How my brother died and went to heaven

14Apr09

My brother‘s a snob. It’s OK, we’re all snobs about something or other, right? (Don’t even try to talk to me about coffee or operating systems, you’ll just get nowhere.)

But my brother, now, he’s a snob about music. I don’t mean one band or another, one genre or another. He has “taste” in these areas, some of it good, but he’s not a snob about it. What he’s a snob about is “real music.” And by “real,” I mean “Not Guitar Hero. Not Rock Band.” Music that you actually, you, yourself produce.

Which is why I immediately called my former sister-in-law, to commiserate and make funeral arrangements, when I saw “Why Rock Band Is Better Than Actual Music.” I knew his head had exploded, messily and extravagantly. Imagine my surprise, when even as I was dialing, I received a tweet from … my brother … actually soliciting opinions on the whole “Better” business! And hardly even incoherent! I am so proud!

So here’s what I think: I think “the fake plastic Fisher Price musical instrument fad” is a bad thing. It’s not very much worse than what came immediately before (which would be: recorded music), but it’s a teensy step down “the path of least resistance, which leads forever downward.” What these toys should be compared to is something actually outside most people’s experience, these days: once upon a time, people learned to actually play music so they could play for each other at parties. There weren’t records or radio or TVs or iPods, there was only us. And when you heard music, it was either hirelings (and you were one of the unimaginably few elite), or it was your actual friends, who had spent their actual time actually learning to play actual music. For you.

Real musicians still have that experience (though they tell their wives they’re “practicing,” but domestic tranquility management is a topic for another post). Hardly anyone else does, any more. Which is why hardly anyone understands when real musicians deplore Rock Band: the one-eyed man may be king in the kingdom of the blind … but no one beholds his glory.

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2 Responses to “How my brother died and went to heaven”

  1. 1 jrep

    (I gotta figger a way to get my brother Bil and my friend Mike together. You’d like each other.)

  2. Rock Band and Guitar Hero are video games of the same sort that have always been: push your buttons at the right time for points. Nothing more; nothing less.

    To the degree that they can be compared with even games like Super Mario Brothers, they fall short in key areas. Yes, our little plumber needs to jump and hurl fireballs at just the right times to make progress, but the user at least retains the privilege of some strategic freedoms in choosing his or her path through the virtual world, in confronting the mushroom/turtle/whatever dangers, and so on.

    To the degree that they can be compared with real music… well, anyone who has ever played a musical instrument (including the instrument we call the “vocal chords”) can attest, “music” isn’t just about pushing the buttons at the prescribed time.

    I’ve always been a vocal supporter of the power of video games to help develop hand-eye coordination, quick decision-making reflexes, etc. I’ve also been a vocal complainer of the way that video games have historically driven folks to forsake the community of their peers for a multi-hour rendezvous with a machine, and for increasingly less ethical pursuits these days than swallowing power pellets and avoiding ghosts. So, to their credit, Rock Band/Guitar Hero have in many cases done what I feared couldn’t be done in the 21st century: drawn groups of friends together (in the same room, even!) to play an electronic game four-at-a-time, working together (“in concert”, heh) toward a common goal where violence and sexuality only appear — quite literally — as background noise in the soundtrack.



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