Sunday, April 20, 2008

Finding Your Inner Lemmy Kilmister

If you haven't had the pleasure of playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band, I highly recommend it. I won't bore you with the details of game play, but it's basically a pattern/timing game where you press colored buttons based on the streaming notes coming down the screen. The kicker is that you do this through a guitar-shaped game controller, or in the case of Rock Band through either a guitar, a bass, a microphone, or a drum set.

It's one of those games where you start by hacking your way through "Blitzkrieg Bop", and suddenly you find yourself obsessed with completing the next song, and the next, and the next... until you're drunk with Rock Gawd fame and fortune, prancing around in rocker poses, and generally wallowing in mid-life crisis! Green grass and high tides forever!

I just spent a weekend with my buddies at a cabin in Northern Washington. Our initial intention was to drink beer and watch the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament. What actually transpired was about 4o hours of Rock Band, with a couple of four hour sessions playing the board game, "Settlers of Catan" thrown in for good measure (more on Settlers in a future blog post). It felt surprising like a monstrous jam session late into the night - strangely satisfying, and yet wholly unproductive in advancing any musical talent.

Rock Band is so popular with my students that it's actually having an effect on their music preferences. I've noticed that the umpteenth revival of 80's music is once again in full swing. Don't question the marketing power of Rock Band. Imagine if your first exposure to Boston was to lay down the opening lick to "Foreplay/Long Time", replete with its quiet-loud-quiet structure.

The coolest thing about Rock Band is that you can get a glimpse of what's inside the musician's head. Growing up I was a huge fan of Flea, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Playing bass on "Dani California" gave me some insight into his grooving style. As you would expect, playing along gives you a totally different perspective on the melody and rhythm of the song. Two other huge treats - feeling the power chord genius of Rivers Cuomo on Weezer's "Say It Ain't So", and jamming with The Killers on "When You Were Young" - which is a freakish blend of early Springsteen, late seventies Dire Straits, and a dash of New Wave.

If you can get over the dorkiness of staring at a screen and pressing colored buttons, I think you'll find that Rock Band is one of the best video game inventions created so far. Games based on music have been far too rare in my lifetime. I'm excited to see where this will lead.

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