There’s a trope in musicals (and television shows that want to be musicals) that, by the time a character is bursting out in song, they’re singing their innermost feelings, and sharing, with the world or the audience, some absolute truth. Music can only be honest, and songs are our expressions of genuineness.
Except… there’s the whole of popular music, which, come on, is lying to you all the time.
Alright, yes, that’s hyperbolic and way too damning for a number of artists that are, as the saying goes, putting their hearts out there. But consider the reality of the situation: if every love song on the Top 40 over the last forty years actually involved two people so in love that birds actually appeared, then the world would be a much better place (and, incidentally, overcrowded with birds). And that’s before you even consider how many artists are sexy and they know it, and thus pump out song after song that, if we’re all being honest, are just being purchased because the opposite sex (or same sex, everyone is allowed to an idiot) really wants to believe Artist X wants to bone. I can’t mock any teens going gaga for One Direction when I know I’ve got a Mariah Carey Christmas album staring back at me from my CD collection. I was young, foolish, and thought she’d appreciate my patronage!
Even beyond the basic level of Mariah not actually wanting me for Christmas, there’s also the general persona that popular artists are expected to project. Once again, there are the obvious ones like the sexy girls and the non-threatening boys, but there’s also the parade of anti-authority musicians that would like to remind their teenage audience that they’d never take the trash out just because dad is ordering them to, and, oh man, you better believe they’re smoking out behind the bleachers with all the other cool kids. You’ve got to fight for your right to party, audience, else the man is going to take all your rad piercings (and our albums!) away.
This has been on my mind more than usual lately, because, assuming you have a heart and a set of ears, you’ve heard David Bowie passed. Full disclosure, I was never a big Bowie fan. I mean, I could listen to Space Oddity on an infinite loop from now until we actually meet Starmen, but I’ve never waited with bated breath for the latest Bowie album, or even saw the guy live. If I’m being completely honest, I’m pretty sure I’m more a fan of The Sovereign’s work than the real Bowie (whom, incidentally, I do suspect actually had a companda). But I’ve always been a fan of Bowie, conceptually, because it seemed like he was genuinely enjoying himself as he constantly reinvented David Bowie. Last year he had a lightning bolt inked onto his face, next year he might be a giant spider from mars, but he seemed so totally into it that it never felt like an “act”. David Bowie is (was… dammit) a chameleon of a performer, and, while that kind of distinction is usually portrayed as a bad thing, in this case, it was not only good and true, but plainly informed every other shapeshifter out there that, hey, you want to run around with a fabulous, overblown wig and ridiculous spandex, brother, that’s alright. Bowie wasn’t anti-establishment because of some studio mandate to appeal to the youth demographic, Bowie was anti-establishment because Kohl’s doesn’t sell shocking red hair dye.
And, on the other side of the aisle, there are the bands that are anti-establishment because that’s what they told you, perhaps through Revolution X: Music is the Weapon featuring the one and only Aerosmith.
Aerosmith isn’t a bad band, and I’ve always generally enjoyed their music, but I’ve never really seen them living on the edge of society or anything remotely like that. I’m probably just too young to remember when/if they were ever relevant in that way (it’s similarly difficult for me to take the Red Hot Chili Peppers seriously, as my introduction to them was an animated conversation with Krusty the Clown). And it probably doesn’t help that, if you were to look at today’s publicity stills for Aerosmith, you might suspect they’re less a rock band and more Hogwart’s latest Defense Against the Dark Arts professors.
But back in 1994, Aerosmith hit the arcades with Revolution X: Music is the Weapon, a game where Aerosmith is the voice of the revolution against a totalitarian government that seeks to outlaw video games, music, and all fun (and magazines, for some reason… is this a porn reference?). Oh no! It’s basically 1984, except it’s all helmed by a dominatrix named Helga that seems to have an obsession with kidnapping attractive blondes and employing brightly colored ninja. Unless… was that all in 1984, too? I mean, I haven’t read the thing in a while. Regardless, you, player, with your unlimited bullets and a stock of CDs that appear to be more destructive than bombs (Milli Vanilli CDs? Haha, yeah, I’m cool), must make your way to an Aerosmith concert, watch the poor band get kidnapped, and then rescue the group and save the world with the help of Aerosmith’s swank car.
I spent upwards of five minutes researching this article, but I couldn’t find any interviews with Aerosmith regarding the creation of this game. I did discover that, originally, Revolution X was going to be a Jurassic Park themed shooter, but Sega grabbed that license, so no dinosaurs for you, Midway. How gunning down velociraptors suddenly became a battle against an endless army of storm troopers (and at least one school bus), I’ll never know. But one thing is certain about this game: Aerosmith had to know about it.
No, I don’t mean to imply that the mountains of merch that you’ve purchased in support of your favorite band have been a waste. I don’t care how much you paid for your rock ‘n roll lifestyle, I mean, I own a copy of Revolution X for the Sega Saturn, I’m not going to judge anyone’s purchasing habits; but at a certain point you have to acknowledge that maybe every single Starlight Vocal Band t-shirt you own maybe wasn’t approved by Bill or Taffy Danoff, and was simply a cash grab to fleece a willing audience for more sweet, sweet succor. I don’t blame any artist, from Steven Tyler to David Bowie, for not thinking too hard about whatever product is going out the door, even if it does have their name on it, because it’s about the music, right? If selling KISS Army brand ice machines keeps the lights on in the studio, it’s not that bad, right?
Except Aerosmith actually appears in Revolution X. Digitized recordings of Tyler and the rest of the band appear between (and sometimes during) levels, and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen an extremely bored Joey Kramer beg you to stop a bus. While some band members seemingly couldn’t give less of a damn, The Irresponsible Captain Steven seems oddly into this gig… which leads me to believe that Liv got her acting chops from her mother’s side. So, yes, at some point, someone must have approached Aerosmith, informed them that a game was being produced where only Aerosmith could save the world, and someone in the band, likely Tyler himself, shouted, “Oh yeah!” and leapt through a wall and into the recording booth. Wait, I might be confusing him with the Kool-Aid Man…
Whether Aerosmith is filled with refreshing sugar water or not, this game is based on perpetuating the myth of an Aerosmith that is anti-establishment, anti-authority, and anti-helicopters that take entirely too long to kill. It’s a lie, though, right? Like, pretty much anyone with a record contract is an authority to begin with (you don’t book Wembley Stadium with a couple of guitars and one blue amp), and that’s even ignoring that, by 1994, Aerosmith had been releasing albums nationally for over two decades. If the nefarious Helga and the Army of NON were able to usurp power two years later, as they do in Revolution X’s reality, Aerosmith and their library would likely have been accepted as an approved source of classical music. Yeah, it’s cool that you guys were on Saturday Night Live, Aerosmith, you’re just as anti-establishment as Donald Trump.
So what’s the lesson here? Aerosmith is a bunch of sellouts? No, that’s too reductive. Aerosmith has an inflated sense of their own cultural clout? Well, I have no doubt that that’s true, but if someone told me I’d be starring in a video game where I’m responsible for saving all of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, I’d probably approve of the enterprise, even if I didn’t believe my own hype. No, I think the simple lesson here is to, as ever, not believe everything you hear, whether it be on the radio or streaming from your Sega Saturn. Make your own choices, make your own decisions, and don’t let Midway or anyone else tell you who is “on your side”.
Find you own voice, your own song, and sing it loud. I don’t know where you’ll go from there, but I promise it won’t be boring.
FGC #84 Revolution X: Music is the Weapon featuring Aerosmith
- System: Sega Saturn for the review, but it was spawned of the arcade, and also ported to the Playstation, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis. I would assume the SNES/Genesis versions drop the FMVs of the band proper, and, without that, what’s the point?
- Number of Players: Two on the home consoles, and three in the arcade. Don’t worry, a buddy won’t make this experience any better.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Oh yeah, this game suuuuuucks. Like, even on a basic level, it’s the kind of quarter killer where I’m pretty sure it is literally impossible to beat this game without losing health. If someone is on the screen, anywhere, with a gun, your health is draining, and the bosses that have multiple weapon points that require far too many hits are just going to suck your health down faster than a Crackula (that’s a dracula on crack). When you basically can’t do anything to stop the pain, nothing else matters, and ennui takes over with a firmer grip than Helga will ever hold.
- Midway Synergy: This game was originally advertised from the Mortal Kombat 2 arcade cabinet. Occasionally, when the ad was clicked on by a bored arcade manager, Steven Tyler would shout “Toasty!” I am rather upset I can’t immediately find this sound bite.
- Did you know? “Helga”, evil queen mistress of NON and apparently a woman that conquered the world, is played by Kerri Hoskins. You may have never heard of her, but you’d likely recognize her, as she played Mortal Kombat 3 Sonya Blade… and “unfortunately not an actress” Mortal Kombat 4 Ending Sonya Blade. Also, more recently, Maya of Killer Instinct (modern version), if Wikipedia is to be believed. Also, a whole hell of a lot of Playboy issues. I wonder which got more eyeballs, Playboy or Mortal Kombat 3.
- Would I play again: Never!
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mad Maestro for the Playstation 2! Wow, it’s like music week… if… Sonic had more to do with music… I mean… there was Sonic Underground… Bah! No matter! Get ready to direct an orchestra with the best of ‘em. Please look forward to it!