Unlimited Lives is dead. It never quite figured out what it wanted to be. On to the next thing, then.
Deleted Scenes is going to be a collecion of pieces I wrote for other outlets, things that for one reason or another didn’t get published. They could be full 2,000-word articles, they could be 50-word blurbs. If I write it, it doesn’t get posted, and I think it’s good enough to publish, this is where it’ll end up.
Over the last two weeks, the good people over at popblerd.com have been posting their list of the best albums of the ’70s. It’s an interesting and fairly eclectic list, with most of the albums you’d expect and a few you might not; it’s worth checking out, even if music from the time before you were born isn’t your thing.
I wrote a few blurbs for the list, including one for Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and one for Zeppelin’s III. I also wrote one for an album that ended up in the top 10: The Beatles’ Let it Be, one of my favorite Beatles albums, not to mention the only chance for a proper Beatles album to be listed in a list of “albums of the ’70s”. My blurb wasn’t the one to get published, so here they are: a couple of thoughts on The Beatles’ final album:
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The Beatles – Let it Be (1970)
It’s no surprise, I’m sure, to see The Beatles show up on any list that they happen to be eligible for, and Let it Be was late for the ’60s by about five months, so here it is. Rarely does Let it Be make any noise as one of the best Beatles albums, because as Beatles albums go, it is uneven and unambitious. It was recorded before Abbey Road, but disagreements in its production style and the songs that were to be included kept it off of shelves until two years after it was recorded. Even as recently as ten years ago, a new version of the album was released — Let it Be…Naked — that purported to be closer to the “original version” of Let it Be.
Nobody ever follows the advice of the album’s title. Everyone seems to wish that it could be more, that it could be better than it is, largely thanks to the pedestal that everyone puts The Beatles on. Every album must be perfect, it must define its era, and if it doesn’t, the problem must be circumstance rather than the music itself.
The constant tinkering is unfortunate, because taken as it is, Let it Be is still a great album. “Across the Universe” and “Let it Be” are two of the band’s most identifiable musical statements, and for good reason; they are immediately catchy and beautifully layered pieces of music. “Get Back” is one of the best “rock ‘n roll Paul” songs The Beatles ever did, and George Harrison’s aggressively cynical “I Me Mine” is a display of his simplistic songwriting style at its best.
Sure, there are a couple of bombs on Let it Be; “Two of Us” is a pleasant throwback at best — a lousy way to open the album — and “The Long and Winding Road” is a dense, saccharine mess no matter which version you’re listening to. Still, the bright lights outshine the missteps, and while Let it Be may never be more than the sum of its parts, some of those parts are sufficiently brilliant to stand on their own.
Prologue: I promise I’m going to write some blog posts that aren’t #BoRT entries someday. I’m moving across states this week, nine months after last time I did it. Time is…well, it’s difficult to come by.
The theme of this month’s Blogs of the Round Table is “Origins”. Per #BoRT curator Alan Williamson: “What are your earliest memories of gaming? How do you think your childhood (or childish adulthood) experiences of gaming have influenced your life, if at all? Are there any game origin stories that reflect your own?”
Here goes nothing:
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I didn’t “get” my first console. It was just, you know, there. I don’t even remember how I came to start playing it, just that I played it. I played Pong on it with a paddle, I played Combat on it with a joystick. It was an ugly thing, a giant brown box with conspicuous ports, buttons, and switches. It was my older brothers’ machine, and for some reason, when they moved out, they left it with my folks.
I remember playing Pac-Man on that machine. I loved Pac-Man on that machine. I’m fully aware, 30 years later, that the Atari 2600 port of Pac-Man is largely derided as perhaps the worst version of a classic game, but it didn’t matter. It’s amazing what can come off as brilliant when you don’t know that anything better exists. All I knew at that point was that it worked part of my brain that no other entertainment could. It also offered the first hints of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies when it came to video games; even when I was five years old, my Pac-Man strategy was to get all the dots first, saving all the power pellets for the end.
I remember playing Football on that machine. Honestly, I didn’t know what the hell was going on.
I remember playing E.T. on that machine. I may have played more E.T. than any other Atari game save for Pitfall II, certainly more than any other game that I “inherited” from my brothers. It was a fascinating and alien thing. It was aggressively strange, punishing, and difficult, and I wanted so badly to understand it. I got pretty good at it, if I’m being honest.
I remember playing Yars’ Revenge, Venture, and Super Breakout. I remember playing Pitfall, and Kaboom, and River Raid. I remember playing some odd Sesame Street thing that involved an exclusive number-pad peripheral thing. And I remember playing them over, and over, and over again. Somehow, my parents let me stick with these games, they let me treat them like any other toy, and not like the devil in the TV.
Heck, I should probably thank them for that.
The first machine I was alive for when it was introduced into the house was an IBM PCJr. As if to try and convince me that this machine was a necessary component of our household, my dad showed me Jumpman on the first day that computer was in the house.
Do you remember Jumpman? Think a sub-8-bit version of N+ and you’re probably not too far off.
My god. I just remembered that computer was in the kitchen. THE KITCHEN. Why was it in the kitchen?
As much as the 2600 showed me what video games could be and do, that PCJr showed me what they were made of. I bought books of BASIC programs that I one-fingered into files, LOADed, and RUNned. Every so often, a game I bought in the store would error out, and I’d get a glimpse of the source code, a stray GOSUB or a division by zero error. It was proof that these things were written, line by line, by actual honest to goodness humans. I admired these humans, even at six years old. I wanted to meet them, and I wanted to be them. I wanted to know what it was like to make something as open-ended and gleefully difficult as King’s Quest (a PCJr exclusive when it was first released!) and as utterly mysterious and far-reaching as In Search of the Most Amazing Thing.
Where the 2600 represented the future of toys, the PCJr represented endless possibility, a world in which creation and consumption could coexist and intermingle, a world in which I could, when I learned enough, change my games to suit my needs and interests.
Could I have articulated all that then? Hell no. Still, I think it was there in an abstract sense. Just as a child can sense tension even when all the grownups in the room are still plastering smiles on their faces, a child also knows when the future is knocking on the door.
My brothers, and then my father, brought the future into our house. I didn’t even have to ask. It’s no wonder I can’t just “play” games. I have to understand them, too.