I’m going to assume that pondering the social impact of games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero is pretty well-trodden critical territory by now. I’m sure that the “why not play a real guitar” position has been taken by plenty of curmudgeons, and that thousands of players have answered with the “shut up, gramps” retort. I’ve remained ambivalent. On one hand, the games might inspire some fresh-faced youngster to pick up a real instrument — fuck that. On the other hand, millions of kids are likely content to pretend-rock and won’t bother playing real music, and anything that prevents teenagers from forming bands is the act of a merciful god.
Reading the music news this week, I suddenly made up my mind on the matter. Check out this quote from the New York Daily News: “Aerosmith on ‘Guitar Hero’? Dream on no longer.” Putting aside the absurdly tortured language of that statement — no, actually, let’s not put it aside. “Dream on no longer?” Jesus! Anyway, the article reveals that we’ll soon be treated to a totally Aerosmith-based edition of Guitar Hero, one that will let players rock their asses off to tons of ’Smith classics. Well, that does it: I now hate Guitar Hero, because I hate anything bearing the word ‘Aerosmith’ that isn’t a fucking gravestone.
I’m not sure what it is about the Bad Boys from Boston that gets my hackles in such an instant state of erection. No, that’s a lie. I was just trying to sound pensive and equivocal to disguise the way I’m completely biased against them. In truth, I know exactly what I hate about Aerosmith: everything. I passionately and justifiably hate their music; they’ve produced an incalculable number of terrible hit singles. Too many to count. One would have to express their bad-song output not as a simple number but as a percentage of all bad songs. Somewhere around seven percent, I reckon.
For a jarring reminder of their accomplishments, check out Steven Tyler’s humble little ode to himself in the Guitar Hero press release: “Any band that can go from ‘Don’t Want To Miss a Thing’ to the ass-kicking ‘Sweet Emotion’ to the cheekiness of ‘Love in an Elevator’ to the classic ballad ‘Dream On’ shows why Activision chose us to headline this game based on the diversity of the Aerosmith catalogue.” Again, speaking of tortured English . . . any band shows why what, now?
As a concept, they’re the most potent image of artistic bankruptcy that you could ever hope for, and their existence drags down rock as a whole. Aside from their numerous, well-documented offenses against taste and credibility — their reliance on gross pop songwriters like Diane Warren and Desmond Child to pen their testicle-chilling, near-identical power ballads, for example — they’ve come to embody one of the sneakiest archetypes of worthless rockers: the elder statesmen. Look for that term in any article about a critically derided band who’ve stuck around long enough to earn grudging, strictly-by-default respect. This “if you can’t beat ’em . . . ” attitude has allowed too many godawful acts to snap out of their cocaine stupors and find themselves performing at their own Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, and we can’t let it happen again.
It’s exactly this elder-statesmen reputation, in fact, that puts Aerosmith in the perfect position for Guitar Hero. Their longevity makes them appear credible to the naked eye, and their stockpile of well-known tunes makes them a good draw for gamers who don’t really know jack shit about rock.
For Activision, they’re heaven-sent. They’re big enough to create press-release earthquakes whenever they shake hands with a suit, and they’re loose enough to accept money from pretty much all comers. They’re recognizable to all ages, inoffensive to most demographics, and completely fucking for sale. Their shameless history of selling out makes them gorgeous to suits who need a house band for a big-money project where music is mostly irrelevant: Super Bowl halftime shows, car commercials, Target commercials, Gap commercials, camera commercials, blockbuster-movie soundtracks, and whatever else pays. They’re a commodity, and you can buy them this summer for your favorite home gaming console.
Postscript: I’ll admit, however, that the Guitar Hero concept is a lot less retarded than Aerosmith’s previous video game. For those too young or lucky to remember, the band lent its name, music, and likeness (and anything else that was for sale) to a preposterous 1994 arcade game called Revolution X, in which the player was asked to defeat a dystopian government that had outlawed all music and video games. (I’m not sure I’d mind.) In the process, the player could earn extra points by rescuing the kidnapped members of Aerosmith — which put them in the ignominious “Princess Peach” role. I played it, and it was as bad as it sounds.
Aggrieved Aerosmith fans can e-mail the author at email@example.com for a full apology.