The Day The Music Died: Looking Back On Rock Band
On February 18th, 2013 Harmonix formally announced the end of weekly DLC tracks, ending a 275 week streak that consisted of over 4000 songs. A few weeks later, Don McLean’s “American Pie” was released as a fitting final song. Although I’ve played Rock Band less and less over the past few years, it really feels like the end of an era for me.
Harmonix started the plastic instrument revolution by releasing Guitar Hero in 2005 and Guitar Hero II in 2006 to much acclaim, but they had a grander vision of what music games could be. This vision was finally realized when they were able to unveil Rock Band in 2007. In addition to the guitar and bass, Rock Band added vocals and drums. Not only did they add them, but they allowed them to be playable at the same time by four people; you could have a faux rock band in your living room! I mean, who hasn’t at least hummed along to their favorite song or tapped their hands and feet to a beat? I remember seeing the big reveal on stage at E3, complete with Peter Moore goof-ups and all:
I was totally blown away. I enjoyed drumming, but I was a complete beginner, only able to hold simple beats. I didn’t even have my own drumset. Then Harmonix comes along and tells me that I can drum along to some of my favorite artists and actually feel like a rock star in the process? Sold. At work, my co-worker and I raved over this new game and were convinced enough to drop a preorder on it. He could actually play guitar and bass, but that didn’t matter, because Rock Band gave us a new way to rock out together. So in late November, right after three of us got off work at 6:30, we rushed to my friend’s house and tore into the giant package Amazon delivered. It was very exciting as we assembled the drumset and guitars; it was our first step into rockstardom. To this day, I still can’t remember what our first song was. All I can remember is that we were terrible! I couldn’t say on beat with the drums, our singer was off key, and my bassist friend was quickly realizing his hand/eye coordination wasn’t as good as he thought. But we were having fun. A whole lot of it. We played till about 10 or 11, switching instruments, unlocking new songs, and just having a blast. We didn’t stop because we were tired, quite the contrary. We stopped so we could pick up our fourth band member who just got off work and to grab some snacks. Now we had a bassist, we were a complete band. Banana Hammock Panic was born and ready to tour the world!
Over the next several years, “band practice” became a real thing for the four of us. Rock Band gave us an a reason to come together at least once a week and rock out. For the longest time, we would chip in and split the cost of the new DLC tracks each week. So when we showed up on Saturday morning, we’d have new songs to play, new artists we had never listened to that we enjoyed, and tons of new goals to accomplish. Across Rock Band and Rock Band 2, we tracked our band on the leaderboards, amassed millions of fans, conquered goals, and even defeated both Endless Setlists! We cheered when we passed difficult songs, and booed when a certain bassist didn’t get the vibe that the rest of us were about to 100% the song. The Beatles: Rock Band was very exciting for us, being able to play along to those great classics as well as struggling to nail those three part harmonies. I must admit that being able to play the entirety of Abbey Road was beyond amazing. But by the time Rock Band 3 came out, life was starting to take it’s toll on the band. While Pro Mode, keyboards, and more vocal harmonies gave us so much more to do, it was harder and harder for all of us to make weekly practices. Eventually, our bassist and singer had to move away for work and school respectively. Online mode allowed us pop in once in a while, but for the most part, BHP was on indefinite hiatus.
Following the breakup of the band, I continued on a rather unremarkable solo career. I continued playing drums which I comfortably do on Pro Expert now. For about a week or so, I even played with the Pro Fender Mustang guitar, which helped me realize I don’t really have a future in stringed instruments. But for the most part, my love for Rock Band had kind of… faded away. There was just not much else for me to do in the game, I guess I was burnt out on it. I went from playing weekly to monthly, to even less frequently than that. When I did play, I definitely maximized my playing time, rocking out for an hour or two, or at least until my endurance was sapped. I’d pick up the occasional song that I wanted to play, or pull out all the instruments for some extra fun during a gathering, but for the most part, the game was shelved… Until Harmonix dropped the bomb that DLC was coming to an end. Even though I had largely moved on, it still felt like a shot to my gut. It was then, that I realized it’s been nearly 5 years since Rock Band invaded my living room and that it was more or less coming to an (un)official end. Though I really slowed down on my DLC purchases, I would always look at the release list for that week in hopes that an artist I liked, or a song I wanted to play happened to make the cut that week. Those hopes evaporated with that announcement. But there was still time for one final plea:
.@RockBand Also, I've got $5 that says the final DLC is "Closing Time" by Semisonic.
— Joseph (@jukkakhan) February 18, 2013
@RockBand I really hope it is. But if it's not, I'm totally printing out this Twitter conversation and sending it with my $5. Just saying.
— Joseph (@jukkakhan) February 19, 2013
@jukkakhan We wouldn’t hold you to that. ;)
— Rock Band (@RockBand) February 19, 2013
Which lead to this a few weeks later:
— Rock Band (@RockBand) April 11, 2013
In the grand scheme of things, that $5 was a drop in the bucket compared to how much entertainment and enjoyment Rock Band has given me over the last 5 years. I’ve gotten to hang out with 3 of my good friends, listen/play to tons of good music, and pretend to be a rock superstar. There are so many artists that I started listening to because I was exposed to them on Rock Band. Playing all those Rush songs finally pushed me to attend my first Rush concert, and it was definitely one of my favorite concerts out of the many I’ve attended! I can honestly say that working my way up from Medium to Pro Expert has actually made me a better drummer. I went from barely able to hold a basic beat, to being able to do some pretty decent stuff. I was good enough that two of my Rock Band band members recruited me to jam with them on drums and play some covers as a “real” band. Though the music may have stopped, the memories and legacy will never die.
After the release of “American Pie,” I made one last big push in my Rock Band career, trying to obtain something that had eluded me for years. It took a while to dust off those cobwebs and get back into the groove of things, but it was really like getting back on a bicycle. On April 12th, 2013, I finally obtained my Platinum Trophy for Rock Band 3. Sure it’s just a virtual accomplishment, but to me, with all the history behind my Rock Band career, it feels like a Platinum Record. Thanks Harmonix!