When I was in high school I was not that into music, much to the wonder of my friends. I never wrote down lyrics in notebooks or quoted cute songs to my girlfriend or really even had that extensive of a collection. In a world where underground music was currency for the cooler kids in each clique, I was eating beans out of a tin can in an alley.
I had my own tastes, sure, and a few bands I loved, but on the whole I really only listened to the radio and a few video game soundtracks. My friends, on the other hand, were spelunkers in musical caves, excavating a Las Vegas band with a blues beat or a local band who sounded oddly like No Doubt. I don’t want to give off the impression that I was ostracized for something as stupid as musical stagnation (it was high school, though, so I guess that’s not that odd of an assumption), but it was something that I noticed growing up. People just loved their music and, more than that, loved introducing their friends to new bands and being That Person Who Turned Me Onto My New Favorite Band. It was a weird form of validation but… it was high school.
It wasn’t until ’04, my sophomore year, that I found my five minutes in the musical spotlight by introducing a friend of mine to a band named Say Anything. Somehow I had stumbled upon their song “A Walk Through Hell”, an adorable song about a boy facing fantastic challenges to get to the girl he loves, and within my own circle of friends I had ignited a love for a new band. I was, for a week or two, very popular as my friends showed the song to their friends who in turn showed it to their friends. People either downloaded or bought the EP the song was from and, BAM, Say Anything suddenly had a great following at my school.
The popularity didn’t last long, as nothing does in high school, and I soon went back to saying “huh?” when people brought up their new band discoveries. But I stuck with Say Anything, buying their old EPs and their first album, “Baseball”, and listening to nothing but that for weeks on end. While my friends had discovered Hot Hot Heat or Saves The Day I was still stuck on Menorah/Majora and Baseball, singing along with Max Bemis about girls and Teenage Stuff. That band was my first taste of what it was like to get hooked on music and, to this day, has opened me up to a very broad selection of music.
Months after finding out about them they signed onto a label and put out the album “…Is A Real Boy”, which I think has defined my teenage years. I think of it as the soundtrack to my first real kiss, first girlfriend (and everything that goes along with that), and all the other firsts you can accomplish in high school. It holds a special place in my heart, is what I’m getting at, and is one of the best albums put out anywhere ever (fact). I want to heft so much praise on this album, want you all to listen to it and go “this is what church should feel like” and buy every piece of Say Anything merch to help out this awesome band but I realize that Nostalgia is playing a big part of my love of this album (which is OK) and that it’s really only pretty good (false).
This was all important in setting up the stage for current-day Say Anything: a band with a very healthy following of people who spend enough money to support them, good commercial success, and a lead singer without the mental problems that he suffered through during the band’s formative years. I’m always excited to hear about them playing in Houston or coming out with a new album. They never fail to floor me during a live performance, be it in a stadium or low-key venue: bringing fans up to sing with them, staying after for hours and hours to sign anything and everything people want, and just generally looking to be very grateful of what they have.
A couple of days ago their latest album leaked, and after agonizing about whether or not to do the Right Thing and wait (I am, unfortunately) or download it, I decided to see if any reviews had been posted about it. None had, but I ran into an interview the lead singer did where he talked about getting back together with the producer of “…Is A Real Boy” and about how they were trying to Get Back To Their Roots. I sat, staring at the computer, a small thought bubbling to the surface of my mind: I had heard this line before. A quick wiki search brought me to a snippet the band said about their last album, titled “Say Anything” (this is also good), paraphrased: “our last album was us branching out, seeing what we could do, and this one we feel will be more original, will pop out like ‘…Is A Real Boy’ did.”
You see this a lot with… well, every human ever. There’s that point in our lives or in our art that we view as The Best It’s Ever Going To Get and we try so hard to recapture that lightning in a bottle, to make the miracle happen again. Say Anything thinks that “…Is A Real Boy”, rather than being their past, is a goal they must achieve. Older people sometimes think of their early twenties as that time. People getting divorced sometimes think of their early marriage as that time. It’s different for everyone, but we all have that time we want to relive because our memories have twisted and distorted the reality of the time and made us believe that it was better than what we have now.
So imagine my surprise when, days later, I heard a similar sentiment from Blizzard:
- Kaivax: “Pet battles, Scenarios, and dungeon Challenge Modes are all coming to World of Warcraft. And we want to rekindle the fires of existing features that haven’t gotten much love for a while, such as reputation systems, daily quests, world bosses, and yes — world PvP.”
An honest assessment, logically. These are things that Blizzard has shied away from recently and, for whatever reason, want to revisit. Sounds… a lot like a band I know.
The idea that WoW had a Good Ol’ Days is very pervasive in the community. People cite harder bosses, world PVP, and a “more cohesive” community as reasons why Vanilla or BC were better expansions. Some may also posit that the current expansion has none of these and, thus, is inferior to a prior expansion. All you need to do is look in any major WoW forum and you’ll find at least two threads debating why the current expansion isn’t as good and, inevitably, someone will explain that the “casuals” have devolved the game into something akin to Hello Kitty Island Adventure.
This thought is cancerous, friends, and we need to do away with it.
In the case of Say Anything, the band will never be able to replicate the raw emotion of “…Is A Real Boy” because the lead singer (and the man who played every instrument sans drums on the record) is in a better place. During production of the album, the lead singer succumbed to years of mental instability and had to be institutionalized. Years later, married and content, how can you go back to a place as terrible as mental illness is? You can’t, at least not without killing yourself. As amazing as the album was and continues to be, the last thing I want is for Max to go back to that dark place. As much as my NOSTALGIA makes the album to be the greatest thing ever, I understand the dangers of paranoia and APD and understand the hate and vitriol that come from them.
Blizzard needs to understand that nothing they did made Vanilla “great”. Systematically it was a terrible game: you had to grind for days to get specific resist gear, had to grind days and days to get good PVP gear, had to grind for hours to get mats for raid buffs/potions, had to grind days and day to get a single level. World PVP, while it had the POTENTIAL to be fun, was mostly an inconvenience to players trying to level or get quests done (recall that the fabled Tarren Mill vs. Southshore battles took place in a zone for level 20-30 players and that they were often caught up in the conflict). We did all of these things because MMOs on the level of WoW’s commercial success were mostly unheard of and it was all we knew. We were worse players and Blizzard were worse designers.
In Blizzard’s case, there is nothing they can do to recapture the “feel” of Vanilla: that lies within the player. They can put out Vanilla 2.0 and that would mean nothing towards nostalgia if the players don’t think of it as such. All they can do is make the game they make and hope that people play it. The worst thing we, as players, can do is put on our rose-tinted goggles and compare two expansions. Reasonable comparisons are a hard thing to ask for, though, because no matter how hard we try we’ll always have the feelings like “well in Vanilla I was in a successful guild and we were all having fun and now I’m guildless and not having fun” which will inevitably cloud our judgment – WHILE THIS IS NATURAL, it makes comparing the two very hard to do objectively.
The question begs: what’s to be done? Honestly, nothing. This is not a cry for community reform, merely a way to hopefully put a mirror in front of people and say “please, consider yourself”. Remember the past, yes, and perhaps remember it fondly, but please leave it at that.
I suppose this is as good of a time as any to say that I don’t think that Blizzard is bending over backwards trying to figure out how to get the “feel” of Vanilla again. I honestly just saw the statement and connected dots in my mind, slowly coming to the idea that a post could be made about it. Remember that the past is never as amazing as you think it is and that this, the Now, the Holy Present, is here and it is better than the past because you have more experience and you are alive and breathing.