuff, overzealous bureaucracy without a shred of common sense, hard at work. But in a way, I kinda like the target. Young people, arty people are not going to rise up if, say, a manufacturer of hardwood flooring is raided, but beloved Gibson? Maker of the venerable Les Paul? The Atlantic has already strung the cognitive dissonance together in an blog post titled, "How To Turn Guitarists Into Tea Partiers", where they mined outrage at online musician forums.
You could spend an entire day reading the fire hose of angry comments on each of these otherwise politically neutral forums. Did Obama just unintentionally lose the guitar-shredding demographic?
It isn't just Gibson that is potentially in trouble. Everybody with a guitar who wants to take it across borders or even state lines, i.e.: every touring band, best be ready for the phrase, "Papers, please." From the WSJ item:

It isn't just Gibson that is sweating. Musicians who play vintage guitars and other instruments made of environmentally protected materials are worried the authorities may be coming for them next.

If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent—not to mention face fines and prosecution.

John Thomas, a law professor at Quinnipiac University and a blues and ragtime guitarist, says "there's a lot of anxiety, and it's well justified." Once upon a time, he would have taken one of his vintage guitars on his travels. Now, "I don't go out of the country with a wooden guitar."

I'd love to hear from my musician friends on this, as most I know are at least somewhat environmentalist in their thinking. Is this good policy? Is it overzealous law enforcement? Is it the latter because it hits home?

Here's a link to the statement from Gibson's CEO, with a press conference clip on the page.

I tend to think of protection of living species that suffer from commercial harvesting in terms of jersey cows and rhinos, although in this case, let's say black walnut and ebony. Black walnut is legally farmed and harvested, and there is no shortage of the trees. People plant and protect them. Ebony suffers the classic 'Tragedy Of The Commons' in that harvesting is banned, so nobody farms them, and poachers run the risk and cut down the trees. It's really stupid policy. Let farmers be encouraged with financial incentives to plant these trees endlessly. They will nurture and protect the species, just as sure as the jersey cow and the black walnut tree is numerous.

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