It was whilst perusing the magazine stand in W.H. Smiths – just killing time as my girlfriend was off looking for a birthday card – that I suddenly burst into song. This was the sort of thing which usually happens during one of my furious washing up sessions, but for some reason, lost in thought and still reeling from my earlier, highly emotional session on Guitar Hero, I let out a very loud (but heart felt) ‘I---- wanna Rock and Roll all night…do de do do de do do do…and party everyday!’.
Heads suddenly turned throughout the store, it all went very very quiet and in a desperate attempt to camouflage my embarrassment, I quickly grabbed hold of a fishing magazine and did my best to look engrossed. But just as I thought the awkward moment had passed, a big, smiley, bald head suddenly appeared - beaming at me from between two copies of Auto Trader. ‘I haven’t heard anyone singing that song for years!’ the middle aged old git cried.
‘But it’s a classic’ I said, pretending I knew what I was talking about. ‘I know it’s a classic, you know it’s a classic, but not many people do!’ he yelled. ‘Ah the ignorance’ I muttered, and then, in a pathetic attempt to deflect his attention, put on a look of intense concentration and started to mouth some blurb about fishing tackle. I needn't have bothered.
His faced had glazed over. He was off somewhere else; my beautiful rendition having obviously brought memories from his hedonistic youth flooding back. Parties and concerts where woman worshipped him like a God. When he didn’t wear a tie and work in an office. When he crowd surfed at Kiss gigs. Although touched by the moment we shared, I seized my chance, left him to reminisce, and quietly scuttled off.
A Good Thing Surely?
That was a proud moment for me. I felt like some musical connoisseur, like I had some intimate knowledge of classic rock tunes when in reality; it was all thanks to Guitar Hero. But then I released that as generations of youngsters strummed away on their plastic guitars to the likes of Aerosmith, AC DC, Guns and Roses, The Who, Jimmy Hendrix, Metallica and The Sex Pistols, Guitar Hero was providing them with an invaluable education.
How redundant it suddenly seemed when, watching School of Rock the other night, Jack Black exposes the ignorance of a class full of youngsters by asking if any of them have heard of Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. To his disgust, the only musical appreciation they can show is for Christina Aguilera and Puff Daddy. But in truth, thanks to Guitar Hero, I would go so far as to say one in three of today's school kids could reel off at least a dozen great rock bands with ease.
Surely this is a good thing? Surely this is helping to keep great music alive? Surely this is undermining the rise of crappy modern commercial pop songs? And surely, for the love of God, those who really know about these things, those who – unlike me – are actually part of the music industry, agree? You could be forgiven for thinking so.
The Inevitable Backlash
The sad truth is that Guitar Hero has found itself under attack. Angry White Stripes front man Jack White kicked things off when, at some press conference in LA, he described it as 'sad' that the only way modern day kids could experience classic rock music was via computer games. Although you could put this down to the fact Jack missed one of his anger management classes and was just venting spleen, it is more difficult to ignore the legendary Jimmy Page who later echoed his sentiments.
Page said that he couldn't see how kids were learning anything worthwhile about playing musical instruments from video games like Guitar Hero. And who better to judge? Regarding Jack White, he has just allowed one of his tracks to appear on the latest edition of Guitar Hero, so he is clearly sticking to his principles (sell out). But to argue with a rock legend like Jimmy Page takes guts.... so here I go.
First of all, who in their right mind buys a copy Guitar Hero and expects to learn the real guitar? I mean Jimmy please; the thing has five buttons. I have all the respect in the world for Led Zeppelin’s lead guitarist but I have to suggest, very meekly, he is perhaps missing the point. Guitar Hero does not teach you how to play an instrument. What it does touch kids however, is - in the words of Jack Black - ‘rock appreciation’.
If kids are being exposed to great music from some of the world's most historic bands via a computer game, why is that such a bad thing? Why do people like Noel Gallagher have to get on their high horse and argue that, as a medium for experiencing music, video games are somehow inferior? Where is the logic? Playing Guitar Hero is the same as listening to music, it simply offers players the chance to get a bit more immersed into the experience. Like air guitar it's about fantasy, and where is the backlash against that?
Some lobbys in America even go so far as to suggest that Guitar Hero has brought about the current decline in American Rock Music (I hate to break it to you but it's been declining for nearly two decades). That the Page's and Hendrix's of the future will never explore their potential because they’ll be too busy playing video games. Personally I think the opposite. I think Guitar Hero could well be the stepping stone which will inspire many youngsters to go and learn the guitar for real. I think all we need now is Mozart Violin Hero, Beethoven Piano Hero, and Mile Davis Trumpet Hero, and we’ll have a full on musical renaissance on our hands.