Friday, July 24, 2009

Clive Burton Died And All I Got Was 2nd Edition AD&D

Let me just apologize in advance if I offend anyone.

As I look over last-night’s beer-soaked rambling (and gave up trying to edit it into coherence) I recall a conversation I had with a buddy at the brewery (it was an outdoor screening of National Lampoon’s Vacation/kielbasa feed/beer fest in case anyone was wondering). Part of the pre-film activities included the raffling of several sets of tickets to the upcoming “Motley Crue Fest.” I told my buddy, “damn, I wish I’d got here earlier to get in the contest.” He said, “I was never much of a Crue fan.”

“Yeah, that’s ‘cause YOU are a baby,” says I. Hey, at least he liked Pantera and Sepultura (which I do NOT, but at least I can appreciate their musicianship).

I, like a lot of people, identify different musical albums…even different songs and musicians…with different periods of my life, and ESPECIALLY with gaming. For me, they’re fairly inseparable, although I have never subscribed to the practice of playing music to enhance gaming (I think White Wolf were the first ones to promote this, but it’s been awhile since I’ve looked at the Vampire Storyteller’s Guide). For me, I listened to music while reading game rules, designing adventures, or rolling up characters. And it’s why say, I equate Faith No More with Vampire and Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti with Rifts. That’s what I was listening to at the time, over-and-over again.

I am a rock guy mostly, though I enjoy a lot of other music (especially Prince, mariachi music, and several classical German composers). But mostly rock and heavy metal. Now I realize that I’m a "niche market" these days, because Metal music pretty much died in 1988, but back in its day it was THE music to listen to. People like Michael Jackson were not called “pop stars” they were called “rock stars.” Elvis and the Beetles played “Rock and Roll” music. Rock has such a bad name these days that in the 90’s they had to brand rock bands as “alternative” music…I guess as an alternative to listening to something that sucked shit.

(as I said, I know peoples’ music is precious to them…I apologize if my personal opinions get the goat of anyone)

For a kid growing up playing D&D in the early 80s, rock music was what we listened to. Oh, there was “Waver” (New Wave) music on the radio, but especially circa 1985-87 we were into rock. You know, like balls to the wall Def Lepard and Scorpions. Guns N Roses released Appetite For Destruction in 1987, and I am convinced it was the last great, commercially released rock album of the 1980s.

[Well, wait a second, I forgot Queensryche’s Operation MindCrime, when was that…1988? Well, it was a “concept album” after all, and not the same kind of music…ha! It had a PLOT just like Dragon Lance! Yes, I intend to tie this post into gaming]

1985-1987…those were big years. Metallica was peaking in their creativity (with Master of Puppets), Megadeth was out there (wasn’t a big fan at the time, though people tell me their music was better before Mustaine “found Jesus”). The Scorpions were still making great music. Def Lepard released Hysteria and showed a one-armed drummer could still kick ass.

Of course, there was already some decline there. Iron Maiden’s 7th Son of a 7th Son and Somewhere in Time weren’t nearly as good as earlier albums. Judas Priest hit the skids after 1985 (though I didn’t start listening to them myself till the late 1990s). Ozzy was good, but not great. Sammy Hagar replaced Diamond Dave (which has been debated as both a good and bad thing, I know). And Motley Crue Girls, Girls, Girls was such a step down from Shout At The Devil that it was going to set a terrible, terrible precedent of things to come.

(for non-metal fans there was also good rock music at this time from the likes of Springsteen, Mellancamp, Bon Jovi, etc.)

The point is, though, that “rock” music was still considered pop. And D&D (and gaming) was still a pretty popular hobby…so much so that most folks you talk to today that were born in the 1970s will know what “D&D” is, even though they may never have played. Not like today, when “RPG” means “video game” and the table-top hobby is considered a niche market…kind of like rock. So what the hell happened?

I don’t know. Halley’s Comet reappeared? Bush Sr. got elected? Kiss took off their make-up?

Honestly, I don’t really know, but pop music becomes Milli Vanilli and New Kids On The Block in 1988 and ’89, and AD&D 2nd edition gets released.

Talk about “the day the music died!”

Glam rock killed metal as “popular music.” Or maybe popularity and money killed metal music and glam bands (like Poison, like Warrant, like Winger, like Babylon A.D., like Whitesnake (sell-outs!), like post-’87 Bon Jovi and Crue, etc. as nauseum) were the symptom. The good stuff, the hard stuff, the ROCK stuff, became niche or nostalgia or simply went away.

Yes, Metallica puts out “…And Justice For All” in 1988. Yes, Skid Row (whose vocal chops are excellent) tried to metal up glam in 1989. But the former isn’t nearly as concise as Metallica’s earlier work and SR lacks the content and, frankly, the balls of its predecessors.

Again, this is NOT to say there wasn’t good music or good bands, but I’m talking COMMERCIAL albums…lots of air play and “buzz.” I’m talking about what was “pop” and in the public eye.

When good rock (excuse me…”alternative”) music starts making its way back into the mainstream, it’s the 90’s…around the same time that White Wolf is taking off and TSR is going down in flames. But neither the hobby, nor rock music, has ever regained the popularity it once held.

And maybe it never will. But fads and musical tastes are supposed to move in cycles of 20 years (or so I read somewhere). Maybe RPGs will follow suit.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I definitely feel the same way, even though I came of age in the 90s.

    I look at both grunge and 2e as the last gasps of greatness; they might not have been as great as the stuff of the 70s and 80s, but they were good enough and better than the drek of today.

    (Incidentally, my own Physical Graffiti association is tied in with reading through 2e supplements. Talking Heads always call up memories of GURPS, and the "Some Girls" album by the Rolling Stones will forever be linked to reading the 2e DMG.)

    With both RPGs and rock, I definitely had the sensation of "whoa, when did this major sea change occur and where the hell was I?"

    Here's to hoping you're right about 20 year cycles, both for RPGs and for rock. It always heartens me to see teenagers going back and discovering amazing music from days of yore and realizing it's not all about mass-produced hip hop schlock and emo-screamo BS.