REVIEW: Lisa Johnson — Immortal Axes (BOOK)
While a capable literary presence, Lisa Johnson’s fixations are not for everyone. It requires the prerequisite of being passionate about music, specifically rock (preferably) with a healthy dose of being literate when it comes to guitars, acoustic and electric. But with that in mind, you’re really in for a treat with Johnson’s follow-up to her previous compilation effort, 108 Rock Star Guitars. With the release of Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock, Johnson essentially flicks her earlobes at herself and her last effort — starting with the number.
There are a total of 150 musician profiles assorted into her new book, along with their guitar models of choice and some expert photographic stagings. Simply put, if 108 Rock Star Guitars gave you a sublime taste of the rock-and-roll experience, with Immortal Axes you get to eat the whole pie. Firstly, the book is literally beautiful to look at. From its evocative, skull-forming artwork on the cover, to its showcasing of the different guitar designs themselves. For anyone whom this subject is as important to them as their left and right hands, it’s heaven. You’ll be flipping through the pages just to drink the images with your eyes, long after reading the book’s text-based content two or three times. Part of the fun is how the text and images are married, specifically highlighting the guitar’s often famous and musically trailblazing owner, and adding a story to go along with the sumptuous image itself.
A particularly acute example of this is the book’s profiling of Peter Frampton’s guitar, and the unusual story of how he came to reacquire it. “…in 1990, the guitar was thought to be destroyed in a cargo plane that crashed upon takeoff out of Caracas, Venezuela. The aircrew had perished, and the gear was thought to have gone up in flames,” writes Johnson regarding the aforementioned scenario. “However, what Peter (Frampton) didn’t know at the time was that the tailpiece of the plane had broken off and some gear was salvaged by some locals who took the undamaged cargo, including his iconic guitar.” She goes on to specify, “The person who ended up with this guitar gave it to his son, who eventually took it in for repair. The luthier recognized it as Peter Frampton’s guitar. He was so sure that he sent some pictures of the guitar to Peter’s contact information on his website, something that Peter actually checked.
When he saw the photos, Peter felt pretty certain that it was his guitar. After three years of negotiations, Peter’s (Les Paul) was finally returned to him after 32 years.” She highlights, in characteristic Peter Frampton fashion, that he “immediately had the guitar restored, sans the burn marks and crash scars.”
By making the image-driven book have such hauntingly personal and detailed stories and signifiers, Johnson goes up and beyond in delivering something not just rock fans, but music fans and in general.
For the right kind of person, Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock will be a much-needed, little bit of magic. Frankly, in a world today that is ravaged by so much uncertainty and so much strife, for the right kind of chorus that’s a worthy thing in and of itself.