It's the second annual Battle of the Rock Bands, and my number is up.
To my right is an Xbox 360. It's been chugging and sputtering along all night, and cut more than a few performances short with untimely freeze-ups. It's hooked up to a projector, shining upon a high-tech white sheet taped to an extendable wall. Our song's selected, and it's loading without a hitch. Behind me are my bandmates, every bit as ready to rock as I am. In front of me, gathered below my perch on the stage, is the only thing that matters.
I look to the crowd. Most of the faces are turned towards the far wall of the ballroom. I can't really blame them. There's a MUGEN game hooked up to the center projector, and nothing that's going on here can compare to Ronald McDonald vs. Colonel Sanders. I don't take it personally. We haven't even started.
The guitar and drum lines kick in at once, the bass right after. It's one of those songs that doesn't mess around with extended intros. I don't like those anyway. It's way too easy for someone to screw up a few notes and muck up the performance right off the bat. Not that I should worry, really. Our drummer may as well be Bill Ward on the hard rubber kit. The whole crew, in fact, is solid. They came to me as a threesome, looking for someone to fill out their face-melting roster.
Now, I've always had an admiration for people who've mastered the rainbow frets. My hands have always strained to keep up with the finger-twisting gymnastics of the orange-button modes, and every time I see someone shred into “Through The Fire And The Flames” without his face twisting in agony, I get more than a little jealous.
But, I wouldn't trade my place on the stage for any of theirs.
No matter how remarkable their feats of prestidigitation are, the virtuosos of the plastic instruments are forever constrained by tablature. Their things don't make noise unless the rickety, lockup-prone box in the corner says they can.
I, however, am free. I am a singer.
The box can judge me. It can chastise me. It can make me follow along with those ridiculous little tambourine beats. It can threaten to take my entire band down with me.
But it can't silence me.
And these people, still distracted by flying burgers and drumsticks, have no idea what they're in for.
My heart races. This is the moment I've been waiting for all weekend. There's about two dozen people watching, including the cute brunette I briefly talked to the other night. Her boyfriend is standing next to her. I feel a little embarrassed. No matter.
I hardly even need to look at the screen as I belt out Geezer Butler's unholy poetry.
“Follow me now, and you will not regret leaving the life you led before we met ...”
I fill the entire ballroom with my impassioned plea. I want my voice to flood every hallway. I want to awaken the people in the Presidential Suite. I want to violate noise ordinances. I want every policeman in northern Virginia to burst in here to find out what the hell is all that racket. I want to send chills down Simon Cowell's neck from halfway across the globe. I want the patron saint of rock n' roll to rise up from his fiery throne, grab me by the spine and blare his message through my lungs.
The little gold bars on the wall hardly do me justice. To them, I may as well be farting rhythmically into the microphone. My real judges are staring right back at me.
After all, it's not really about the game, or me, or the others righteously shredding beside me.
They're the reason I'm here. Those noble few who've turned their attention away from Simpson vs. Griffin III to praise me with the gift of their notice. I take everything I can from them. Their charm, their amusement, their morbid curiosity. I take it all. I absorb it into my throat, and shout it out right back at them.
"Your love for me has just got to be real, before you know the way I'm going to feel ...”
I'm in another world. It's a place of my own making. Here, my fiery wail topples empires, brings peace to nations, and disintegrates underwear, thread by thread.
This is why I play games. Why we all play games. To replace for a few fleeting moments the dull, depressing planet we live in with one of life, and wonder, and excitement, a place where we're all Jackie Chan, Lara Croft, James Bond, Gordon Freeman, or the Almighty Himself at any time we feel like.
And in that world, right now, in front of an audience of sixes, I am Ozzy Osbourne.
“Look into my eyes, you'll see who I am, My name is Lucifer, please take my hand ...”
Call me self-indulgent. Call me an egotist. Call me an attention whore. I won't dispute any of it for a single moment. I live for this. I hunger for this. Here, I am free. Here, I am myself. In yellow glasses and a broken-star jacket, I am everything I want to be.
I think I may have missed a note here or there. I may possibly have botched a phrase. Whatever. It doesn't matter now. I fire off one last formless cry to the chandeliers as my bandmates cap off their own rapturous riffs. They start to cheer. There aren't many of them. It's late, after all, and most of the people left are the rest of the bands waiting for their own performances.
But those who were there were thoroughly rocked. Including the boyfriend of the cute brunette. I drink in their cheers. My heart soars to the ceiling. In their applause, I find my only peace. In the end, that's all I came for.
I breathe deeply. My vocal cords are buzzing and throbbing. I feel alive. More so than I ever have or ever will. I raise my microphone. Screw the scoreboard. I won.
We still have one more song to go.
“Master Exploder, guys?'
These people won't know what hit 'em.