Addiction is a funny thing; it happens slowly at first, and then all at once. One week I was the guy who still needed to have frets explained to him and could barely keep up with the rock-for-dummies "Eye of the Tiger," and the next I'd invested in my own Rock Band gear and I was sneering at players who hovered their pointer fingers over the green button. I mean, the pointer obviously goes on the red, the middle on the yellow, ring finger on the blue, and pinkie on the orange. And when it's time to hit the green, you slide that finger up. JESUS, HAVE YOU PEOPLE COME TO ROCK OR IS THIS FUCKING AMATEUR HOUR?
I had soon formed a regular trio with two other freelance-journalist friends whose days were similarly flexible. At first it was casual; we'd take turns on different instruments and laugh at our clumsy musicianship. But then something changed. I don't know if we actually hit the 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" that Malcolm Gladwell says makes someone an expert, but one day, it felt less like goofing around and more like band practice. We alternated vocals, but I was always the guitarist, and my avatar of choice was Moosejaw Boudreau, the game's lumberjack, because he's my spirit animal. My writer friends -- let's call them by their preferred avatars, Mothership Q and the Duke of Gravity -- were the bassist and drummer, respectively. We even gave ourselves a proper name: Per Word Rate, which may seem like a nerdy journalism joke, but we spelled it with umlauts over the O and A so it was actually pretty badass.
Playing Rock Band became our thing. When people asked to join our get-togethers, we avoided eye contact and muttered excuses. It just felt invasive. They could come watch if they wanted, but I wasn't about to hand some groupie my axe and let them play our songs. Yes, I called it my "axe" -- forgetting that my guitar was a toy.
Even though we were gelling into a tight trio, "Painkiller," our white whale, eluded us. We took it on many times, over several months, to no avail. But then one day, it all came together. I won't lie and say we were playing expert level. It was medium at best, maybe even easy. But it's like the difference between jumping out of a flying helicopter and leaping between two rooftops. Sure, one is considerably more dangerous than the other, but they're both driven by the same fear and adrenaline.