Friday, November 16, 2007

THE WINDMILL: Not for sissies

Not included in Rock Band or Guitar Hero III.

Once again DD was vexed by Guitar Hero III/Rock Band playing ninnies at BestBuy. Guitar Hero III has stomped into stores everywhere, selling 1.4 million copies to American tyros not self-conscious enough to get how callow they look "playing" plastic toy guitars in front of game screens in public.

It is as if any human capacity for embarrassment has been expunged from their genetic codes.

And there they were at BestBuy, lined up in front of demos not ten yards from where I was trying to keep it together long enough to buy a CD. Well, the record industry knows where I'm coming from and it doesn't care. There aren't enough people like me buying CDs but there are many more buying games in which you can pretend to be a rock star while stumbling through the miming of an old classic rock hit.

On television, Rock Band was getting advertising with animations of a young band jumping out on top of a speeding bus, brandishing guitars and mike stands against the wind.

Guess what they were "playing"?

"Highway Star" -- a song by Deep Purple DD doesn't even put on the turntable anymore. I was never so lame in the early Seventies that I'd be caught dead miming to my parents' Robert Goulet records.

Extra points subtracted from Rock Band lamers who suffer no cognitive dissonance over Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan not looking like short-haired mall punks, the demographic the Rock Band commercial aims at.

"What's even cooler is that the game caters to lefties, like my Boyfriend, as well," writes Melissa Tyndall of Guitar Hero III for the Clarkesville Leaf-Chronicle. "All a player has to do is scroll through the game options, set it to lefty status and flip the guitar over. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it's like Dance, Dance Revolution band-style. You pick up a plastic guitar and have to try to keep up with the beats of the music with the keypad on the instrument."

"Rock Band has revamped graphics and the instruments themselves look more legit," lied reporter Christa Collins at the Cal Poly Post (San Luis Obispo).

"With Fender putting their name in the mix, it's no surprise. The guitars themselves could almost be mistaken for miniature Fenders themselves."

That is if Fender guitars were a bit less than 3/4 size, made of plastic and came without strings.

"Bottom line: Rock Band rocks," wrote some flacks masquerading as reporters at the Boston Globe on Tuesday.

"Your imaginary rockers can hit the road, winning or losing fans, earning money, scoring a van, and flying to LA to sign a record deal depending on how well they play."

Psshhht. No watching a knife fight break out between two drunken thugs and a biker chick? Where's the fun in a game without that?

"Ultimately, the best thing about Rock Band is that it's not just about individual glory on an instrument," write the Globe journalists. "As novices, our favorite feature was the 'Savior' option, whereby a player can rescue an underperforming cohort who's in danger of flaming out by executing a rad stage move. One altruistic rocker can save an entire band."

DD can assure readers this never happens in dives. It's the opposite. The weak link drags everyone down, there's a fight after the gig, and the band blows apart.

Despite the pile-up of young human waste in front of the Guitar Hero III and Rock Band demos, DD gritted the teeth and kept to the appointed task: securing a copy of Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who.

As a documentary DVD set on The Who, it goes well beyond The Kids Are Alright, a movie covering the same territory which made it into theatres when DD was in his twenties.

At the beginning of the three DVD set, Roger Daltrey reflects on the odds of four people as accomplished as the members of The Who meeting and doing what they did.

It's delivered in an understated fashion, all the more remarkable at a time when rock music would be better if less people chose to try their hands at it and dump the results into every media outlet within their reach.

By the time Tommy was recorded, the Who were the best live hard rock band in existence. Their stage show exceeded by an order of magnitude -- indeed, was quite different -- than their studio album sound. Live at Leeds, an edited recording of their standard show, was a shattering explosion of rock 'n' roll TNT. If you were used to listening to Tommy or the singles from Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, the wild and staccato stomping of "Young Man Blues" and "Summertime Blues" came as rude shocks.

If you buy a CD copy of Live at Leeds now, it's not quite the same. Later versions of the record added the entire performance. It watered down the impact of the original vinyl, constrained as the format was to about forty-five minutes. The complete mix doesn't punch your face as mercilessly as the sequencing from the original LP.

During the first hour of Amazing Journey, some footage is shown from The Who early on from a relentless tour of England under the direction of record producer Shel Talmy. The band had turned to amphetamines to get through it with the result being that the live show disintegrated. Pete Townshend is shown playing John Entwistle's bass and vice versa. The sound is rubbish and Roger Daltrey walks off the back of the stage in disgust. Daltrey relates that backstage he went off at the others about it, a fistfight ensued and he was thrown out of the band.

A few weeks later he was rehired and put on "probation" under the condition that he never yell at them like that again.

The Who were not particularly palsy with each other like the Beatles and the attitude, for a very long time, was that Townshend, Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon were the stars of the show, with Daltrey just up front. After Tommy, the dynamic changed. Daltrey became the emotional interpeter of Townshend's writing, his savage and triumphant yell at the climax of "Won't Get Fooled Again" from Who's Next the most distinguishing moment in heavy rock and roll.

Throughout Amazing Journey is footage of Pete Townshend doing his famous windmill. It's been copied over in computer games and sometimes one sees it done half-heartedly or in a slipshod way by others. No one but Townshend has ever done it in a memorable manner and it yields a sound that makes The Who entirely unduplicatable in guitar rock. It is an irreducible piece of the big Br-a-a-a-a-a-a-ng! that Townshend is known for.

And the thing about the Townshend windmill is that it hurts when you do it right. Any old fool can windmill their arm and bounce the palm of their hand or fingers off the guitar's strings.

But Townshend does and did a vicious and wild upstroke against the strings. If one tries that for a set, it rips the bejeezus out of the fingernails and cuticles. Flesh and blood are left hanging upon the instrument. And so hardly anyone can do it except for Pete Townshend.

Included with the DVD set is a videotape of The Who's show in Chicago in 1979. About halfway through "Sparks" and after battering his black Schecter Telecaster, Townshend breaks the high E string. He continues for the rest of the number, shooting off slabby licks, keeping the guitar in tune through a mix of brute force and art.

Previously: Computer game appeals to the pathetic and annoying.


Blogger user_hostile said...


It's easy for outsider's to confuse California State Polytechnic University @ Pomona for California Polytechnic State University @ San Luis Obispo (my alma mater), but the school newspaper? The Mustang Daily is the weekday SLO paper, whereas the Cal Poly Post is Pomona's.

FYI--The only annual meta-academic intercourse between the two schools is the conjointly designed and built Tournament of Roses float.

Go Mustangs!!!

5:55 AM  
Blogger user_hostile said...

Oops, I meant to say Cal Poly's (SLOtown) newspaper is the Mustang Daily.

5:58 AM  

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