Sunday, December 20, 2009

Maybe I wasn't cut out to be a Beatle?

So I finally got my chance to play Beatles Rock Band when some friends invited me to play it at a little soiree Sunday evening. Now I'm wondering if I was ever meant to be a Beatle at all.

If you know me, that's sort of an astonishing statement. For nearly 30 years now I've been known as a Beatlemaniac par excellence. It was my primary claim to fame in high school. Everybody knew me as "the kid who liked the Beatles." So in-depth was my knowledge that one of my classmates (and now dearest friends) made a game out of it: She would always ask me "What was the Xth word of the Yth song on the Zth album?" And I would be able to answer her like THAT (insert finger snap here).

So, playing Beatles Rock Band should be a *snap* for me, right?

Weeeeellllllll ....

OK, here's the thing. I'm pretty plugged into pop culture, except in one area: video games. Why? Because I suck at them. I've never owned a video game console - not even an old Atari 2600. A few exceptions aside, the games frustrate me endlessly and are not fun for me.  Most games require hand/eye coordination and manual dexterity - neither of which is my strong suit.

Still, I held out hope that my depth of Beatles knowledge would trump my shallow physical abilities.  "I know the Beatles' songs inside and out," I told myself. "How hard can it be?"

(Insert foreboding minor chord here, a la "A Day in the Life")

Things started well enough at first. I loved the detail that was crammed into the game, and the voice of the "recording engineer" even sounded a bit like Norman Smith, the Beatles' chief man behind the console from 1962 to 1965. (Yes, I'm proud to be a big enough geek to know the engineers' names.)

And then something funny happened. The game played to the OPPOSITE of my musical abilities.

You see, at one time I could play a decent bass. I got one when I was just 17 (you know what I mean), and of course, I wanted to be Paul McCartney. I made pretty decent runs at playing "Twist and Shout," "And I Love Her," "Day Tripper," and "Taxman," among others. Still, when I didn't get as good as Paul in six months, I decided bass playing wasn't my bag and I became a writer instead.

As for my singing, I have been told - to my face - that I can't carry a tune in a bucket. Another of my dear friends, who is quite a talented singer, told me gently once that I was "pretty bad."

So imagine my surprise when I absolutely ACED the singing in the game - and then looked like a joker in the guitar-playing part!

For those of you not familiar with Rock Band, the game works like this: You can be a singer, a guitarist/bassist or a drummer. You watch the screen for prompts and you do your best to follow along.

For the singing, that's pretty easy. It's not unlike karaoke. I was worried at first that the game took pitch into account, but worry evaporated as soon as I tore into "Come Together." Shoot me, I SOARED on it, getting even the smallest vocal nuances right. (It has you do all the "Ohs" "Ahs" and the like.) My only difficulty was pitch on some of the long high notes, but for the most part, I was scoring in the high 90s. Even got a few 100s.

I knew better than to try my hand (and foot) at the drums, especially when I saw there was  a bass drum pedal. There was no way in hell I could get the hang of that. Still, I thought I could make at least a decent run at the guitar since I sorta played once and knew the songs by heart, right?

Wrong.  Here come the manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination.

The way this part of the game operates, you have to press the color-coded keys on the electronic guitar to match the sequence on the screen. It's kind of like an elaborate version of that old game Simon, only Rock Band doesn't electronically razz you, thank god. Because if it did, my soul would turn into rubber. While my guitar gently weeps, indeed.

I picked songs I thought would be easy. After all, "Getting Better" and "Hello Goodbye" don't have very tricky guitar lines. Still, as I flailed around on the fret board, my frustration rose as my score plummeted. I would mention what my numbers were, but I dare not say, because my friend who played the song lyrics game with me would never let me hear the end of it - and she's probably reading this, so I'm digging in deep already. You might even say I'm fixing a hole.

Did I still  have fun? Oh sure, as long as I was singing. But suddenly I'm glad I didn't ask for the game for Christmas. Otherwise the console would come OUT through the bathroom window!


  1. I think that I have heard it said, "Practice make perfect." Outside of the game, who is really keeping score. Just have fun!

  2. If it makes you feel any better, Eric, I suck at it too. And I'm pretty good at the other Guitar Hero games - I think it's tricky somehow. Or my batteries are dying. Or . So you're absolutely not alone!

  3. Some games are better left admired from a distance. I'm glad you've got the singing part nailed. :^D