Category Archives: Music

it’s only rock and roll but i like it

For this week’s column at the LA Weekly, I planned to write about some significant moments in my musical education, including my discovery of KROQ around 1987 and attending the Concert for the Masses in 1988. I started at the beginning, and wrote about listening to music with my dad when I was a little kid in the 70s. My brain refused to let me write the column I thought I wanted to write, and instead created something very different. I fought it for a couple of days, until I finally just gave in and let my brain write what it wanted to write:

It’s Only Rock and Roll but I Like It: Music as a Soundtrack to Life

My dad loved classic rock, so when I look back on my childhood, The Beatles, Boston, Heart, The Doobie Brothers, and Fleetwood Mac provide the soundtrack. Twenty-nine years later, I can’t listen to “Second Hand News” without hearing the unique sound of his VW bus’s engine just underneath it in my memory. Most people who listen to “Black Water” hear Patrick Simmons on vocals, but not me. I hear my dad, modulating his voice to hit all the different parts of the harmonies during the chorus. When I hear anything off Boston’s eponymous debut, it’s accompanied by the steady sound of a hammer driving nails into cedar wood. Dad listened to that album a lot while I helped him build a gate for our side yard in the usual eight year-old manner: by wearing an oversized tool belt and handing him nails while I stayed out of the way. I’m sure it’s possible to listen to Dreamboat Annie without giant earphones and a 15-foot coiled black cord, but I don’t know why anyone would want to.

My editor, Erin, heard the call for an RSS feed, and got the webmonkeys at the Weekly to make one available. It isn’t the full content, but it’s enough to know if you want to exert the mighty effort of clicking the title and reading the rest of the post. You can subscribe to Wil Wheaton’s LA Weekly RSS feed here.

Comments are closed on this post, to encourage comments at the Weekly, which makes the people who let me put food on my family happy.

bolts from above hurt the people down below

Three things today:

1. I’m pretty sure I’m not a prima dona, but I’ve been prima dona-adjacent plenty of times in the course of my acting career. Because of my extensive experience with prima donas, I was able to advise John Scalzi on the matter yesterday, via an IM conversation that he’s reprinted on his blog:

Me: I just want to burnish my credentials as an insufferable prima donna, you know?

Wil: Dude. Come spend some time with me. Learn at the feet of a master.

Me: “Fix me pot pie!”

Wil: Good, but try: “Are you fucking kidding me? Where’s my pot pie?”

“I came all the way here, and you can’t even make a fucking pot pie?”

Then you sort of shake your head, like you’re really disappointed.

Yes, I’ll be at LosCon, but probably for only the one panel with John. If there’s a sudden and unexpected explosion of Awesome next weekend, that’s probably why.

2. While Propelling this morning, I came across one of the single greatest things I’ve ever seen in my life: The Genesis of Doctor Who, from the BBC Archives:

Explore the origins of a TV legend with this collection of documents and images. It’s now the number one family favourite, but ‘Doctor Who’ had a difficult birth, emerging from the imagination of some of BBC Drama’s top minds.

Here, we tell the story of the creation of ‘Doctor Who’ from the very beginning, starting with a report on the possibility of making science fiction for television and leading up to the moment a new drama series is announced in the pages of ‘Radio Times’.

Please prop this story at Propeller. I’d kind of like to keep my corporate overlords over there happy, for the usual reasons.

3. Since I first turned it on, iTunes Genius has been the opposite of the generally accepted definition of genius. Instead of it, I’ve relied on totally random shuffle to amuse myself when I’m not listening to one of my many carefully-designed playlists (all those years making mixtapes paid off, apparently.) I kept checking back, in the hopes that it would get a little closer to awesome, and recently, the Genius playlists have been considerably smarter and more useful (as I figured they would be, as they aggregated more user data). Today, Genius said, “Hey, you have this playlist with New Order, Sonic Youth, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Jam? You’ll totally like the soundtrack to Marie Antoinette.” I took a look, and iTunes Genius was totally right. As I said on Twitter, I’m late to the party, and I have no desire to see the movie, but you can do a lot worse than the soundtrack to Marie Antoinette.

That’s probably it for today. I’m racing against yet another deadline on yet another awesome project that I can’t wait to announce.


Because, as I’ve said before, if you can’t do random silly shit like this with your blog, why have a blog in the first place?

you’re not gonna get the final boss tamed

final_boss_coverart.jpgI’m a lousy friend, and I haven’t mentioned that MC Frontalot‘s new album Final Boss has been out for over a month. I think it’s his best album yet, and I’m not just saying that because I’m on it, dropping phat rhymes. You can download Wallflowers for free, and then you can purchase and download the whole album once your mind has been sufficiently blown. The whole album is fantastic, but I especially love Shame of the Otaku(teaser MP3) and Diseases of Yore(teaser MP3). I’m also intensely jealous that Front got Scott Campbell to do his cover art. Scott Campbell is awesome.

After you’ve heard the entire album, including my skit about vocations, you’ll have a new appreciation for this album cover, designed by Lore Sjöberg. Did I mention that it was awesome? It looks like I didn’t, so: it’s awesome.

Finally, MC Frontalot is going on tour, and he’s totally coming to your town … as long as you live in one of the towns on the tour schedule.

i don’t know what i’m to say, i’ll say it anyway

If you are of a certain age, there are probably three seminal music videos that blew your mind at one point in your life: Money for Nothing, You Might Think, and Take on Me .
(Sigh. Okay, fine, and the extended version of Thriller. At least I’ll admit it. Shut up.)
Anyway, my friend Jun (who is also of a certain age) sent me this literal version of Ah-Ha’s Take On Me yesterday. I was amused, and thought I’d share.

this post has everything to do with ambient music

After years of various things coming up and draining the funds we’ve squirreled away to work on the house, Anne and I are finally able to afford to have some much-needed work done on our house (thank you, everyone who bought Happiest Days!) We should start sometime in the next seven days, and somehow the preparations have ended up including some serious de-cluttering around stately Wheaton Manor.

De-cluttering is probably pretty easy for most people: you just take a bunch of old shit and throw it out, right? It’s not that easy for me. I attach sentimental value to just about everything.

A typical scene:

Anne: “What’s this?”

Me: “I can’t throw that away! That’s a a coaster that I made from a menu from a roadside diner I ate breakfast at with Dave in 1990! Look at the coffee ring!”

Anne: *Facepalm*

It’s a good thing I don’t own a snakeskin jacket. I’m getting better, though, and I’ve reached a point in my life where it feels better to jettison this stuff than it does to keep it. There are all sorts of philosophical reasons for this, I’m sure, but that’s not what this post is about, so fill in your own: “____________________.”

Ooohhh! That’s very insightful. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

So. I have a lot of music on CD, because the only thing I love as much as books is music. I have a huge and diverse collection, because I’ve liked just about every kind of music at one point or another in my life, and since it was never pop music crap that hasn’t had time to become ironic, yet, my CD collection is pretty fucking awesome. If I, uh, do say so myself.

It takes up a lot of space, though, so I’m going through it, ripping most of it to various hard drives, instantly backing them up on other hard drives – just to be sure – and moving the physical CDs to the garage, where I’m happy to give their care and feeding over to Top Men.

Over the weekend, I ripped about two dozen ambient CDs from the early nineties, (which I think was the golden age of ambient music) and listening to them on shuffle has found the nostalgia portion of my brain, and poked it with a sharp stick.

I seem to have these emotional growth spurts about every five or six years, and this music connects me to the one I had in my early twenties, when my friend Dave and I would stay up all night listening to records, talking about art and politics and philosophy. (I credit Dave with my love of electronic music, because he worked in the music industry at the time and kept a steady stream of interesting stuff flowing into my hands for several years. I never would have heard a single record from Silent if Dave hadn’t worked there, and 76:14 would just be a little over an hour and sixteen minutes.)

I was in drama school around this time, so I was surrounded with artists. I spent most of my time (free and otherwise) with writers, photographers, actors, and musicians, so this particular emotional growth spurt was entirely cultural. Ambient music was the soundtrack, because it provided a lush and layered backdrop to everything we did, taking and giving focus whenever necessary. (I suppose that’s why it’s called “ambient”, duh.) Perhaps not coincidentally, it was around this time that I completely rejected what I described as American fast food culture. I may have been a little bit of an insufferable intellectual artiste for a brief time, as well. Ahem. I look back on some of those days with embarrassment, and I know that I owe a lot of people apologies for . . . stuff I’d rather not talk about, lest we all be forced to confront the things we said and did when we were 20. Though I shudder to think about how even more insufferable I would have been if I’d read Ishmael then instead of years later when I was more mature, I still look back fondly on those years of growth and discovery, as they were eventually woven into some of the most beautiful parts of the tapestry of my life.

You know, people always ask me if I ever lived the rock and roll lifestyle (wink wink nudge nudge) when I was young and famous. The truth is that I didn’t, even on the three (yes, I can count them) occasions when some girl creature literally threw herself at me. (SCARY! AHH! WHAT DO I DO?!) When I was a teenager (and there were plenty of teenage stars fooling around with other teenage stars, oh the stories I could tell you but won’t) I was too nerdy and too into RPGs. When I was in my early 20s, I was too insecure and too into books and music and very deep things that really mattered. If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing, though. This may shock some of you, but I’m glad that I fed my mind instead of my libido.

Gross! Too much information.

Anyway, when I mentioned on Twitter that I was ripping all these CDs, and how weird it felt to confront the advances in technology that made it possible (all in 140 characters!) a few people wondered what, exactly, I had in my collection.

I’m always happy to share this type of music with people, and if I have an opportunity to turn people on to music that really opened my mind (without the assistance from any chemical or mind-altering substances, I always feel compelled to add) I always seize it.

I’ll point those of you who are interested to a portion of a post I made in 2005 (my god, how is it that it simultaneously feels so long ago and so recent to me?) about ambient music. The “it” I refer to is an ambient song I made in GarageBand called Lakeside Shadow:

If you like it, you’ll probably like some of the artists who influenced me over the years: Woob (especially 1194, and especially the track strange air) Dedicated (especially Global Communication, also called 76 14), and Solitaire (especially Ritual Ground). Also, Instinct Records (still alive) and Silent Records (sadly, tragically, defunct since 1996) released an amazing number of genre-defining ambient discs in the 90s. And now, just to prove how hardcore I am, I’m going to throw out Pete Namlook, and the FAX Label, but their stuff is far more experimental than the rest of my list, and isn’t what I’d use to introduce a new listener to Ambient music.

Finally, if you can find it, Silent Records put out an incredible record called Earth to Infinity (I think in 1994) which was pulled shortly after it was released, due to some sampling issues. I think it’s one of the greatest ambient recordings of all time, and don’t ask me for it because I’m not going to jail for you, Chachi.

I think I could have said “incredible” a few more times. Allow me to emphatically pulverize this dead horse deep into the ground: if you only get two ambient records in your whole life, they should be 1194 from Woob and Earth to Infinity (holy shit there are two available from Amazon). If you can only get three, add 76:14, and thank me before you touch the monolith and journey beyond the infinite.

Okay, as I said in 2005, most of my ambient CDs are from Silent, Instinct, and Caroline, and I have a metric assload of FAX recordings that I don’t listen to very much any more. If I were to expand on the artists and albums I mentioned three years ago into a list of essentials, I would add Pelican Daughters‘ breathtaking record Bliss, Consciousness III (or Lunar Phase) by Heavenly Music Corporation, and the 2295 compilation from em:t.

If you’re intrigued, and want to know what some of this stuff sounds like without waiting, please go directly to Magnatune, and fire up their ambient mix. They’ve got artists over there, like Robert Rich and Falling You, who make truly incredible music. (I really think I need to say incredible and really more. Really.) Soma FM has magnificent downtempo and ambient streams, as well. Groove Salad and Dronezone rarely disappoint.

The thing to understand about ambient, though, if you’ve never heard it before, is that it’s slow and deliberate. It takes its time. It doesn’t work in the car, and it doesn’t work if your brain is cranked up to eleven. It’s best enjoyed when you can relax, and let it fill the room around you as you slowly sink into it and out of yourself, like you’ve stepped into a giant gelatinous cube.

Hrm. Maybe that’s not the best way to describe it. Go ahead and fill in your own: “______________.”

Yes, that’s it. That’s it exactly.

it’s the only way to be sure

So it turns out that I do, in fact, have a sinus infection. Because it’s the first one post-sinus surgery, my doctor decided that the best course of action would be to blast off and nuke the site from orbit.

I asked him if maybe we could do something a little less extreme, but he assured me that it was the only way to be sure. Since my sneezes weren’t going “achoo!” like they’re supposed to, but going “Ftagn!” instead, I’ve decided to follow his advice, and I’m on Prednisone + Zithromax for the next five days.

I’m already feeling better, if not entirely back to normal, but I’m looking forward to getting my command and control systems back online within the next 24 hours. I have this overwhelming urge to blast my quads and rip out my delts, but I understand that will go away IN JUST A FUCKING MINUTE GODDAMMIT WHAT?!

Oh. Um. Sorry. Meds talking and whatnot.

In place of an actual blog entry, here are a few things that have been on my mind:

I was going to write this myself, but Charlie Stross explains why I won’t be using Google Chrome better than I can. He even manages to avoid the phrase EPIC FAIL which I wouldn’t have been able to do. Competing with IE = good. Competing with Firefox = profoundly stupid. Having the most abusive EULA I’ve seen in years? That’s just fucking priceles, Google. Nice work on that one. I’d like to amend this paragraph, after hours of consideration and lengthy discussion with other people. Apparently, Google claims the EULA was “boilerplate” and they’re going to update it. If they update it, great. But does anyone really believe that a company like Google puts out a new browser, one that is as highly-anticipated as Chrome, and doesn’t fully vet the EULA? What did they do, borrow lawyers from John McCain? If Google is going to change their EULA to something less evil, that’s fantastic, but I don’t believe for a moment that this was a mistake. Google isn’t that incompetent. As for my statement: “Competing with IE = good. Competing with Firefox = profoundly stupid.” Yeah. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. I’d like to blame the sinus meds, but that’s a pretty 80s excuse, isn’t it? I haven’t felt well for several days, and I typed without really thinking things through. Competition, as a commenter said, is very good, even (and maybe especially) for Open Source products. I hope I’ve earned the right over the years to ask for a little slack. If I haven’t, I’d like to point out that this mountain is covered with wolves, and the bar is right over there. Thanks.

Cory Doctorow has a really good idea for publishers.

Today is one of those days where it’s 97 outside, 81 inside, and only Miles Davis can keep the inside of my house cool.

Coilhouse has a fascinating article about a Modern Pirate Utopia in Hong Kong that has to be read to be believed. Coilhouse kind of rules. I highly recommend their magazine.

Doctor Horrible @ checked me on Twitter. I don’t think this should make me as excited as it does, but OMGOMGOMG! The Doctor Horrible soundtrack is #2 on iTunes US, #1 in the UK and Australia. The number one album in the US is some rap thing that makes me stabby just to look at. Come on, American geeks, let’s show the rest of the world what we’re made of! (Also, the soundtrack is really awesome and fun to listen to.)

Moe’s just isn’t the same since he got rid of the dank. Come on, Moe! The dank!

I played a little bit of D&D 4e with Jerry, Mike, The Other Mike, and Scott Kurtz when I was at PAX. I got to play a Tiefling Rogue who was trying out to be the new intern at Acquisitions, Incorporated. It was massively fun, and it made me want to play D&D about as badly as I’ve ever wanted. I’m taking advantage of my . . . current condition . . . to read all of Keep on the Shadowfell in the hopes that I’ll be able to convince Nolan and some of his friends to let me run it for them.

I got an insanely cool D&D thing via John Kovalic, but I’m forbidden to reveal it until he does.

I was mentioned rather favorably, in some very nice company, by one of the executive producers on Criminal Minds! “…we have scary locations and amazing guest stars like Jason Alexander, Luke Perry and Wil Wheaton.” OMGOMGOMGOMG.

We’re late to the party on this, but Anne and I have been watching Weeds on Netflix via our Roku box. We’re into the 3rd season (which we had to get on DVD) and I’m not as crazy about it as I was the first two. The acting and writing is wonderful, but the storylines that dominate the 3rd season are leaving me a little cold. I don’t believe a single Nancy does in this season, even though Mary-louise Parker is a phenomenal actor.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is online for free from his publisher. This is one of my favorites, and I heartily recommend it, even though I’m pretty sure most of you reading this have already read it. However, Neil says, “For those people who grumbled about reading American Gods online, here’s Neverwhere. You can read it online, and it’s also downloadable. That’s the good news. The bad news is you don’t get to keep it forever. It’s yours for thirty days from download, and then the pdf file returns to its electrons. But if you’ve ever wondered about Neverwhere or wanted to read it for free, now is your chance. And free is free…”

“America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.” A-fucking-MEN.

During my panel at PAX, I was asked a great question that I couldn’t answer to my satisfaction: What episode of Next Generation best defines the series? The answer depends heavily on how you’d define the series as a whole, and the best I could come up with is “Star Trek is all about possibilities. It’s about hope, so when you look around our totally fucked up world, you see that there is a better future for us.” Which TNG episode best exemplifies that? Is that even what Star Trek is about? My answer sucked so hard, I can’t even remember what I said. I blame the ConSARS.

A bit of blasphemy: I finally saw Dark Knight, and I was not blown away. Heath Ledger was spectacular, but I felt like the movie climaxed in the first 10 minutes, and was 2 reels too long. Maybe I’ll refine my feelings on subsequent viewings, but it didn’t send me into a Batgasm like Batman Begins did. However, it’s the second act of the trilogy, and if it’s anything like all the other trilogies I’ve seen, it’ll end up being my favorite when the dust settles.

I first became aware of the Xbox 360 game Braid when Buckman mentioned on his blog that the developer licensed a bunch of Magnatune music (which I’ve listened to and love) for the game. Monday night, I couldn’t sleep, so I downloaded the trial. 30 minutes later, I bought the full game, which is similar to Portal in a lot of ways. It’s one of the most visually beautiful games I’ve ever played. Check it out if you’ve got XBLA.

You can listen to one of the artists, Jami Sieber, with this nifty little gizmo:

Hidden Sky by Jami Sieber

John Scalzi’s Denise Jones, Super Booker, at Subterranean Online, dovetails brilliantly with Soon I Will Be Invincible, which I am still reading and still loving. And every single time I see, think about, or say the title, my brain fires up a chorus from Pat Benatar’s timeless classic song, “Invincible,” from the, uh, equally-classic film The Legend of Billie Jean .

And now that I’ve put it in your brain also, I’ll sign off for today.

various awesome things

My story The Art of War in the latest Star Trek manga got a really nice mention at Trek Movie dot Com:

Fans of Wil Wheaton’s blog or books know him to be an adroit writer of nonfiction, an almost Mark Twain for the geek crowd if you don’t mind such a comparison. Yet his “Art of War” story shows he is talented with fictional narratives, too. The story involves Kirk and a Klingon named Kring both trapped together in a collapsed mine on the planet Angrena. The “enemies forced to cooperate” situation isn’t unique to science fiction or to Star Trek, be it the film Enemy Mine or “The Enemy” and “Darmok” episodes of TNG. These kinds of narratives succeed if there is something different about how they are told and if they provide the reader with something to think about with the characters or a social lesson. Wheaton does all of these things with his comic.

They gave me 10 out of 10! Dude!

My friend and editor, Luis Reyes, is also getting rave reviews for his story, The Humanitarian, which I still haven’t seen because my damn contributor’s copy hasn’t shown up, yet. Luis is a great guy who took one in the chest when TokyoPop . . . uh . . . popped . . . a few months ago. I remember talking with him about his story while he was working on it, and he was really hopeful that people would like it. Sounds like they did: “Once in a while, a Star Trek story is so incredibly good that it stays with you forever.”

Cheyenne Wright did a pretty awesome drawing of a guy who looks like me, but cooler.


How much do you want a shirt that says “GE [lightning bolt] EK” right now? I guarantee it’s not as much as I do.

Depeche Mode: The Singles 1986-1998 is available from Amazon MP3 for 3.99 today only. I am not ashamed to admit that I loved Depeche Mode when I was a teenager. Any DM fans out there notice how, depending on your age, your seminal DM album is either Music for the Masses or Violator? Mine is the former, though I still love the latter.

xkcd and Diesel Sweeties made me giggle so hard it hurt my chest. Thanks for nothing, guys.

This isn’t awesome, but it’s important that I share: there’s a current crop of e-mails going around that appear to be from CNN or MSNBC. They’re not. They go to very well-designed pages that can fool people into installing malware. I don’t ask this often, but please share this bit of news with your friends who are . . . vulnerable . . . to this sort of attack.

There’s some really cool new stuff at Propeller 2.0 that I’m excited about, including the growing awesomeness of the Geek group.

Great Showdowns of the 8-bit Era is beautiful. (via reddit)

That reminds me: If I collected some of my favorite Games of Our Lives into a book, would you be interested in buying it? (Note that it was all WFH and as such the AV Club owns all the material; I’d have to convince them to give me permission, but before I bother trying to do that, I wanted to gauge interest here.)

I hate that NBC is delaying their “live” prime time Olympics for West Coast viewers, but their online coverage is incredible. If you’re only watching the Olympics in prime time, you’re really missing out on some great events, like Table Tennis, Archery, Rowing, Soccer, and Handball. I mean, gymnastics and swimming are neat and all, but there’s a lot more to the games than just those events. Durr.

Jefbot hates me, but it’s all in good fun. The next strip in the series is gold, Jerry. GOLD!

Top Shelf is rapidly becoming one of my favorite publishers. Like Vertigo or Blue Note, I can pick up anything from them and know I’m going to love it. I want to do a proper review at some point, but the book Super Spy by Matt Kindt is absolutely magnificent, and proves that graphic storytelling exists as literature. You can see one of the stories in the book here.


Me: Ah! I hate this song! Change it! Change it!

Ryan: Hey, when we played the endless setlist, you said –

Me: We were playing for five hours! I don’t think anyone should be held accountable for anything they said, did, or turned off during the endless setlist. Now let’s never speak of this again.

Ryan: But –


Ryan went back to school this morning. My ribs hurt so much, I couldn’t hug him as much as I needed to, making an already-difficult goodbye extra painful. He’s grown up and matured so much in the last six months, I just love having him around. He’s really grown into a fine young man, and is someone I’d like to hang around with even if he wasn’t my son. I’m going to miss him a lot.

I can tell by watching this that he used to be cool.

This was shot by my friend Rich, presumably while I was driving home from Comic-Con. This video is awesome, but it makes me sad because it reminds me of one of the best things ever about working on TNG (Jonathan Frakes breaking into show tunes at random intervals) and it reminds me that I saw Jonathan at Comic-Con, but I couldn’t get close enough to him to say hello.

You know, the worst part of being excluded from the Vegas con is that I’m missing the once-a-year opportunity to see some people I really like (and miss) who live very, very far away.

green grass and high tides forever (and ever and ever and ever and

Ryan goes back to school in just under 2 weeks, and I’ve been bugging him to play the Endless Setlist with me on Rock Band before he leaves.

If you’re unfamiliar with Rock Band’s multiplayer thing, the Endless Setlist is the last thing you unlock in the game when you’re playing as a band. It is exactly what it sounds like: a concert featuring all 58 songs that come with the game. It takes about six hours to play if you don’t take any extended breaks.

Today, Ryan and I tackled it on expert. He played guitar, and I played bass. It was awesome. We got five stars on pretty much everything for the first 20 or so songs, including three gold stars. I got the authentic strummer thing and 99% on about half of them.

We were seriously having a good time, striking the rock pose, putting our backs together while we jammed through epic songs, bonding through the power of rock.

Then, with five songs left to go, we got to Green Grass and High Tides.

For those of you unfamiliar with Rock Band, this is a fantastic southern rock song by the Outlaws. It’s also one of the hardest in the game, and the longest, weighing in at around 10 minutes. It’s a song that you don’t play as much as survive, and it does its best to really beat you down. If a song could kick you in the junk, this would be it. If this song were a poker game, it would be Razz.

So, after already playing for 5 hours, (and not exactly conserving our energy) we started to play this rock epic, knowing it would be the greatest challenge we’d faced yet.

Our first time through, we failed at 84%. It was entirely my fault for holding my guitar too high and deploying our emergency overdrive when we didn’t need it.

“Sorry about that,” I said as we lost 360,000 fans. “I blame my guitar.”

Ryan looked at me.

“Okay, I blame myself.”

Ryan laughed and said it was no big deal. He was confident we’d get it on the next try, and when we started the song, I could see why. He was in the zone, nailing 97% of the first solo. I wanted to holler about how awesome he was, but I felt like it would have been the same as talking to my pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter, so I stayed quiet and did my best not to screw things up.

I screwed things up, and we failed the song at 96%. We lost another 360,000 fans, almost wiping out the million we’d picked up when we did the Southern Rock Marathon last week. Compared to the nearly 5 and a half hours we’d spent playing, that 18 minutes wasn’t that long, but it sure felt demoralizing, especially because it was, again, entirely my fault we’d failed. See, there’s this bass phrase that’s repeated over and over and over, and if you’re just a tiny bit off (like I was) you’re screwed, and . . . well, you get the point.

I dropped my hands to my side and let the guitar hand around my neck. My arms were tired, my legs hurt, and my vision was getting blurry.

“I think I’ve identified the weak link in our band, and it’s me,” I said. “I’m really sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Ryan said, “but I think I want to take a break.”

“Good idea,” I said. “Let’s pause this, go out for something to eat, and come back later.”

Ryan walked into his room and turned on his shower. I unplugged my guitar so we didn’t have to worry about our dogs knocking it down and starting the game again while we were gone.

In my memory, the next few moments happen in slow motion:

  • I pick up Ryan’s guitar, the wireless PS2 guitar from GHIII.
  • I hold down the button to get the control screen.
  • The dashboard comes up, and it gives me the option to cancel, turn off the controller, or turn off the system.
  • I click the strum bar to select “turn off the controller.”
  • I set the guitar on the ground — carefully — and reach up to click the green fret button.
  • I hear the Xbox beep.
  • I push the button.
  • I realize that the beep was the strum bar clicking one more time when I set the guitar down, selecting “Shutdown the System.”
  • The system shuts down, taking all of our progress with it.
  • Time resumes to normal. For the next 120 seconds, I use every curse word I know, until my throat is raw. It takes everything I have not to grab the guitar and get all Pete Townshend on it.

Ryan came out of his room.

“What happened?” He said.

I told him.

What happened next was astonishing to me: Ryan didn’t freak out. He didn’t get upset. Instead, he told me, “Calm down, Wil. It’s just a game. We can do it again.”

I was still really upset. It was an accident, yes, but it was my fault. In my head, I kept replaying all the different ways I could have powered down his guitar that were more careful. I really felt like an asshole, because I screwed up twice and caused us to fail both times. I felt like an asshole, because I screwed up and lost all the progress we’d made. Mostly, though, I felt like an asshole because I really wanted to accomplish this feat with my son. I really wanted to have that memory.

What I got, though, was better than what I’d hoped for. I got to see Ryan exhibit one of the key values I’d raised him with: he kept everything in perspective, and found all the good things in the experience, like the gold stars we scored, the fun we had playing all the other songs, and the time we spent together. He reminded me that it’s not about winning, it’s about playing the game.

If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, I’m sure you can appreciate how great it felt to hear my words and my values come out of my son’s mouth.

I don’t write about my boys very often these days. Their friends read my blog, and they sometimes read my blog. They’re not little kids any more and I feel like it’s not cool to talk about everything we do together with the Internet . . .

. . . but in this case, I’m making an exception.