In which Jason and Mat Catastrophe review the trailer for Grand Theft Auto V: Michael.
Looks like our Grand Theft Auto V mobster has a few issues to work out with his therapist. He can’t choose between the chaos of a life of crime and the stability of being a family man. You know, the real Grand Theft Auto is the grand theft of his autonomy to be a criminal.
That’d be a good New Yorker cartoon caption, right? Maybe a guy in a burglar mask on a therapist’s couch could say it. Or the therapist could say it to his lady companion as they observe the thief from the sidewalk as he tries to jimmy a car door open with a coat hanger, tongue halfway out of his mouth. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone in a New Yorker cartoon stick out their tongue. Do the people in the world of New Yorker cartoons even have tongues? I guess they just open their mouths and serif fonts just spill right out.
Anyway, I’ve never even been to a therapist. You may have already gathered that from my obsession with the tongues of New Yorker cartoon inhabitants. The closest I’ve come to a psychological examination was a test in elementary school to see if I was eligible for the gifted program. A large portion of the test was a woman saying advanced vocabulary words extremely slowly. Have you ever heard that Sigur Rós song slowed down 800% to a full hour? It was like that, except in a Southern drawl instead of an ethereal Icelandic falsetto. Like if Dolly Parton was speaking Hopelandic and wanted to see how smart you were.
Maybe cash-strapped elementary schools could cut their smart-kid-testing budget and play that Soundcloud link to figure out which kids are qualified for the gifted class. Or at least see which kids want to write for Pitchfork one day. Then again, their Neutral Milk Hotel Trapper Keepers and Terry Gross lunch boxes probably already give them away.
That lady probably should have asked me a few more questions at regular speed before she let me into her Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, though. For my multimedia presentation on the history of music, I got up in front of everyone and said, “Music sure has changed a lot over the years. It’s gone from Beethoven, to Elvis, to THIS.” Then I hit play on a VHS tape of Was (Not Was)’s “Walk the Dinosaur” I’d recorded on my great-grandmother’s VCR, because she had MTV, even though she hated it, because of all the sinful bikinis.
She kept asking, “Are you sure this is for school?” when she saw the cavewomen in bikinis. I’m sure she considered paleolithic semi-nudity an affront to the eyes of God. I have to hand it to my Mema, though—she still let me go through with it.
Anyway, Mat, maybe if I’d slowed down “Walk the Dinosaur” 800% to a full hour as part of my presentation, I would have gotten an A and done something more impressive with my life than review video game trailers.
You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. First off, there are lots worse things one could do than review video game trailers. You could be writing a dissertation on the validity of the Asch paradigm, for instance. After all, that is sort of what I suspect is going on with a lot of these 800% slower tracks online. I mean, you either get the joke of those things and you don’t comment on it, or you don’t get the joke and you talk about how “beautiful” they are. They aren’t really beautiful. They sound exactly like the sound that a pair of mating turtles made in a video I watched in high school, only it takes an hour to get to the orgasm instead of about 30 seconds. You can’t really hear the “subtle nuances” in those tracks because at that speed, everything is a subtle nuance. It’s the opposite of high signal-to-noise, really. It’s so much signal that there’s no noise to keep you focused. That’s what the ‘A’ students are working on right now, by the way; mating turtles and weird psychological experiments on broke freshmen. At least, that’s my thinking on it.
And it could be colored somewhat because I’ve always been fonder of the “Black Sabbath at 78RPM” school of audio fun. I guess it’s sad to admit that my family owned one of those terrible Chipmunks Christmas albums…but I can say it was the only Chipmunks record I can remember owning. I think my mom owned some other ridiculous 7” single that featured a sped-up vocal, but I can’t remember what it was.
I do remember my own weird experience with testing at a young age and it, oddly enough, also featured my own incompetence with a foreign dialect – if a New England accent (or whatever it was) is really foreign to a young boy in the Appalachians (hint: it is). I probably would have done better if I could only have asked her to repeat the question “Hoo meeny piends in a tyne?” so I could give the correct answer of “2,000”. Hindsight is 20/20, so they say. I still came out with an IQ score that I think must be at least 30 points too high and went into gifted classes that were slightly less gifted than they were classes.
At any rate, I am still able to relate to our friend the mobster. I actually did try therapy once. In fact, I went religiously for well over a year until I made a couple of shocking realizations. The first was that I was spending a lot of money every week to sit in a room with someone and essentially talk to myself. The second was that I could do that same thing much cheaper by going to church. And since I gave that up a long time ago, I figured it would be easier to just continue talking to myself for free. I doubt the video game world is ready for that sort of adventure, even if it came with an in-game subscription to the New Yorker.
How about it? Could there be a market for a game catering to a crowd that would like that sort of thing? Could the old DOS-based Eliza therapist be revamped to fit in an open-ended game world?
I also owned those terrible Chipmunks Christmas albums. Although I have to hand it to Alvin and the Chipmunks—they were my first introduction to cover songs.
These days, if I want to hear cover versions of a song, I just search for it on Spotify and listen to every result until I hit one of those “in the style of” karaoke versions, which is a little like accidently hitting the basement button when you meant to hit the lobby button on an elevator—and that elevator takes you to a basement where a tone-deaf man with a synthesizer is playing your favorite song, in the style of Kidz Bop, if someone had thought to lock said Kidz in a basement instead of a recording studio.
But back in the early 80’s, I had to use my tan-and-brown Fisher-Price record player to get my covers fix, by way of playing my mom’s entire record collection at 78 RPM and pretending the Chipmunks were performing all the songs.
Among other popular hits of the day, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore released unofficial cover versions of The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and The Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” on a relatively unknown little indie label called “the kitchen floor next to my Snoopy fire truck.”
Even my He-Man-meets-his-sister-from-another-dimension-and-definitely-does-not-feel-attracted-to-her album version of the movie The Secret of the Sword got Chipmunked.
I drew accompanying illustrations of the Chipmunks as characters from the Masters of the Universe world. Even the Chipmunks’ girlfriends made cameos as Teela and Evil-Lyn, both of whom I definitely was not attracted to (but between you and me and Prince Adam, I might have spent a little too much time drawing their Eternian Chipmunk breasts).
I essentially had a machine that could play a cover of any song I wanted on demand, as long that cover was performed by Alvin and the Chipmunks, and as long as I didn’t mind that they were playing their instruments at twice the normal rate of speed.
Do you think we’ll have machines like that in the future that’ll be able to analyze different musicians, learn the patterns and the nuances of their style, and use that info to play pitch-perfect covers of any song you can think of by any artist you choose? If somebody out there reads this and develops this app, would you mind making the app icon a little tan-and-brown Fisher-Price record player, and also giving me 65% of the profits, because I came up with the idea? Patent pending!
Speaking of the old DOS-based Eliza therapist, we’ll probably need to build a database of artificial-intelligence versions of every recorded musician first, with fully developed thoughts and feelings necessary to replicate their creativity.
And we’ll need to make a virtual world for them to live in so they won’t know they’re living in a simulated reality and can go about living their lives. Otherwise they’ll just sing about living in a computer-generated hell all the time.
Maybe that’s what’s going on with Trent Reznor. The real Trent Reznor died years ago, we’re just listening to his virtual doppelgänger scream about being trapped in a malfunctioning server.
As long as we have a decent soundtrack to The Social Network, I’m fine with it. Got to break a few artificially intelligent eggs to make a digitally created cover-song-omelette, as the man with the keyboard down in the basement playing a passable MIDI version of “Gangnam Style” might tell you.
You know what I would do if I had that app? I’d see how Spoon’s “Nobody Gets Me But You” would sound as played by Alvin and the Chipmunks. No lie—I want that song to be played at my wedding if I ever get married one day, preferably by a man dressed as a chipmunk, wearing He-Man’s Battle Armor.
As awesome as that sounds, let me advise you of one thing pertaining to the music at your possible future nuptials. If there are songs that you do not want heard at your happiest of happy days, make sure that the band or DJ knows they will not be paid if you hear one of those songs. I think I made a list of about ten (more likely one hundred) songs that I said I absolutely did not want to hear on my wedding day and, guess what, the DJ played them.
Every. Last. Fucking. One.
I like to believe that those requests came from my beautiful bride’s friends and family (who I presume have much worse taste in music than I do, because I’m an ass like that), but you never know, I am sure that a certain other contributor to this website requested Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” and I know for a fact which person requested “The Chicken Dance”.
That said, even though I have some fond memories of music from my childhood (and also of that same Fisher-Price record player – the device which also introduced me to the dangers of electricity, but that’s a story for another time, I suppose), I can’t help but wonder why music today is in such a state of fragmented time and space.
Some Friday nights, I make the ill-advised decision to go have a drink at a local bar and the music playlist mostly seems ripped straight from my high school dances. Nestled amongst some of the more annoying earworms of the last decade are songs that I hated as a teenager. As near as I can tell, most of the people “dancing” to these great early 90s smooth/hip-hop/pop rock “hits” were probably all of 3 years old when these songs came out. Some of them were, maybe, ten or twelve – but that’s pushing it almost as hard as it is for me to be out in a bar on a Friday night at my age.
I’m not sure what’s creepier, the guys my age that (try to) dance with girls half their age, or me, the guy who just stands there watching all these strange people attempt to cope with their alcohol intake over the course of a few hours. Either way, I suppose I should know better, but I don’t. Which brings us back around to our middle-aged video game protagonist: maybe in addition to his digital therapist and digitally created music, cut and pasted from the real world of digitally created music, we could add the option of going out to dance in bars with women half his virtual age! That way, I – um, I mean, gamers my age wouldn’t have to feel any weird shame for their nightlife behavior.
After all, isn’t that what games are for?
On consoles September 17, 2013.