Saturday, August 30, 2008

All hail the Jonas Brothers!

The Walt Disney Company’s latest cash cow, a trio of siblings called The Jonas Brothers, infiltrated my town last week. Their appearance was the talk of the neighborhood block party.

Two of my neighbors were planning to attend, not because they relished this band but because they had daughters and were therefore required to fork over hundreds of dollars to sit among shrieking prepubescent girls for two hours.

I have daughters as well but, for some reason, they’re not into the Jonas Brothers. A pair of twins named Zach and Cody? Now that’s a different story. They religiously watch this show, which features the brothers living in the penthouse suite of a posh New York hotel. A reality show, it ain’t.

As far as I can tell, Zach and Cody don’t sing or play instruments so it’s unlikely I’ll be attending one of their concerts. Plus, every time I see the show, it appears the twins have had a hard time staying away from junk food. Both seem to be getting a little thick in their pre-teen middles, which no doubt has Disney executives nervous.

What? An overweight Disney kid? The horror!

So even though I would not be attending the Jonas Brothers concert, I decided to read up on them. It wasn’t hard considering they were splashed across the Sunday Chicago Tribune with the kind of coverage usually reserved for papal visits and a Cubs playoff victory.

I’ll admit, these kids intrigued me. They hail from New Jersey, they really ARE brothers and all have lengthy show business backgrounds. But here’s where their story really became interesting for me: the three play their own instruments and even write most of their own songs.

That’s right. Teenagers who play real live instruments! I didn’t think that was possible anymore. Probably because I was recently introduced to a new video game called Guitar Hero.

For those of you who recently awoke from a coma, Guitar Hero is the game that lets kids actually think they are playing an instrument. It comes with a plastic guitar that looks exactly like a regular electric guitar except that it has no strings, no frets, and no tuners. Other than that, you can barely tell the difference.

Instead of strings, the guitar has five different colored buttons. The guitar “player” starts the game by standing in front of the screen that serves as the Guitar Hero monitor. First he or she chooses a song from the Guitar Hero library. I chose “Barracuda” from Heart. From there the song begins and one or several of those colored buttons scroll down from the top of the “fret board.” At the appropriate time, the player presses the “note” with one hand and the “strum bar” with the other hand. If done correctly, lo and behold, it appears that you are playing guitar just as expertly as Nancy Wilson, Heart’s lead guitarist.

Notice how I said appears. That’s why this game troubles me. Kids today actually think they are playing guitar. Maybe I’m just spouting sour grapes because I took lessons on a REAL guitar for six years. I gave it up and it’s a decision I regret to this day for I would love to take a break from time to time in my home office and alleviate writer’s block by strumming a James Taylor or Paul Simon tune.

Today’s software programs basically allow kids to play any instrument they want without actually learning how to play it. I get this image of attending a concert in 10 years with four band members who bound onstage, fire up their Macs and basically do nothing as the computers play music and the audience screams while waving cell phones and lighters in the air.

The younger generation might call this form of music making “creativity.” I prefer to think of it as laziness. Kids today just don’t seem to want to put in the extra work, no matter the reward. Oh sure, there are exceptions to every rule. During the Beijing Olympics we were treated to countless stories of Michael Phelps and his daily four-mile swims, or gymnast Shawn Johnson, who walked into an Iowa gymnastics facility when she was five and never left.

But just once in awhile, I’d like to see a kid do something – ANYTHING! – without the aid of a computer. Last December I was listening to the local news in my car when I heard the announcer say something about Santa’s email address. Apparently kids can now email their wish lists to Santa simply by firing up their PCs, typing in the subject line and telling Santa how good they have been, using whatever font they choose.

I nearly drove into a snow bank.

Emailing Santa? Does this mean that kids will no longer line up at the mall to see Santa? That’s a holiday tradition as old as the ugly tie that Aunt Clara knits every year. You know, the one that smells like cigarette smoke when you open the box?

Hey kids, you want to see Santa? Then do it the way it’s supposed to be done. Go to the mall, find the line that stretches from Macy’s to Nordstrom’s, and stand in the back. Two hours later you’ll be sitting on Santa’s lap for 30 seconds. You’ll walk away with a lollipop from Christmas 2003 while remarking to your Mom that Santa smelled a little like Daddy when he drinks that “icky” stuff after a hard day at work. THAT’S how you see Santa.

Sound too difficult? Okay, go ahead and use that computer. Go ahead and email your wish list. But remember, technology is a two-way street so be prepared for Santa to email back – sometime in February.

Dear Billy: I’m sorry I didn’t visit your house this year. I hadn’t heard from you. But today I was cleaning out my Spam folder and, great green gumdrops, what do you think I found? Your list! Oh well, stuff happens. See you next year at the mall.

P.S. If you still want Guitar Hero, I’ve had one wrapped up and waiting since last Christmas.

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