Fall of the Guitar Hero
by Vivian Britton
seem so glazed
As he flies on the wings of a dream,
Now he knows his father betrayed
Now his wings turn to ashes to ashes his grave.
Fly, on your way, like an eagle,
Fly as high as the sunÖ
Dickenson refers to the fall of a Greek mythological hero in Iron
Maiden's "Flight of Icarus." But he may as well be
speaking of the tragic figureís modern counterpart, the Guitar Hero,
for he has been dethroned, emasculated, and replaced with a sissified
shell of his former glory.
the rock Guitar Hero of the 60ís, 70ís and 80ís flirted with fire,
flew a little too high, and got burnt in the process. But in his
quest for greatness our hero also transcended the ordinary, and
encountered the mysterious, the supernatural, the divine, returning
to the mundane world with powers previously unrealized. And true
to the archetype, his sacrifice resulted in treasure for us regular
folk Ė in this case, musical treasure. Or at least for those who
appreciate the sublime strains a master can evoke from a Fender
Stratocaster that happens to be on fire.
Born in the
shadow of the baby boom generation, I was too young to have ever
witnessed the wizardry of Jimi
Hendrix live in concert, but I spent a good portion of my teenage
years making up for it. Missing out on the counterculture scene
may have been a good thing, though. By the time I started attending
rock concerts, some of the more lurid aspects associated with the
genre had waned in favor of actual musical talent. And there was
no shortage of it. Guitarists the likes of Jeff
Beck and Eric Clapton finally came into their own, charting
new and improved territory for the electric guitar and popular music.
By the 80ís,
the spectacle of the rock show had reached its climax as the machismo-driven
genre of heavy metal dominated the charts. The Guitar Hero had evolved
into something much larger than life.
Malsteem and Michael
Schenker had synthesized musical elements from the Baroque,
Classical and Romantic periods into their melodic compositions while
continuing to push the limits of technical proficiency. Lyrics touched
on subjects of mythical proportions, but it wasnít the vocalist
the throngs of young men came to see.
On stage, the
Guitar Hero was a god; a veritable master over thousands of entranced,
idolizing multitudes. He was perhaps as close to the idea of Nietzscheís
Übermensch, or Superman, that popular music ever afforded the
common youth. For unlike the Britney Spearsí of the world, he was
more than an object of base desire. He was an object of aspiration.
Through his individual achievement and sacrifice, he had earned
a special place above and apart from the rest of the bandÖthe herd.
And he was very, very good at what he did. Suddenly, it was cool
to aspire to greatness. It was cool to excel. And above all, it
was cool to be your own person.
arose concerning the use of the term "neoclassical"
to describe the subgenre made popular by the above virtuosos. It
is, after all, a bit of a misnomer. Rock guitar was never a traditional
incarnation of classical music, nor did it claim to be. Its practitionerís
simply incorporated classical structures into a popular genre, but
with a focus on speed, presentation, and technical proficiency.
Regardless, their perfectionism inspired a generation of young people
to embrace excellence in their own lives as well.
was one of them. Growing up on a healthy regimen of testosterone-driven
metal drove me to acquire some degree of proficiency on guitar myself,
and along the way, a BA in Music and some might even argue a successful
music career. Where, I wonder, would I be had Britney, Paris, or
any other in a litany of talentless nothings been my role model?
Could meeting todayís musical "talent" engender feelings
of story telling to younger generations or make one head to the
nearest shower to wash the filth off? Not that I ever particularly
needed (or wanted) a path laid out for me by some cultural icon.
I believe that job lies within the sacred realm of the family and
individual. But the regretful truth is we all reflect, at least
to some degree, the culture we grow up in.
The 80ís had
seen rockís pinnacle of guitar prowess and showmanship via melodic
metal, but something foul had been stirring in the countryís northwest
corner. The slovenly, stoop-shouldered beast wore a moth-eaten flannel
shirt, torn jeans, and smelled really, really bad. It couldnít play
guitar or sing in tune, but it had the full backing of cooperate
media. In fact, MTV played Nirvanaís "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
so frequently, the beast itself couldnít believe its undeserved
rise to fame.
The fall came
swiftly in the early 90ís as the musical genius of the Guitar Hero
was usurped by the vilest sound ever to rise from the rain-drenched
gutters of the Emerald City. That "Seattle sound" was
originating from the slang for filthy, dirty, and disgusting. A
fitting term, I think, for a "musical" genre that shunned
manly brilliance in favor of grime and mediocrity. Seattle was the
Liverpool of the 90ís, but unlike Liverpool, it smelled like teen
spirit, or what I like to think of as a teen runaway living on University
Avenue sharing needles and going weeks without a shower.
know. I was there the day the Guitar Hero got buried behind a wall
of sludge so thick his Marshall stack was barely audible even cranked
up to 10.
What a difference
a decade makes.
Much to my
glee, the grunge movement didnít last long. No sooner had its disease
infected the collective conscience of Americaís youth then it was
replaced with the degeneracy of gangsta rap.
But the damage
was already done.
the overwhelming popularity of melodic metal and the millions upon
millions it raked in for the music industry. The corporate media
had made up itís mind the accomplished, masculine Guitar Hero would
forever be replaced by hum-drum, wimpy effeminates on its mainstream
TV and radio waves.
no amount of rain in Seattle will ever wash away the muck of grunge
and the musical devastation it left in its wake. But donít bother
bringing any of this up to todayís teenager. Heís more likely to
equate guitar playing with a video game aptly named, Guitar Hero,
than with a real human being playing a real instrument.
recently did a satirical piece on this disturbing phenomenon. Yes,
I watch those crazy little animatrons so you donít have to. In the
episode, characters Stan and Kyle spend every waking moment playing
with their video game controllers, which resemble guitars in shape,
but not much more. Obsessed with wowing the crowd inside the machine,
the boys work to make every nuance and hand movement perfect, but
to what end? Stanís dad plugs his real guitar into a real
amp and plays a lively rendition of Kansasí "Carry On My Wayward
Son," but the boys are disinterested to the point of disgust.
One leaves the episode wondering how far the boys could have gone
had they only channeled that energy into a real instrument, or for
that matter, a real anything.
to mortal trash, our Hero finally met his demise behind the screen
of a video game. Or at
least thatís what our state-sponsored media would have todayís youth
believe. The truth is, whatís made widely available to the masses
through controlled channels does not necessarily reflect reality
Ė quite the opposite, actually.
I want to hear
the Guitar Hero of the new century. I know heís out there, but where
is he hiding, or rather, where has the music industry hidden him
Greek mythos, the hero is associated with male energies. If I were
blind to this fact, I might dismiss the notion the corporate mediasí
attempt to render this archetype impotent is an attack on all men
everywhere. But archetypal theory isnít completely lost on me, and
I doubt itís lost on the social engineers who decide what the masses
should listen to, admire, and emulate.
wouldnít know it by tuning in your local Top 40 station, but the
Guitar Hero has, in fact, survived the attempts to completely stamp
him out from mass consciousness. He records, tours internationally,
and is aired via independent media. Just donít expect to see him
on MTV anytime soon.
[send her mail]
is an American misanthrope, writer, and musician. When not
sheís busy ripping her extensive 80ís LP collection to MP3 format.
© 2007 Vivian Britton