Ten years since the launch of the popular video game, Getintothis’ Jamie Carragher reminisces about the good old days of Guitar Hero.
Whatever happened to the Guitar Heroes? Can it really be a decade since Guitar Hero first came on the scene and completely reconfigured the cultural landscape as we know it? Not quite, it’s only been nine years but there’s a deadline and we’re struggling for features.
The release of Guitar Hero in 2006 was the logical conclusion to the democratisation of music that occurred towards the back end of the 20th century. Guitar Hero was the much needed remedy for those who wanted to get on in music without musical accomplishment getting in the way. But to rephrase Radiohead, anyone can play Guitar Hero (but who exactly would want to?). Well I was there, at the start, when the movement was germinating this side of the Atlantic and all the art house wankers on the South Bank and at Q declared it would never catch on. They weren’t half wrong. They were fully wrong.
In 2007 a bunch of us were sagging school and buying cigs when Fat Gaz invited us round Chez His. Honestly, I wasn’t keen because his Mum had far too many cats. But we went anyway and it just so happened that in his sitting room, over by the fireplace, leaning against his off-off-white sofa, was one of those shitting cats. And next to that cat was a Guitar Hero guitar. And next to that was another cat.
None of us had seen anything like it. ‘What the fuck’s that, Fat Gaz?’ I boomed. I was even more detestable back then. ‘Yeah, what the fuck??’ Jimmy chimed in, pretty much reinforcing the wonderment I had just expressed. I was threatening to leave, when, without further ado, Fat Gaz flicked on the tube, booted up the console and proceeded to send a shockwave through the musical-neigh-political status quo. He absolutely nailed the lead guitar for Hotel California on medium mode, whatever that was, and it was bloody brilliant. I couldn’t have left, even if I had wanted to.
On that very day, in that very room, the group called Nameless was formed. As owner of the game, Fat Gaz naturally became the band’s front man despite his utter lack of singing ability and charisma. The rest of Nameless assembled (literally) around Fat Gaz: Jimmy on bass, Red Reg on guitar and Jody Miller on the drums. Jody Miller. I could only watch on, dumbstruck, as the fittest girl from Parkfield Secondary School mastered the intricacies of the 4/4 beat on some plastic pads. Could she play the fills? No, not really but that was the point. Well it wasn’t the point but God – it was Jody Miller, you know?
The one time Jody did complete a drum fill properly she was so overcome with animal power that she dropped her sticks, marched me outside and snogged me so hard against the wheelie bins I had a groove in my back for a week and a half. She didn’t even know who I was. I was just the first person within her field of vision and, let me tell you, I wasn’t complaining. I did have a bit of a moan about the back but not to her face. Took it out on my little cousin Terry instead.
Nameless went from strength to strength, sweeping up all the accolades worth bothering about including the much coveted Band Hero award for (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, the brackets for which have always intrigued me. Jimmy, who’d been trained in classical Spanish guitar, sold his family’s Alhambra in order to concentrate on the Playstation bass and swore never to return to real guitar, acoustic or otherwise. It really was a time of staunchly drawn battle lines; there was an iconoclasm and cultural conviction that the current generations can only dream about.
Meanwhile, Red Reg was carving out his own unique style. A self-professed ‘fret wanker’ with a tendency for launching into a knee slide at any opportunity, his now much imitated manner of playing became known as ‘Double Whammy²’. The pieces were falling into place.
Eight years on from the band’s formation, I spoke to Jody Miller about the glory days. She now has her own air freshener company and she’s got a family too. ‘I can remember the night we got spotted,’ Jody tells me, wearing a Christmas tree car freshener as a necklace, ‘We got spotted by Jan, the old Czech man from next door. He leaned over the fence and told us to turn it down.’ ‘And what did you do?’ ‘We turned it up.’
This was symptomatic of everything the group stood for. Red Reg (now just ‘Reg’) agrees. ‘The older generations didn’t understand us, and we liked that fine.’ I ask Jimmy for his favourite thing about the group. He strokes his chin for 20 seconds. He exhales loudly and asks me to repeat the question. So I do.
‘Oh I know – it introduced us to cool bands. Thanks to Guitar Hero we knew at least, and at most, one song for all the good bands. People would say ‘You know the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs?’ and I’d go ‘Yeah: Maps’ and look at them like they’d just asked me something offensively stupid.’
They all clam up when I turn my attention to their touring days. Suddenly, they no longer want to recall. As an eyewitness to the hedonistic escapades, I can see why. Though they’d never admit it now, the night they dragged the gear round to Timothy Steel’s basement the entire band was up till quarter to one in the morning, hepped up on Dominos and Sprite. So was I of course, but I didn’t have to play in front of three other people. Funny, you wouldn’t have known they were off their heads: they were note perfect on easy.
‘It was almost as if we were so worried about seeming bad, or a bit hypo, that we pulled it out the bag.’ is Reg’s assessment of the bewildering Steel basement gig. Equally as raucous was the New Year’s Eve shindig that took place at Jimmy’s Nan’s back in 2009. Just as Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards were denied access to Studio 54, New Year’s Eve 1977, Clara Waits had made it quite clear that if any of our gang came near her party she’d batter us all personally. The band turned rejection into art, and that night Fat Gaz sung a particularly doleful version of Mr. Brightside that will never be forgotten. Finally, somebody was speaking up for us, the disenfranchised youth (me, Suzie Manning and Tim Steel).
As good as that New Year’s was, even then I knew the wheels were coming off the wagon. Fat Gaz was no longer in full control of the band. Red Reg’s knee slides could be directly linked to far too many feline fatalities.
In the end, it was Jimmy who left Nameless first. He was quickly followed by Jody who got hitched to the son of a local business man. Remembering the sudden collapse of the group, Fat Gaz looks as melancholy as the night he howled out Mr. Brightside. His conclusion? ‘Jimmy quit, Jody got married. Should have known we’d never get far.’
When I raise the possibility of a reunion all four are forthright with their doubts, from Jimmy (‘The moment’s gone. The world’s moved on.’) to Fat Gaz (‘Think the disc’s scratched, mate.’) Perhaps it’s for the best. Cut short in its prime, Nameless’ musical legacy is assured and arguably unsullied by the commercially motivated comeback that is so commonplace these days. But still, I can’t help but feel bereft that the once virile magic of the note highway has merged with the irretrievable distance of memory lane, never to return to cultural centre stage. I guess nothing lasts forever.
Good night to the Guitar Heroes.