Won't you tell me...where have all the guitar heroes gone? The most popular video game in the universe right now is Guitar Hero, yet, I dare you, DARE YOU, to name one modern guitar hero. I came of age in an era of music where the band was generally judged as much by the quality of the guitar player as it was the singer's voice. We judged guitar players on everything from their riffs, tone, solos, stage presence, and the brand and look of their guitars. For crying out loud, C.C. Deville was a lousy guitar player, yet, we all knew who he was. Quick someone name the guitar player in Nickleback....see, you can't do it. So why is a generation deprived of guitar heroes crazy about a game called Guitar Hero?
Obviously, the game is a lot of fun. The guitar controller itself looks cool. Outside of sports games, I'm not much of a gamer. I struggle at Guitar Hero. But the young people tell me the game play is challenging but not overly so. What's amazing is the songs in Guitar Hero are the songs of my youth.....and more shocking is that the kids playing the game love them. So with a new younger fan base introduced to Iron Maiden, the Sex Pistols, Dio, and others...why aren't kids buying music from real life guitar heroes?
My own guitar playing skills were limited to three chords and a cloud of dust. Yet I read the guitar magazines to learn the ins and outs of their style. My all time favorite "guitar hero" was Stevie Ray Vaughn. Something about that sound and the feeling in his playing still hits home with me nearly 20 years since his death. Eddie Van Halen, before he formed the unholy alliance with Sammy Hagar, boggled the mind. He inspired more kids to pick up a guitar than any other player. I love Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols...his playing was sloppy and simple but it was that fury in his instrument that hooked me. You can hear Steve Jones in Slash's playing. Brian Setzer introduced me to rockabilly and I still look forward to hearing what he's up to. The thing that makes Setzer so great is that he truly gets what the guitar is all about. Its fun. He may not be an innovator like Hendrix or Van Halen, but he's a caretaker of the power of rock music. Last but not least in my top 5 (which does change from time to time) is Tony Iommi. Iommi's playing was beyond heavy. I think I was 15 before I could listen to "War Pigs" or the song "Black Sabbath" while home alone. That was some scary stuff. Amazing tone and just killer riffs. Iommi is truly one of the most underrated guitar players of all time.
I blame a couple of things for the death of the guitar hero...One was Guns and Roses Appetite for Destruction. I consider this record to be the last big rock record ever made. This was the record, not the overrated Nevermind by Nirvana, that killed off hair metal and the guitar heroes. It was raw, it was sloppy, it was about attitude not flash. Slash became a guitar hero but he was more Keith Richards or Joe Perry and less Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. Slash ripped off some great riffs and its those riffs, not the solos, that you remember.
The next thing that killed the guitar hero was MTV....the grunge explosion and MTV's decision to stop running essentially any song that contained a guitar solo did more to end the guitar hero than anything else. A whole generation of musicians was wiped out as quickly as the dinosaurs when the meteor hit. Left in their wake were a bunch of flannel wearing Cobain knockoffs who played joyless, soundalike music in drop D.
While grunge disappeared, its influence continues to be felt in mainstream music (there are still guys who take pride in their guitar playing...but you have to go in search of them...they are the Fuller Brush Men of music). So I see the popularity of the Guitar Hero game as an audience rising up to the music biz and telling them that they've had enough of the soulless and joyless music they've been exposed to since they were a fetus. Since its creation the election guitar has represented joy, fun, self expression, and escape from a mundane life. Many a kid thought to himself "if I could just learn to play the guitar I can get the girl, I can get the fast car, I can get the money." Everyone who has ever put a guitar strap around their shoulder can tell you they feel more confident and powerful with the guitar on...even if it has multicolored buttons and is plugged into a Playstation.
Still...wouldn't the world be better off if the people playing Guitar Hero actually learned how to play a real guitar?