Jun 3

You’re probably familiar with the music video game Guitar Hero, in which the player uses a “guitar shaped peripheral” (sweet Jesus) which interfaces with the game controller. By following on-screen coloured prompts and mashing the corresponding “frets” on the “guitar”, a pre-recorded version of the song is played. In this way, the player gets the impression that he or she is a musician, actually “playing” the song.

Just take a look at the guitar peripheral:

Leo Fender is rolling around in his grave.

As if all this isn’t bad enough, the concept has been extended to create a new game called Rock Band. Now we have multiple instruments: guitar, bass and drums, as well as vocals. As with Guitar Hero, each of the three instruments follows their own on-screen colour-codes thus forming a sort of “virtual band”. If each player follows the colours correctly, once again a pre-recorded version of the song is produced.

Before I start my rant on this ridiculous piece of 21st century shite, have a look at this video of a “rock band” murdering Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” (you don’t have to sit through it all):

As someone who has played the guitar since I was a kid this is a travesty.

In my day, if we wanted to play in a band we went out and bought shitty instruments, and played them ’til our fingers bled. It was the summer of ’69. (Or ’84 in fact). My first guitar was a cheap second-hand Stratocaster copy from Hondo. I got it for Christmas in my 14th year, and it cost a whopping $125, strap and case included. It was fucking beautiful. I had no amp, but would happily plug it into any available electrical device with a 1/4″ input jack.

A couple of my mates were likewise struck with the urge to be a rock demigod, and they both begged, borrowed or (most likely) stole until we were kitted out with guitar, bass, amps and drums. Pretty soon we were rocking the suburbs from New Lambton all the way to New Lambton Heights. Coincidentally, one of the first songs we played together was “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath, of which a cassette recording is extant. It sounds pretty awful in retrospect, but our joy and passion shines through the distortion and subsonic rumble.

Something was nagging at me as I watched the video above. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, then I realised what it was. The players are all staring glass-eyed at the screen to follow their colour codes. They aren’t looking at each other. They are missing out on the sense of joy that you feel when you stand in a room and make music with your best mates.

Nobody will convince me there is any skill involved in Rock Band. These players will never know the feeling of mastering a difficult riff or solo after hours of painstaking, callus-inducing practice. They will never create their own music, they will never improvise. I feel genuine pity for this generation of wannabe musicians doomed to stand in front of their X-Box and plasma TV, wanking off on their plastic imitation guitars.

I’ll leave you with a video of the one and only Black Sabbath playing “Paranoid” live circa 1970. If the black t-shirt wearing cock-foreheads from the abovementioned “rock band” ever saw these four hairy geezers from Birmingham they’d run a fucking mile.

2 Responses

  1. Vern Says:

    Haha! Now I understand why you were so sheepish when YOU PLAYED GUITAR HERO at ours!
    Yes, thats right people!! This is not a misprint! I think you even enjoyed it a little.
    I do agree with you in theory. There is no better feeling than creating real music with real people.
    But…
    If you’re in the mood to play a mind numbing videogame, GH can be quite fun.
    So…
    When are we gonna get together to make some real muzak??

  2. snubian Says:

    Vern! Yes, very sheepish indeed. I have actually drafted a retraction and apology which will appear on the website soon. You know I actually really enjoyed playing GH, I admit it. I was a bit harsh in hindsight …

    As for real music, hey I’m always up for it! Next time we come down I’ll bring my Eagles songbook. And with Kaz on woodwind, and Rach playing a mean recorder, it’ll be like the Polyphonic Spree without the gowns. Looking forward to it!