Tuesday, March 11, 2008

COLUMN: Rock Band

I'm breaking my own vow this week, Quad Cities. I promised myself long ago that, no matter what, I would waste no more column space talking about the video game Guitar Hero. If you're a regular visitor to my niche of the paper, you'll know that my embarassing obsession with the game has worked its way its way into many of my past missives.

But let's face it -- my journalistic integrity, not to mention my true goal of using my column to woo eligible bachelorettes, would be best served with topics designed for, say, people over the age of 12. Besides, as much as I love playing Guitar Hero, the truth of the matter is that I kinda stink at it. Beating a song on Expert mode requires a brain obviously hard-wired differently than mine. So I gave up on Guitar Hero. Thankfully, Rock Band was there to take its place.

Rock Band is the competition to the Guitar Hero franchise, and it takes nerddom to a new level. In addition to the plastic guitars, Rock Band incorporates plastic drums and a plastic microphone, so you can create your own little fake band right in your living room. And one night, after discovering that I was no better at the Rock Band guitar than I was at Guitar Hero, I picked up the mic.

Here's the thing: I can't sing to save my life. When I try, the voice that somehow erupts from my larnyx is feeble, high-pitched, and goes against the very nature of testosterone. But what the hey -- it was a late night and I had no audience except for my cats, and they're pretty good about keeping secrets. So I gave it a shot. And I did it. Actually, I didn't just do it -- I kicked butt at it.

Thus began my newest obsession. Every night, after you and yours were safely asleep, I would be up and alone in my apartment, quietly warbling into a plastic microphone. Eventually, I had the guts to do it in front of my fellow Rock Band-obsessed friends. And despite tears of hysterical laughter, they gave me props at my ability to somehow score huge points. As of this writing, out of the millions of people playing the game, I am ranked the #132nd greatest vocalist in the world. It was time to go public.

Which is why I spent last Saturday at Rock Island's Gameology in their first ever Rock Band tournament. We needed four people to sign up, and we went in with a blistering powerhouse -- me on vocals, my friend Chris on guitar, Linn on bass -- and on drums? Some kid we met that day who agreed to play with us. I didn't even get his name. Like Spinal Tap, our band goes through drummers like water. We needed a band name to sign up, so we improvised: Angry Bob & the Sucktone.

As we waited our turn, we scoped out the competition. Strangely, every other entrant in the tourney was at least 5-10 years younger than us. I know -- hard to believe, right? But who's to say we're too old to rock? Tell that to Neil Young. Tell that to Ozzy. Heck, I'm pretty sure Keith Richards actually died ten years ago and no one's had the heart to tell him. And being old might have its advantages: half of these kids hadn't heard of bands like Molly Hatchet until they opened their copies of Rock Band. We might have this thing won.

That's when we saw them. Our newly-found arch-nemesis. A band whose name I can't even print in a family paper. But they were there to fake rock better than anyone else. They had outfits. Capes. Leather. They carried their little Rock Band guitars in real beat-up guitar cases. They looked like Whitesnake, if Whitesnake had been a fake band playing fake instruments. We were hosed.

As if that weren't bad enough, fate dealt us blow after blow. In the "random song" round, we were the only band to draw "Teenage Lobotomy" by the Ramones -- a fast song that wrecks your hands. Happily, we were also the only band to remember to pack analgesic ointment -- nothing encapsulates the essence of rock like a tube of Ben-Gay. It all came down to our final song -- and fate crushed us. "The Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden. One of the hardest songs in the whole game. Note: if your singing already sounds high-pitched and embarassing, NEVER try an Iron Maiden song.

But we gave it our all. My friends clicked away on their plastic guitars. I reached for vocal notes no man should ever attempt. When it was done, we may not have been perfect, but it was enough for the other teams to break out into a round of applause regardless. I think we ended up in 4th place, which wasn't too bad for our embarassed troupe of geriatrics. There's another tourney at the end of the month, and we're already signed up. If you've got the chops to take on Angry Bob & the Sucktone, I encourage you to do the same.

Now if you'll excuse me, fake band practice starts soon.

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