Take This to Your Grave, Track Two: “Dead on Arrival”
I played Rock Band twice, which is probably as many times as one should play Rock Band. I grew up with the Nintendo consoles, so I was awash in rich single-player experiences and an active disdain for the concept of multiplayer. Nintendo does not like the idea of people playing games together, I’ve found. It is hard to have read what it would have taken to set up a 16-player game of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and come away thinking Nintendo was a great fan of people playing games together. (It is hard to be aware of Mario Party and live life thinking Nintendo thinks friendships are good.) I also didn’t have access to the trendy games, because the trendy games were all on the Xboxes and PlayStations and whatnot. Halo, Grand Theft Auto, Guitar Hero, those were all games I had to play at friends’ houses.
This was the benefit of having suburb-rich friends, though. I didn’t have the cool consoles, but THEY did, and I wasn’t quite into FPSes enough to justify plopping $50 on one when I could spend $0 and play Yoshi’s Island again, nor did I have quite enough money. The friend of mine who had Rock Band received a Ford Mustang for his 16th birthday, and about half a year after Rock Band was released, my mom let our house go into foreclosure. I had a different upbringing than some of my friends.
Thus, the only Rock Band I ever played were the couple of times I was at his place before everyone left Brooklyn Park to go to college or work at Target. (This is the bitterest post so far!) And while I think “twice” might be the perfect amount of times to experience Rock Band — it doesn’t seem like the deepest game, and it seems like, once one gets four or five sessions in, one would be given to wonder why they don’t go out for karaoke, or if one might be getting sick of either the songs or the mere fact of the game’s continued existence as A Thing at these gatherings — I will not deny, I had great fun with the game! Though I was not all-time singer as I so clearly should have been, I sang way more often than I played an… instrument. (I just kept telling myself that I’m a diva, y’know?) The first time I sang on Rock Band, I did Fall Out Boy’s “Dead on Arrival,” because that is a song I’d been shower- and bedroom-singing for four years and knew I could nail without having to look at the screen. This is probably one of the few times in history someone equated “knowing all the words to a Fall Out Boy song” with “swag.” Still, I was new to the game, and “Dead on Arrival” seemed as good a point of access as any.
I don’t remember how it went. I vaguely recall my vocal performance touching the hearts of everyone in the basement? I have some foggy memory of other 18-year-olds weeping tears of joy at having witnessed something so beautiful, of being welcomed into manhood by a voice encompassing the world’s possibilities? My mind’s eye sees on its horizon a parade of kids apologizing to me for not getting the idea to start a real rock band with me sooner and making their offer, and me rejecting them all, as not being a part of any sort of garage band led me to realize I work better solo, baby? It’s hazy, to be sure, but I am 100% sure that’s exactly what happened it’s not mere canon it is facts it is truSo I killed it, and I of course killed a few more songs after that (including Coheed & Cambria’s “Welcome Home.” You ever want to kill the mood at a party? Play a fucking seven-minute prog song in Rock Band. Why would that even be an option. Why would you let us do that), and I got frisky. I wanted to test my limits. I saw “Suffragette City” scroll past as we were looking for our next song, and I said I wanted to try that.
We did not finish the song. We were booed off the stage because I could not keep up with the things the game said Bowie had done with his voice. These rises and falls, these impossible dips in tone kept coming on screen in rapid succession, even the “Hey, man!” was an impossible task because Bowie’s voice does a million things with those two words and the game only asked that I do like five, then it asked me to sing the next stanza, giving me more of these miracle Bowie things faster than I could process on normal mode. I know the general melody of “Suffragette City” well enough, as I am not a monster, but I was nowhere near prepared for how intricate and challenging it truly was, even in the version that had been created for a casual video gaming experience.
This experience, with “Dead on Arrival” and then “Suffragette City,” has colored how I have thought about “Dead on Arrival” over the last few years. This is one of the few instances where comparing Fall Out Boy to Bowie might be fair to either party: “Dead on Arrival” is rock and roll on easy mode, a tutorial level, the first step in the progression. It’s simple and easily understandable, simple guitar riffs, a melody far less complex than a Bowie song, one verse and one chorus, but with just barely enough depth that you don’t feel like you’re beta testing. The band sings “This is side one/Flip me over/I know I’m not your favorite record,” and a text box with a picture of the white-haired man who took you in and decided to mentor you says, “This is a metaphor. You will encounter many of these as you continue on your journey.” It’s as light on content as anything off Evening out with Your Girlfriend, yes, but now there’s a layer of polish, so whereas Evening Out felt like beta testing, this feels like something closer to the game. You take in this song, you learn the basics of what this is supposed to be, and you begin your quest.
One of the roles the art you take in as a kid is to serve as a guide to a bigger world. I still have Take This to Your Grave on compact disc, and in the liner notes, there is a short list of bands which Fall Out Boy shouts out. And the primary purpose of this list is to shout out those bands, but it’s also there to tell people, hey, if you care enough to read the liner notes for this album, you’re definitely going to love these bands. It’s also valid, one has to think, given the situation, to stick with a band for over a decade and see how they evolve and how one’s own evolution fits around the band’s evolution. And while it’s highly unlikely anyone was plunking $170 to drum along with the most basic Fall Out Boy song, there were enough songs there that it was clear someone was saying, “Hey, teens! If you like the Foo Fighters or the OK Go, you’re gonna love Deep Purple and Soundgarden!” (I crushed “Black Hole Sun.” My voice is the instrument which balms this ailing nation, a brilliant inspiring thing which could melt the coldest and stoniest of hearts, and it is vitally important I break the flow of this ending paragraph to remind you.) This song works on its own, but it works best as an arrow pointing a young listener to the next step. This is a song designed to make you want more. This isn’t meant to be your favorite record. This is side one. Flip it over.
(I can’t tell if that ending’s cheesy or not but fuck it it’s going up. Um hey remember a few weeks ago when all the cool kids were saying Charly Bliss was good? Can confirm: Guppy’s dope.)