Avatars appearing in popular rhythm games are inciting the outrage of music fans and artists alike. Taking the experience of feeling like playing in a blockbuster rock band to a new level, games like Band Hero and Guitar Hero 5 allow players to give themselves the appearance in-game of their favorite rock stars. While the experiment was an almost universal success with Slash in Guitar Hero 3, the developers behind the breakthrough hits are discovering in iteration that few other rock stars are taking kindly to computerized visages of themselves appearing in their pantomime experiences.
Gwen Stefani and No Doubt have filed suit against Activision claiming the video game maker “transformed No Doubt band members into a virtual karaoke circus act.” Courtney Love and the former members of Nirvana have threatened the same over an avatar of Kurt Cobain, saying “It’s hard to watch an image of Kurt pantomiming other artists’ music alongside cartoon characters.” Players have filled YouTube with images of Johnny Cash singing The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” and Kurt Cobain giving a rousing rendition of Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.”
While that controversy is brought to a boil, rock and roll tragedy of a different sort starts to land on retail shelves. Songwriting legend Bob Dylan has released his first Christmas record Christmas in the Heart to the simultaneous disgust of popular criticism and joy of big box cash registers. The record’s royalties going to charity may be in the true spirit of Christmas, its content remains entirely in that of the 21st century’s commercial holiday.
This record is not an artistic reinterpretation of Christmas standards by the longtime master of American folk songwriting. This thing is an abomination; a shambling derivative, pure-Nashville foray into pitch perfect cliche. Only moments into the video for the polka single “Must Be Santa” and the horror starts to knot into the listener’s gut, each note tolling like a gravedigger’s bell to get to burying the reputation of the one man the music industry supposedly could never buy.
It leads the post-modern music consumer to wonder which is the most vile parody – rock and roll artists represented in pixels or those same rock and roll artists representing themselves?
How can we parse Courtney Love flips her often used middle finger at corporate America for exploiting her husband’s image while she releases a DVD of Cobain’s personal video project in 2006, an uncut DVD of his Unplugged appearance in 2007 and a live record of Nirvana’s performance at Reading Festival in 2009? How can we reconcile Gwen Stefani’s artistic outrage over her likeness appearing during other people’s songs in Band Hero just a few years after she sang “Walk This Way” at a Super Bowl halftime show? And how can we take seriously the music industry’s claim they are getting insufficient compensation for the popularity of music games when they just put out a Christmas record like Bob Dylan’s?
It seems the first industry in America to go entirely green is corporate rock and roll – they’ve been recycling everything for years. Whether it Elvis Presley singing Slipknot or a band without Bradley calling themselves Sublime, they are all manifestations of the same modern model of the business of music: license exploitation. Whether it is Guitar Hero 5 or Christmas in the Heart, all we are doing is buying the familiar brand names on shit warmed over.
If these artists can file suit over consumers getting to pretend they are them for a few minutes, maybe music lovers have a class action claim against a music industry pretending to be the same one it was a quarter century ago.
I wonder what kind of damages the 45 minutes of my life gone from listening to Bob Dylan’s Christmas record would fetch.