Get Back to Where You Once Belonged

Here they are, the Fab Four, recast for interactive play:

Beatles Rock Band, released (in case you were on another planet and missed it) on 09/09/09 (or should I say: “number 9/number 9/number 9”), sets off another round of musings mixed with lamentations. Stones bassist Bill Wyman and Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason sound like a pair of old geezers, presenting their variation of a familiar theme: “back in my day, we had to…”. (in this case, actually learn how to play instruments):

“It encourages kids not to learn, that’s the trouble. It makes less and less people dedicated to really get down and learn an instrument. I think is a pity so I’m not really keen on that kind of stuff.” (Wyman)

“It irritates me having watched my kids do it – if they spent as much time practising the guitar as learning how to press the buttons they’d be damn good by now.” (Mason)

But whenever something associated with one medium migrates to another, controversy ensues. Or maybe faux controversy. Makeovers and retranslations seem to make good copy. How does the new incarnation match the original? Those who experienced the particular event in question in its original form can point to all the flaws and inaccuracies of the newest presentation. In future postings, I’ll start tagging the particularities of those complaints, which, as I’ve written before (sounding myself like that lost technology — a broken record) tend to be repeated over and over again.

Of all the reviews and assessments, I was struck by what Seth Schiesel wrote in The New York Times. He captures well our tendency to make idols of technologies past and be suspicious of their usurpers:

Yet there is something about video games that seems to inspire true anger in older people.

Why is that? Is there still really a fear that a stylized representation of reality detracts from reality itself? In recent centuries, every new technology for creating and enjoying music — the phonograph, the electric guitar, the Walkman, MTV, karaoke, the iPod — has been condemned as the potential death of “real” music.

But music is eternal. Each new tool for creating it, and each new technology for experiencing it, only brings the joy of more music to more people.

Do you agree with Schiesel that presenting the product of old technology in a new format bridges the gap between generations, introducing “the Beatles’ music to a new audience” and at the same time bringing “millions of their less-hidebound parents into gaming.” ?  Or do you agree with Bill Wyman? Is this a travesty? A perversion of original intent? A means of encouraging kids to participate in the “virtual” rather than the “real?” Just another sign of our cultural bankruptcy — the equivalent to using “Revolution” (No. 1, the great one) as a soundtrack for selling sneakers?

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2 responses to “Get Back to Where You Once Belonged

  1. If Jane Austen can be brought to TV (complete with scenes Austen never wrote), how can we get upset about Beatles tunes as a soundtrack to a video game? Especially when the Fab Four look more dignified as cartoons than they ever did in real life.
    The video game does focus on the music–as I understand it, participants have to pretend to play along with the band by hitting the right buttons on controllers. So people are listening more carefully than they do when they access songs on their iPods for background noise at the office or coffee shop. Maybe it’s not the worship that some Beatles fans would prefer, but I’m sure the surviving Fab Two will take an attentive audience wherever they find one.
    In fact, the video game isn’t a new “medium” in the most basic sense. The songs are still experienced as sound. If you put them on paper and read them, that’s a truly different medium. Or if you paint the words and notes on a giant metal sculpture on Abbey Lane. A change from vinyl to CD to MP3 to music video is merely a change in the sound’s carrier. Just as Obsolescing uses a website rather than paper to carry these thought-provoking articles.
    The one aspect of the video game that offends me is that the players may get all exercised and sweaty over the music. People who truly remember the Beatles know that it’s best to experience the songs in a chemically mellow state.

  2. Hi Doug,
    As usual, your musings give me ideas for new postings.
    I really like the Jane Austen analogy. I want to write about the idea of the Public Domain, not just as a legal concept (the Beatles like Mickey Mouse will probably be making somebody rich forever) but as a cultural construct. Why are there certain artists, stories, authors, personalities who seem to belong to the common consciousness — and because of that are no longer sacrosanct (think of Einstein? Or Ben Franklin?).

    and Charlie Wyman’s protests are red herrings. Rock Band isn’t going to discourage anyone from learning an instrument. It’s a false analogy. The people who play Rock Band are the kids who would have once “listened” in that chemically mellow state you describe (though I remember some wild frugging to She Was Just 17 in my next-door neighbors’ basement when I was an unmellow ten-year-old.)

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