Sunday, January 24, 2010
In the last month, I've spent too many hours in front of the television, a plastic bass guitar hanging around my hips, swaying back and forth like some sort of "American Idol" also-ran to the music of the Beatles.
However, believe it or not,this has led to a number of life-affirming epiphanies. The first is, even with the Beatles singing along beside me, I still can't sing. I sound like Lou Reed with a sinus infection. But, the other moments of enlightenment I've had, while perhaps a tad obvious, were mightily reinforced by this simple little interactive Wii game called "Beatles Rock Band". Here's what John, Paul, George and, yes, even Ringo, have managed to remind me of in the past month.
1) Perfection is Overrated
Even Tony Robbins says, "Perfect is a lousy goal. Be outstanding." The reason: once we fail to attain perfection, we slack off - with goals ranging from exercise to efficiency. So, when I'm playing my Hofner bass on medium difficulty, and am two-thirds of the way through "I'm Looking Through You" without missing a note, I panic. I'm close to a perfect score, and like a pitcher who is two outs from a no-hitter, I falter. I botch a note. Game over. But then, I can relax. At that point, my goal becomes 99%, and that...is attainable. If I go through life giving 100%, and scoring a 99 most of the time, I will have lived very well indeed.
2) Turn Off Your Mind, Relax, and Float Down Stream
John was a wise man indeed. This lyric from "Tomorrow Never Knows" applies mightily to Rock Band and life itself. When I think about the notes I'm playing, I get in my head, and I start missing cues left and right. When I just groove to the music, and find the inevitable sway of the songs, I lock in and the playing is effortless. That's why the word 'jam' has two meanings - one is when you're stuck in a rut, the other is when you just flow with the music that surrounds you.
3) Come Together
Sure, you can play Rock Band by yourself: if you've gotten your kids to sleep, chloroformed your spouse and have the volume turned down low. Seriously, getting to go solo is a rare treat. However, the whole point of Rock Band, to me, is community. My kids fight over every board game or card game we propose, and then sometimes, when they do agree on a game, Wendy and I have to grit our teeth and pretend it's one of our favorites as well. Music, however, knows no generation gap, be it between parent and child or a nine and seven year old. Rock Band has brought us together, night after night, to enjoy something we all truly love: the music of the Beatles. It's sad that an electronic toy has to be a catalyst, but hey, it beats staring at the TV.
4) And Your Bird Can Sing
I can hear Grady and Maggie finding their way into good pitch control and could see them having really good singing voices as they mature. But, that must be a very recessive gene, as Wendy and I are borderline tone-deaf. My greatest regret in life - one of them anyway - is that I cannot sing. I've often thought of that old Robert Johnson myth about the devil at the crossroads and wondered if I would sell my own soul to have a voice like Van Morrison, Don Henley, or Tony Bennett. I might not sell my soul to the devil, but I'd be happy to give him our spare bedroom.
With Rock Band, everyone gets to sing, for better or worse, as if they are a true jukebox hero. It reminds you that, as long as you're a rock star in your own mind, the rest of the world really doesn't matter. Nor do they need to know. It's just gentle subtext to carry with you from day to day, just like the invisible cape I sometimes imagine flowing from my shoulders. Oh...was that my outside voice?
5) Still Waters Run Deep
John was always my favorite Beatle. My three favorite Beatles songs are "A Day in the Life", "Come Together", and "I Am the Walrus", with "Dear Prudence" on their heels. So, of course it's John. However, the one who has really surprised me during our Rock Band experience has been George. I always enjoyed George's songs, and knew he was likely the most pure musician in the group (certainly the most accomplished guitarist), but wow, the texture of his tunes really makes me realize just how vital he was to the Beatles success. He only wrote about 15-20 songs that the Beatles released, but what a collection: "Here Comes the Sun", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "I Me Mine", "Something", "If I Needed Someone", "Taxman". And "Within You Without You" used to be the track I always skipped on "Sgt Pepper's". Now, I'm mesmerized by it. Just goes to show you, sometimes it is the most unassuming person who is doing the richest work. They were all fine musicians, but George mixed spirituality and sitar appreciation in a way none of the other guys could touch. Thanks, George.
6) Unlocking the Mystery of Life
The Beatles Rock Band disc comes with 45 songs. 44 are available immediately, then the final one - "The End" - must be unlocked after an interactive journey through the band's musical career. So, you've gotta do some work - some seeking - to get this last tune. When you do, it only has two lines of lyrics to offer to the listener:
"And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make."
Jesus said it. Buddha said it. Paul (McCartney) said it. It's a truth so simple it could fit inside a fortune cookie, yet so complex that only a rare few embody its wisdom as a way of life. But, hopefully, we're all trying. When I sing this lyric with my kids, I feel like it's all they really need to know to have a blessed life.
'cause all ya need is love, right?