Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on February 6, 2009


typewriter1          So, as previously mentioned in my Katy Perry post, one of the side effects of my car’s CD player only working nine months a year is that every winter I’m compelled to get reacquainted with St. Louis’s radio stations.  Recently, now that my appetite for “Hot N Cold” has been more or less satiated, I’ve found myself flipping back and forth between 92.3 and 93.7 – our two local country outposts – because there’s only so many times I can listen to Webbie show off his spelling prowess (I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T – do you know what that means?) before I smash my car into a tree, no matter how much I like his name.  Needless to say, this would be an extreme reaction, and thus I’ve wisely chosen to avoid Z107.7 for a few weeks.  And this measure, while being born out of prudence, has also been productive, because it’s led to my formulation of the following hypothesis: without exception, the best storytellers in America wear cowboy hats!

jessica-simpson          I’ve considered the seemingly ridiculous ramifications of this statement, and the phenomenon’s possible origins – maybe it grows out of the tradition of old Western campfire tales – but every song on country radio could be paraphrased down into a two-minute television pitch that would make for a series so captivating that by comparison Lost would seem about as complex as Blue’s Clues.  Tim McGraw’s “Angry All the Time”?  Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats”?  Awesome.  And think about VH1 Storytellers – all the best episodes either feature country singers wearing cowboy hats, or rock stars who wrote their best music during their cowboy hat phase (Bon Jovi, Lenny Kravitz, etc.).  Almost never in a country song do you hear a line that isn’t perfectly sculpted, and the hat seems to be the magic elixir.  For instance, back when Jessica Simpson was a pop-star, she delivered such asinine lines as this masterpiece from I Think I’m in Love with You (2000): “I don’t know what’s gotten into me, but I kind of think I know what it is.”  This is…hmmm….stupid.  Last year she released a country album, and now, all of the sudden, she’s a regular wordsmith (actually, this might be a stretch, and I’ll probably have to cut this Jessica Simpson reference for the book – but I just wanted to point out how stupid that lyric is from the Mellencamp rip off – another artist, by the way, who wrote better songs while wearing a cowboy hat).  Anyway, on with the rodeo.

brad2          Right now, without question, the best new song on country radio is the Brad Paisley duet with Keith Urban – “Start a Band.”  Evidently, and I’d never thought about things in this way before, Brad Paisley’s Advice for College Students has quite a bit in common with Dr. Wizard’s Advice for College Students – in that we’re both big fans of the type of 10-step process outlined in Lesson #20: How to Write an ‘A’ Paper.  For those who are curious, here’s how it works – straight from the brains of Paisley and Urban, two of the greatest guitar players in the world who have translated their talent into music careers, and both of whom are married to famous actresses.  Step 1 – Get a guitar.  Step 2 – Learn How to Play.  Step 3 – Cut up some jeans / Grow out your hair.  Step 4 – Come up with a name.  Step 5 – Find a Few good buddies.  Step 6 – Start a band.  Then, Step 7 – Scrape up some money.  Step 8 – Buy a Van.  Step 9 – Learn Free Bird and Ramblin’ Man.  Step 10 – Never buy another beer again.

          Let’s forget for a second that Dr. Wizard himself once purchased a van for his band and knows how to play “Free Bird” and “Ramblin’ Man,” and let’s also ignore the fact that their Step 3 has the same name as my Lesson #71, because I want to focus on Step 1 – get a  guitar, and Step 2 – learn how to play.  If you like music, this is what you should be doing with your time, not playing Guitar Hero – because Guitar Hero is fucking stupid.

          There is nothing more indicative of laziness or instant gratification in our culture than Guitar Hero.  Yes, I realize it’s fun – for like the first three times you play.  But it’s such a colossal waste of money.  For one thing, you can purchase a real starter guitar for the same amount of cash that it costs to by the game and controller.  For another, punching those five keys on the same 30 songs over and over again is just plain boring when compared with actually playing the guitar, and learning to play a real guitar opens up so many more song possibilities that you don’t have to pay $1.99 apiece to download.

          Then again, it’s not just about the money – it’s about the feeling of gratification that comes when you sit down and make a little wooden box with six strings come to life.  And this feeling of gratification isn’t that hard to capture – in fact, I’d put it on about the same level of difficulty as Toby’s decision to chase the feeling of taking Michael Scott’s money in “Casino Night” – because the real guitar is a relatively easy instrument to learn to play.  In the time it takes to master “Slow Ride” on medium difficulty with an X-BOX and a pretend Fender, any person with average coordination and a little determination can learn to play “Love Me Do” on a real Fender.  Do it – if you want to learn a real life skill.  To the best of my knowledge, Guitar Hero has yet to get a single person a date, while being able to play some random Coldplay song underneath a tree on the quad seems to perform that very trick on America’s college campuses every day.

          In closing, I’ll say this, because I’ve got to take my guitar out to the quad to start playing “Yellow” in a few minutes: Guitar Hero is like those stupid driving simulators that my high school spent thousands of dollars on as part of our Driver’s Education program.  They were fun for about fifteen minutes, and then after that I just wished that I was back in P.E. playing basketball – because it was a way better experience for me when my Dad took me to the cemetery and let me drive around a real car, even with all the screaming and the yelling.


          NOTE 1: Despite my general hatred of that silly little 5-key contraption, I want to give a shout-out here to Dr. Wizard technical consultant and University of Illinois undergrad Phil Chang, who has managed to rewire a Guitar Hero controller to turn it into a digital chord sampler which he can now plug into a computer and an amp and play real songs – which is extremely bad-ass.

          NOTE 2: My assessment of the VH1 Storytellers and the cowboy hat phenomenon does not take into account Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan’s fictional Air Supply episode, where they make up the awesomely ridiculous tune, “Holiday Love,” featuring the line “I think I dig your stuff.”  But this doesn’t count because it’s fake.

          NOTE 3: Here’s a link to that Brad Paisley and Keith Urban video.  Highlights include both of them going apeshit on the guitar, and strange homoerotic undercurrents eerily reminiscent of Air Supply.

3 Responses

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  1. Sheryl said, on February 7, 2009 at 4:54 am

    Are you certain it’s the hat? I’ve always guessed that it’s the leather…chaps, vest, belt, moccasins…whatever…dead cow is a very powerful motivator. I can never see a slab of raw meat without some visceral reaction. Perhaps the same meat, tanned and hided, causes the woe begotten lyrics we know as Country Music.

  2. funktifiedacoustic said, on February 9, 2009 at 6:54 am

    Point of clarification:

    Phil Chang’s hacking of the Guitar Hero controller is bad-ass for two reasons:

    1. He turned something amusical into something that could, and on occasion does, make real music. At least music as real as the average backing track that Coldplay uses live. Which is mostly real.

    2. He is in fact an able guitar player who can navigate the fretboard roughly as well as the average non-urban midwestern homemaker navigates Wal-Mart (i.e., quite well).

  3. Cameron said, on May 28, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    :{D You’re my new hero! Screw guitar hero right in the crack!

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