Na Na Na Na Rock Band

Can a digitized cover band rock as hard as Swedes drinking battery acid?Yes.

It’s 7 a.m. and a few strung-out sophomores are camped out on a rum-and- Coke-soaked carpet after an attempt at a world tour on “Rock Band.” These tend to go about as long as an eight-hour workday, but with a lot less staring at the clock and a lot more, as Jack Black would say, “gut-busting guitar solos.” By the first postgame Pop Tart of dawn, my contacts are stuck to my eyelids, my thoughts are flowing to the melody of Weezer’s “Say it Ain’t So,” and I’m seriously wondering why music couldn’t have been transcribed into color-coded floating circles back when I was pulling a C in eighth grade orchestra. Rock Band is sort of like a cartoon piano. It falls on you out of nowhere, and even those whose thumbs have seldom grazed an Xbox controller are likely to find themselves peeling their 2-D form off the floor, unsure of what just hit them.

“Rock Band”

Rated: T for Teen
Distributed for: Playstations 2 & 3, Xbox 360

Here’s the equation. Most people like music. Some people like video games. But probably all people like “Rock Band.” One lucky round will have the game calling you a “super soloist,” or a “strong-willed survivor,” and that’s when the first seeds of addiction crept into my brain, riding in on words like “hey, maybe I could be a great drummer after all.” This is the plight of the “Rock Band” player. I started to rekindle my dreams from the days when good music was “Barbie and the Rockers,” and words like “talent” or “vocation” would never pop up on my spoon of alphabet soup.

Being both musically Ö delayed (I was told in elementary school that I sing “consistently in a narrow range”) and chronically coming up short in the realm of attention span, I had approached “Rock Band’s” competitor, “Guitar Hero,” with the temerity of a shy deer. I had to play when no one was around, after a friend of mine watched me playing and asked, “Are you playing for real, or just joking?”

Here’s where you imagine your own heroic montage of me ignoring the beginnings of tendonitis and taking Honey Bunches of Oats breaks, suddenly emerging with the triumph of having beat “The Seeker” by The Who on hard level. I was finally ready to play what video game enthusiasts call “a party game.” “Rock Band” leaves no room for hermit-like skill honing. It is a game that people fight over, become nocturnal for and work drinking games into. It’s not just about you anymore. It’s about the band, and here’s the thing about the band: The band is about the world tour.

But first you’ve got to rustle up a band. Our band is called “Toasty Variant.” Idealess, we simply nicked it from the game’s endless supply of band name suggestions. I was rooting for the exotic dreams suggested by “Comatose Zebra,” but we all felt that Toasty Variant had just the right amount of texture (crumbly) and jargon to articulate our essence as a band.

I opted out of designing the tiny digital man or woman that would represent me onstage by gyrating and frustratingly shrugging to a booing crowd. The game provided me with a Little Mermaid-haired guy named “Quest,” who I found satisfactory because he looked heroin-chic and had a name that was probably a jab at some member of U2. My friend John (for unknown reasons) named the lead singer “Simon Menalga,” which seemed progressively more amusing through the night. Now we were ready to attempt the never-been-done: become a cover band that somehow gets as famous as a normal band.

Turns out this involves a lot of bickering over who gets the coveted instrument, the drums, and whose fault it was that we suddenly lost 2,954 fans. There’s even some “quick Becky, get on pitch,” and a little bit of, “hey, somebody take the mike from Becky.”

But eight hours later, I start to see music differently, both literally and figuratively. “Guitar Hero” had already made me picture every metal song on 93x as having a quilt-like pattern of gaming notes, but “Rock Band” not only makes me visualize music, it also forces me to realize just exactly what every ranting, screeching, or, as my mom likes to say, “crooning,” singer is actually saying. Whoever watched Uncle Jesse singing “My Sherona” on “Full House” and suspected that the words were “I always get it up/ for the touch/ of the younger kind?” I had also never noticed that Rivers Cuomo hinted blatantly at an alcohol addiction in almost every Weezer song. Actually, I had also never voluntarily listened to Weezer.

Most of the songs are the kind that assault you on the radio, the kind that, like the phrase “eyes as blue as the sky,” were once clever and original but have become public territory to the point of being – I can picture the hate mail now – cliché.

But it may be that “Rock Band” is the perfect remedy for music snobbery. It takes every song that everyone’s heard more than they ever desired to, like “Highway Star” by Deep Purple, and makes me inhabit them. And thus, they become new again. It’s hard to write off a rock epic like Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” as shrieky, melody-less apocalyptic jargon when you find out you can’t approach singing it on “medium,” your drummer gets a sore shin from keeping up with the bass drum, and the guitar solo makes the band fail three times in a row.

Yes, this happened to “Toasty Variant,” and we all still hated the song. But one day we heard it floating from the ceiling at Subway, and we all looked at each other and knew that it had become a part of us. A terrible part of us.

That’s the moral of the “Rock Band” story. No matter how much you hate a song, it could easily provide you with the 256 note streak that keeps you playing five more sets. And no matter how much I may enjoy “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, enough attempts at singing it start to make it meaningless, like repeating your name over and over until the letters seem clown-like and fake.

After some sleep, I woke up thinking I never want to play “Rock Band” again. I realize my dreams were filled with Rock Band notation from practicing in my sleep. But something has changed between music and me. Suddenly I see it from the inside out. It’s a new enough feeling that it inspires me to accept my boyfriend’s invitation to “jam” on the (real) drums with him.

I still can’t keep a beat, but sometimes I picture the rhythm as a flying fret board of “Rock Band” colors, and for a minute, I am “Quest.” And I get it.