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Friday, March 2, 2018

The Soundtrack of my Game, The Music of My Life

Childhood as I knew I felt it in the books, stories, music, and TV & Movies of my pre-teen years was coming to it's natural end, much like some sidewalks...

In or around the early part of 7th grade, in 1982, something in my world cracked wide open and all of the insanity of art popular, underground, mind-bending, and taboo flooded into my head like my own personal Pandora’s Box.  This was very close to the time I discovered D&D, all of those things happening in a 12 month stretch.

Let me clue you in on just a few of the things responsible for this violent evolution.  They didn’t all hit in 1982, but close enough to create the effect.

Magazines: Mad, National Lampoon, Heavy Metal, Playboy/Penthouse, Games

Books:  Anything Lovecraft, The Belgariad series, Elric Saga (and all of the Eternal Champions), Asimov, Bradbury, Niven, Zelazny, R.E. endless array

Movies: Alien, Annie Hall, Conan the Barbarian, Animation by Bakshi, THX 1138, The Dunwich Horror..again an endless array as VHS made everything available

Comedy: Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield..

All of this and much, much more clearly created a good portion of the person (and the RPG player/enthusiast) I am today, but all of that together might not have had the collective impact that music brought to my life during that mid-pubescent moment.  I’m just going to drop a few youtube videos below.  No reason to listen or watch if you know what it is, and in no way is the individual song/album/group the ONLY reason for the was very clearly (to me) a collective impact.  

Sure, I had listened to the Beatles, the Stones, and the Doors by this point, but most of my musical exposure had been through my parents and the car radio.  Some of the more notable figures in my repertoire up to this point had been Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Gene Pitney, Bobby Vinton, John Denver, the Bee Gee’s and a collection of really awful popular disco or easy listening music (some of which, BTW, I not only still like, but Harry Chapin, and yes, I do enjoy a bit of Manilow now and again).  But while this music was fine, it wasn’t mind expanding or consciousness altering in any way.  It provoked little in the way of introspective thought.  

The music below was how I felt and what I heard in my head alot of the time, and how I imagined the soundtrack of my RPG playing would and should sound.

Yes: Everything Ever

Genesis: Most Everything, Ever

Crosby, Still, Nash and Sometimes Young: Yup..all of it

Rush: Every Drumbeat and Guitar lick…

The music could go on and on, and on, and on.  I had a Stereo, I had headphones, and I had my own room.  In essence I had the keys to the spaceship that could take me to infinite worlds of wonder, other planes of existence and all of it somehow, some-way, made its way into D&D.  Heroes, Wizards, Monsters, Demons, Devils, Magical Artifacts...all of them had a song or an album or a band.

I imagine that this experience is not unique, but the time and place of each individual determines the outcome.  Kids who grew up in the 90’s had access to music and technology (like video games) in ways I did not, so their perspective and more specifically, their soundtrack will be far different from mine.  Sure, Rap existed in the 80’s, but not in the same way it had become pervasive in the 90’s.  Cd’s replaced vinyl, and so their soundtracks didn’t have that big, amazing artwork my albums slid smoothly from.  MP3 format emerges, and now music can be shared and downloaded, even garage-band recordings can make their way around the world at the speed of light and change the musical landscape.

In the 2000’s and with the rise of the internet I can’t even begin to imagine what the soundtrack is like for a millenial.  I had such limited access comparatively.  We shared our albums and made mix tapes, we borrowed and shared our books and passed around magazines in school hallways or on the weekend at the mall.  Now kids just fire up spotify, instagram that meme, text a link, or snapchat that moment...personally i’m overwhelmed but I wasn’t born to it.  I do wonder what that person’s Soundtrack is like.  Is there any stability to it?  Does it feel rooted in anything tangible or real like paper or wax or plastic felt for me?  

All of this has one common thread...the game we play.  While it too went through changes and iterations over the decades (and some might argue changes to its soul as well) , I’m fairly certain that i’m not the only one who draws a straight line from the music that shaped their youth and the way they imagine the game plays out.Sure, there are bigger brush strokes here, but let's focus in and take a macro shot of this one thing.

What is the Soundtrack to your Game, and the music of your life?


  1. I was twenty in 1982 and I'd been doing D&D for six glorious years, but the soundtrack to my gaming life and beyond matches yours almost exactly (I didn't get into Neil Young till much later) Just Hawkwind and Patty Smith. Roger Dean's artwork for all those Yes albums mixed with my imagined world of Michael Morecock set the visuals for whole campaigns.
    Jon Salway (Quid Nunc)

    1. OMFG those album covers by Dean are/were profoundly important to how the 'artist' in me saw the world. Edward Gorey was another important figure for me during that period (regarding art). Of course Hawkwind, Patty Smith I really didn't discover until late high school...but yeah...many of my homebrew worlds/campaigns today still revolve around Moorcock's vision. It's interesting how bits and pieces from so many sources influence even what I derive pleasure from even today, both in and out of gaming. Thanks for reading!

    2. No problem, its really interesting to hear about other people's journeys, especially when they echo my own! I suspect we could go on and on comparing notes on these influences for ages like a couple of old soldiers drinking whiskey at the bar.

  2. I got Gamma World in 1980. The same year I heard "Temples of Syrinx" by Rush for the first time. What a beautiful combination in my 12 year-old mind.