Amanda Palmer’s Guitar Hero

A while ago Leigh Alexander’s Sexy Videogameland asked the question, What’s Our Mandate? The post concerned itself with a gamer’s sense of reality, the world around her, and how the two did or did not connect.

Tonight, I recalled this post for a particular reason.

I went to the Lakeshore Theater in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood (commonly known as Boystown for its large gay population) to see Amanda Palmer touring her new album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, which is produced by Ben Folds. She is one half of the Boston based duo The Dresden Dolls. The gushing already happened all over my personal blog. Here’s where I get serious.

In 2003 my college’s radio station received a promo CD from a band called the Dresden Dolls. I was good friends with the station manager (say hello, Cap’n Perkins) who insisted I listen to this band. This ended up being rather fortuitous, as they became the topic of my Gender Studies thesis paper (I decided to use all my disciplines of study: English for explicating song lyrics, Theater for analyzing performances, German for examining the cultural mileau from which they formed, and Gender Studies to tie it all together). So, bear with me as I delve back into it again–it really does have to do with gaming.


What you just heard/saw was a song from Amanda Palmer’s forthcoming solo album. The name of the song is quite simply Guitar Hero (the link leads to the lyrics). Upon learning of this song, I knew I wished to dissect it for this blog. The problem was that I looked at it, and as is quite common with the lyrics Palmer writes, I could see it from a few different angles (in this case I was trying to see whether or not it condemned videogames, and could come up with cases for both).

So, after the show I walked up to her and quite bluntly asked her, “Where’s the connection? Where’s the shift from gamer to war?”

What she saw was the similarities in the manner of disengagement with surroundings. Gamers and soldiers are in different situations, but there is a certain disconnect from reality for them. There is a need to lose one’s self in what exists around them by divorcing from reality. The manner of this divorce is different, but the concept is the same. Find some way to remove one’s self temporarily.

Perhaps most poignant is the point where the song does shift:

It’s a hit but are you actually sure?
The targets in the crowd are a blur.
The people screaming just like they should,
but you don’t even know if you’re good.

This stanza illustrates both the gamer’s level of skill, the lack of an audience who gives feedback on actual guitar playing skills and then further illustrates the soldier’s fight in a heat soaked desert, where one has room to question the morality of war. Is what I am doing good?

What made me further disconnect these two portions of the song was the fact that the game that was chosen (possibly due to popularity and the relation to her field) is one that is not really all that violent. Instead of an FPS, we are presented with the relatively innocuous music game. There is no direct translation from gamer playing with guns to soldier utilizing guns in reality, though there is a metamorphosis of the plastic guitar into dad’s semi-automatic and the first reference to the gamer being ‘killer king.’

The narrator does not exempt herself from the culture that feeds these war-laden images. I’d rather pick up right where we left, makin’ out to faces of death. What I forgot to ask her was whether this referred to the film or the name of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s first album. Either one instills in itself some rather curious evidence as to the atmospheres in which we decide to put ourselves.

What made me perk my ears up even more this evening (beyond anticipating that song) was the song preceding Guitar Hero called Strength Through Music (a song about the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech). One particular stanza that struck me there was the following:

Don’t bother blaming his games and guns,
he’s only playing, and boys just want to have fun.

Considering what I asked her this evening about Guitar Hero, it seems that she is of the opinion that we do lose ourselves in games and a variety of other activities, hobbies, what have you. Games are just one venue on which they can focus, and one that is coming under more and more scrutiny by the media. These shooters, unfortunately, were lost in their own realities, taking it out on those around them. Amanda Palmer seems to be reflecting our society back at us, but I would not go so far as to see her actually placing the blame.

We all have moments in which we escape or become engaged with videogames. It is the Holy Grail of the gaming experience for many of us–that game that kept you up until the early hours of the morning (see, concerts can do it too!).

Yet, as Leigh Alexander put it in her post I linked at the start of this article, there is also a whole other world out there. Without having games preach at me, I would find it interesting to have a game at which I could puzzle and look as I did with the song Guitar Hero; I want to make a connection that gives me that epiphany sometimes. However, I am not calling for all games to be as such. Right now I am reading schlock fiction right next to Don Quixote, so I perfectly understand the benefits of not having to think too deeply all the time. Overall, it does seems a goal from which I believe we could all benefit.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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7 Responses to Amanda Palmer’s Guitar Hero

  1. emwyllie says:

    I have to agree that the song definitely reflects and doesn’t quite place the blame. The lyrics to the song are powerful. This stanza…“What the fuck is up with this shit?It’s certainly not worth getting upsetHis hands are gone and most of his headAnd just when he was getting so good” …makes the connection you were talking about rather nicely. It shows the effects of war, but attaches it to the video-game stigma. And the Chorus brings up a few interesting points as well. “And I could save you baby, but it isn’t worth my timeCause even if I saved you there’s a million more in line!” Kinda brings up both points again. Rock Band, which is kinda a Guitar Hero clone, lets you ‘save’ your bandmates when they fail out on their instrument. But usually when you’re playing with a group, there’s more than five people willing to play. So that line works nicely to reference both war and video games and helps tie it together. Why would you save one soldier when there’s a million more in line? Definitely an interesting take on the sign. I’ll be keeping an eye on your blog. =)

  2. Denis Farr says:

    Thank you for adding to the explication. I wanted to start off examining stanza by stanza, but knowing my penchant to go on and on, I decided to pick some key points and go with it.I agree with your analysis of those particular stanzas.Glad to have you aboard.

  3. :laughs insanely with hands in the air: YEEEES!!Without me you would be nothing, NOTHING! HAHAHAHhAHAHHAHAAll that aside, I still remember popping that promo disc into the computer in, (forgot the name of the building, but the storm tore the roof off of it, P-Funk style) and writing an ok paper while listening and all I could think was, “I need to get this to Denis, something special is happening right now”.Time judges these things, judges them well.-Cap’n PerkinsPS I will post a proper response to this at some point (probably the weekend). I first need to parse through a few books I’m finishing.PPS Since it is my goal to prove how important I am in your life/successes I demand you tag this entry with my tag :smirk:

  4. Michal says:

    Hi Denis,I was trying to figure out what she sings in the last part of the song. The lyrics at the link provided are not accurate, and so far I made some of the right corrections…“I could save you babyBut it isn’t worth my timeAnd even if I saved youThere’s a little slice of life”However, the last line still is right. I can’t make out in the video what she sings at the very end there, so I was hoping perhaps you knew?

  5. Denis Farr says:

    Michal, from my understanding, she’s singing, “Even if I saved you, baby, there’s a million more in line,” alluding to disposable nature of both the gamer and soldier.

  6. Michal says:

    Awesome. Thank you very much Denis. That’s an appropriate ending to the song, and makes a big difference.

  7. AngelYarn says:

    Thanks for this post! I was trying to figure out what this song was about!

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