Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Phoenix Comicon: part 2 -- More Friday!

Phoenix Comicon - Friday Part Deaux

When we last left our heroine, she had just reigned in a supreme victory for herself and her geekiness after presenting a grand offering of awesome to the Secretary of Geek Affairs, Wil Wheaton. Though the Fates tried to ruin her internal victory celebration by misplacing her Motorola phone and the sacred video contents within, our heroine could not be outdone, and thus, her adventure at Phoenix Comicon continues.

(What? I couldn’t jump back into the story without an interesting little interlude! I’ve also been reading me some Neil Gaiman. ... although on second thought, I really don’t think that really has anything to do with this.... that sounded more like a Rocky and Bullwinkle interlude...)

So, as the over-the-top narrator has just reminded you, and you can read at the previous post in this blog, I’d just met Wil Wheaton and had given him a glorious present that he enjoyed. After finding my phone, I was on top of the world, and my good luck and awesome times would continue.

I spent the rest of the day in a giddy daze of awesome. Not long after my encounter with Wil Wheaton and the retrieval of my phone, I went to Wil Wheaton’s Awesome Hour. I managed to nab a front row seat, right beside a family who’s mom I got talking to and discovered that even though she was from a smaller AZ town, she wrote articles for Geek Dad -- how incredibly cool is that? She and her kids were wearing Geek Dad shirts, and one of her kids was having a lot of fun doing Etch-A-Sketch drawings and showing them to us (and demanding her mom take pictures of them on her iphone -- adorable!)

Wil’s panel was HI-LARIOUS! (unsurprising). If you want to know how hi-larious it was, you can listen to a podcast version of it here: http://juliasherred.com/2010/05/the-awesome-hour-the-guild-panel-star-trek-tng-reunion-panel-and-more-available-for-download/ (Two of his other panels are included, but I’ll talk more about those in the “Saturday” post). His panel was so awesome, and so awesomely the-last-panel-of-the-day, that he was able to go over 20 minutes beyond his allotted time, to the joy of us all. Probably my favorite story he told was one in reply to a question he was asked, where he tells us about how he accidentally let a character he voiced on one of the Ghost Recon games get killed while he was playing it, and how it so emotionally scarred him he had to actually restart from a save point (something he doesn’t do, being a veteran NES player).

After this, we hit the exhibit hall (I got myself a Totoro plushy! Squee!), and then checked into the Hyatt hotel, which was the host hotel for the convention. It was amazing. I’d never really been in anything that fancy before. It was over 20 stories tall, and at the very top, there was a revolving restaurant which I neglected to visit but had long heard about while driving by downtown on I-10 with my mother. I’d always dreamed of going into it, ever since I was a child, and yet here was my chance, and I did not.

I think the elevators made me block out the idea. They. Were. Terrifying. They went so fast and so many of us con-goers would cram onto them they would shift under our weight and thus there was always the absolute certainty that the cables would snap and we would plummet to our doom and never be able to complete our con experience!!

Our room was on the seventh floor. The bed was huge, big enough for my friend Tanya and I to share without feeling weird about it. The bathroom was pretty spacious, and oh. my. god. there were massaging foot bars! They were UNBELIEVABLE! ...and yet I neglected to take one home with me. x_x cest la vie...

After taking a moment to choke down some food (conventions have a funny way of stealing away your hunger. I think it’s so much geekiness all at once fulfills an appetite that food simply can’t), I make my way downstairs to the ballroom, and become part of the beginning of the line for the long-awaited Rock Band event, still two hours on the horizon.

And near the beginning of the wait, it was alright. My friend Tanya decided she didn’t feel well and headed upstairs to bed, leaving me all on my lonesome. And then, for some stupid reason, the security people wouldn’t let us sit, which SUCKED, but I got to kinda stand around and people watch.

The group ahead of me in line (the only group ahead of me ^_^) were a set of people, two women and one man, who could not have been younger than 35-years-old each, if not older. And I thought that was AWESOME! They talked about college, playing games in college, being nerds in college, and these were women, especially, that I never would’ve pegged for the D&D crowd. And they were from Tucson, and told me about some small-time conventions that have gone on there in the past years. That was super cool. Honestly, I hope I’m still going to cons and still being excited about these things when I’m their ages. It made me smile so much.

Directly behind me in line were two girls, who, I failed to recognize until later, were staff members. They were both only two years older than me. They were pretty awesome, even if mildly uninterested in me at first. One reminded me of my friend Sarah, which was weird. Why are there always doppelgangers at these kind of things??

Not a bad bunch of people to be hanging around with, all in all, while waiting two hours to play Rock Band.

Now, here’s a fun fact. Phoenix Comicon is relatively new, and the size of the convention this year was significantly greater than it was the previous year, with a bigger venue and twice as many attendees. Rock Band with Wil Wheaton had premiered there the previous year, and had continued to gain popularity as Wil brought it to other conventions over the course of the bridging months. One would think they would’ve realized the potential for both a massive turnout for the event, and a massive turnout of people showing up early to be first for the event. They also should’ve realized that bands using that ballroom would need time to set up before and clean up after their event. However, it appears the folks at Phoenix Comicon did not prepare for ANY of these things, and no one knew what to do. As the line grew enormous and posed fire hazard risks, someone wisely brought out velvet ropes to separate us from the people using the ballrooms before us (for some godawful metal band, and also for the raves going on in the adjacent ballroom). But that was as far as thoughtfulness was carried out, and everything descended into madness. We, the attendees, understood how it was supposed to work -- you had to sign up for an instrument during the day, and then show up half an hour before the show, and sign up for a band placement spot. We thought we were in line for band placement. But they didn’t understand. First, they herded the line in several different confusing places, no one in command communicating their thoughts to one another. And then, after splitting the line, they thought those of us up front already had band placement, so they started taking people from the back of the line to be placed into bands, while we were left in the dust.

Well, can you tell what my reaction was?

I. Was. Pissed.

Fun fact about me, now. I’m the kind of person who constantly and repeatedly lets herself be beaten down and trampled on. I really just don't care about myself, ordinarily, to stop people from walking all over me in almost every situation. However, this time, nuh-uh. No way. I was NOT going to let these uninformed Con reps get between ME and WIL WHEATON! (In a totally not-creepy fashion....)

So I break out of line. I storm up to them and ask what’s going on. I did feel mildly bad for the woman I talked to -- I wasn’t shouting. I was just being stern. Justifiably concerned and upset. I was just trying to get our point across. I just wanted answers. I just wanted to be sure that I wasn't getting the short end of the stick when I've been waiting for this for months. She was so flustered, though, and I did feel bad. I reached out and grabbed her hand.

“I know, dear, I know,” I told her with a laugh. “Calm down, it’s not like I hate you! I just wanna know what's going on."

She told me to talk to the registration people. The registration people told me to talk to the line people. The first woman WAS the line people.

In the end, I convinced them to just let me sign up right then, making me the drummer for the second band lined up. I made my way back to the front of the “line” (now only called such for shape, not for purpose) and relayed what’d happened to the others. They were pretty ticked off, as well. A couple of the people in front of me just decided to leave, while Danielle and Stephanie, the two girls behind me, went to get signed up.

At some point, long after the event was supposed to start but the previous band hadn't finished, we were herded into one last line, organized by band. It was here I met two of my three bandmates, and we learned what our band (which one of us tried to name but I can’t remember it now) was comprised of: myself, drums; Cross-Between-Hillbilly-And-Punk, guitar; Bowie-with-a-Question-Mark, bass; Wil Wheaton, vocals.

“Hey,” a tiny voice said to me as we stood there, pondering what song we should play. Since none of us knew each other, it was a little tricky to decide on a song.

“Shut up,” I told it, annoyed. “Can’t you see I’m busy trying not to lose my cool and give a fangirl squeal in front of my bandmates? I’m a rock star now.” The certainty of Rock Band was beginning to dawn on the room. Energy was buzzing in the air, rivaling the frustration that still lingered from the previous events. Any moment now, we’d be going in.

“Hey, Wil is singing,” the tiny voice pressed, as though it hadn’t heard me.

“Yeah, I know. So what?”

“Didn’t he say something?”


“He said something, remember?”

I pause a moment, trying to remember myself. My defensive barrier began to lift, and I tilted my ear in towards its words.

“...What did he say...?”

The voice leaned in, a little more persistent, and I listened, a little more carefully, a little more trusting.

“He said it, somewhere. ‘Someone is going to force me to sing Bon Jovi.’ He said it.”

I pause. My full attention is on this little voice now.

“He did...” I whispered. As understanding grips me, a smile played on my lips, barely noticeable.

“You’ve got to do it,” the little voice insisted, and I began to recognize it now, just as the excitement was welling up in my chest. “You’ve got to be the one to make him do it. It’s his own fault. He was the one who said it. He put the idea in your head."

“Bon Jovi....” I murmured, grinning all the way now. "Yes... yes... it must be done... thank you." I turn to my bandmates. “We have to do Bon Jovi. Please, we have to make him sing Bon Jovi!”

I’m sure they questioned why, and I’m sure that I’d told them. I’m sure they’d protested it at some level, and I’m sure I was so passionate and assured in my decision that they finally agreed, for the sake of ease. It’s all well and good, because I would not have allowed them to change my mind.

That little voice I'd heard? I recognized it now.

It was that nagging little voice of a good idea.

It’d been the same one that had inspired me to give Wil some sour cream for his burrito.

At long last, forty-five minutes late and with all of us frustrated and exhausted, we made our way into the ballroom, where a magnificent setup awaited us.

At the opposite end of the fair-sized ballroom awaited a waist-high stage with a thrust addition (you know, like a catwalk for a runway show). It was gloriously adorned with the necessary Rock Band items: on a special platform in the middle stood the drum kit, on stage left the guitar, stage right, the bass. Stage front and a little left was the Rock Band mic on its very own stand, and stage front and right was a normal mic for introductions and announcements. Each section had a special monitor set up so that one could play while looking out at the audience, just like in a real band, while the audience got to watch everything projected behind the stage. Before all this stood rows of chairs, and everyone began filing in. As member of the second band, I forwent the chairs and made my way to the wall off of stage left, brimming with excitement and anticipation, my band in wait. A stout official sort of man handed us a packet of available songs, asking us who was singing, and upon learning it was Wil, warned us that we must choose a second song in case Wil didn’t want to sing the first. We followed protocol, picking a Red Hot Chili Peppers song as a possible backup, but I was not really all that concerned. He had said someone would make him sing Bon Jovi. He knew it was coming. He could not refuse.

I don’t even remember what the first song was. I don’t even remember if it was good or not. I remember talking to Stephanie and Danielle (who managed to nab #3), who wanted me to record their performance and take pictures (and they would do the same for mine). I agreed, thrilled that my video would be up on youtube.

The first band grew close to finishing, and the stout official type waved us onto the stairwell.

People in the audience were cheering. The sound of the music was loud and encompassing, like being in the presence of a real band.

I. Was. So. Excited.

I love Rockband anyways. I’m always upset if we spend time at my buddy Eric’s house and don’t end up playing. But this was something else entirely. This was combining three parts of my life that I loved -- playing drums on Rockband, performing onstage (I was in orchestra and steel drums in high school), and Wil Fucking Wheaton.

And there I stood, on a stairwell, ready to jump up onto a stage in front of hundreds of people. I felt like a rock star. I felt dressed like a rock star. My hair was up in messy ponytails, my skirt and leggings offset with a nerdy t-shirt (I forget which one now). An ironic(?) tie completed the ensemble (my first time ever tying one for myself). All that was missing were arm warmers and converse sneakers. And taped-up glasses.

The other band finished. Wil made his way up to the normal mic to speak, to introduce us, and we were told by the side guys to run onstage.

It was really happening!

Holy crap, this was happening!!

I leap onto my platform, grab up my drumsticks with the biggest smile I could ever have, and plop down in my seat, waving my hands out in front of me and adjusting my seat to make sure I can actually reach all the panels and the foot pedal. Wil finishes his introduction and turns to me.

“What song?” he asks.

“Living on a Prayer,” I chirp happily, possibly with a gleam of devilish glee in my eye.

“Ah, of course,” is all he says, and I can’t tell if he’s annoyed or amused or bored. He makes his way towards the Rockband mic. The boys are situated with their respective Rockband guitars. The Harmonix guy flips through the menu and chooses the song, to a chorus of cheers and catcalls from the audience (a great many of whom probably understood the significance of this). We pick our difficulties (medium for me -- I know hard is too much for me on this song). A loading screen. My heart is racing.

This is really happening....

Be a rockstar, I tell myself. Or maybe that voice is....

The lights dim to nothing. The lines on our screens begin to move. A low hum of music surfaces from nowhere. Wil is standing with his back to me, head bowed as he awaits his cue. The audience is out there somewhere, beyond him, making noise, but I don’t really notice them.

Be a rockstar....

We come closer to the beginning segment of the bassline. I’ve heard it enough times to know when its coming.

Be a rockstar....

I lift my drumsticks and start clacking out the beat of the song to the rest of my band. They have to know how fast it goes, afterall.

Be a rockstar....

The bassline starts. The guy is missing some notes, but it’s not that bad. Wil lifts a hand dramatically, pointing over to him as he does his solo. A lead singer -- no, Bon Jovi, getting into the rhythm of the moment.

Be a rockstar....

It’s coming.... I see more notes coming onto the screen, heading towards the line I know is mine.

It's time...


We jump into it.

And I really jump into it.

I let my arms arc high. I hunch my back and lean into it. I shake my head and let my hair dance with the rock 'n roll.

And I watch Wil. The song is simple enough. A ton of yellows, with some reds intermittent. Pay attention when you know you’re supposed to hit a cymbal green note. I can do this easy. I watch, and I laugh as Wil leans into the song for his first line.

“Once upon a time... not so long ago...” he says to the audience, pulling the stand of the mic to himself as he leans around to gaze at them all.

By George, I think he’s already Bon Jovi.

Many colored lights flash on us as we charge into the full extent of the song, Wil Bon Jovi telling the story of Tommy and Gina who’re down on their luck, but believe in themselves and each other, and know they can’t give up on their dreams. His voice is similar to that of the original artist, and he sings passionately at the audience -- I can tell from even where I’m sitting behind him, by the way he swings himself around, supporting himself on the mic stand, that he is into this. Really into this.

I can understand why anyone would ever make him play Bon Jovi.

And I play my damn hardest. I take advantage of the improv sections, using them for musical accompaniment rather than the typical approach of “play every fricken note you can in the allotted time given to get maximum points.” I sing along with him, at the top of my lungs, because damnit, that’s what I do. My hips hurt because my seat is too high, with my foot beginning to lose feeling as it hits the bass notes, but I barely care. I try and make it through without falling off or seizing up.

We go into the second verse, about Tommy selling his guitar, and how tough life is. The bassist, the Bowie-wannabe in a crushed velvet suit and a wig half-obscuring his hair, runs over to Wil, and they scream “Baby it’s OKAY!” together into the mic. I’m a little jealous, but I’m just happy I can kick ass behind them - and I was. I knew I was. I barely missed any notes.

This is incredible, I tell myself.

Thank you, voice, for reminding me.

You're welcome, it says. Now be a fucking rock star.

The music is all-encompassing, and I never want it to end....

She says we gotta hold on to what we’ve got

‘Cause it doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not

We’ve got each other, and that’s a lot for love....


“Woooooah, we’re halfway there!” Wil belts into the mic, and then he leans the mic into the audience to sing “Woooooah-hoh! Livin’ on a prayer!!” “Take my hand, and we’ll make it I swear!” “Wooooooah-hoh! Livin’ on a prayer!! LIVIN’ ON A PRAAAAYER!!!”

There’s the big music break, and Wil throws down the mic and struts out on the catwalk, to much screaming and cheering. I burst into laughter as I continue drumming. The girls kneeling on the floor in front of the stage look the appropriate height as Wil wiggles his fingers at them, pretending to be one of those pop artists who grabs the hands of the fans in the pit. Oh my god, that’s awesome! I thought, making a mental note to sit there during the rest of the night. At about this time, the bassist jumps up on my platform and rocks out hardcore as a guitar solo rips through the air -- I know it’s not him playing, but I’m glad he’s getting so into it, unlike the actual guitarist, just standing to the side barely bobbing a head.

Wil runs back to his mic and uprights it just in time for my favorite part...

“We’ve got to hold on... ready or not.
You live for the fight when it’s ALL THAT YOU GOT!”

[KEYCHANGE!] (thanks alot Eric)


I repeat until my lungs are empty and my voice is hoarse, along with everyone else. I screw up a part of one of the drum improvs. Shit! That was lame! But it doesn’t matter! This is still awesome! I move with great purpose, arms arching dramatically, body moving, head shaking -- just like a goddamn rock star.


We repeat the lines over and over until it fades into memory. As the song truly ends, one last bass phase, two last hits on my drums, I can’t contain it. No sooner had they fallen on their last notes, my drumsticks fly high over my head, and I scream as loud as I can, causing the rest of the audience to burst into cheers as well.

I’M A MOTHERFUCKING ROCK STAR!!! I want to scream at them, but I restrain myself. I feel it in my heart, though, and it felt awesome.

Rock Band will never be the same for me again.

The audience cheers as we all congratulate ourselves on the epic win we’d just performed, Wil reaching over my tv and drum setup to give me a high five. I’m jittery, like I’d just finished the most intense roller coaster I’ve ever been on. I stumble a little as I dismount my seat and make my way back off of stage left. Everyone tells us we did awesome, as the next band jumps onstage.

I still can’t believe it happened.

Not only did I get to play with Wil Wheaton, but I made him sing Bon Jovi, and holy fucking crap we kicked ASS!!

I was still jittery an high on life as Danielle handed me the camcorder to record their performance. I fought to both take decent quality video with it while simultaneously trying to figure out how to use Stephanie’s point-and-shoot camera to take pictures with. Sadly, I didn’t manage to do either -- turns out, unbeknownst to me, Stephanie’s camera was out of juice (I’d just thought I was incompetent), and somehow, while trying to one-handedly make it work, I other-handedly accidentally shut off the videorecorder halfway through. I felt terrible, and apologized as fiercely as I could to them when they finished. They didn’t seem that upset, or I may have told myself otherwise to allow myself to enjoy the rest of the night.

I planted myself on the floor in front of the stage, half because there weren’t any other close-up seats, half because Danielle was down there as well, to take more video of the upcoming acts, and half (yes, I know there are three halves, deal with it) because I secretly hoped Wil would go out to shake people’s hands again. He didn’t, but I didn’t care, because being in the front was so awesome!

And, I had my sketchbook. Plot point. (Yes, lives have plot points).

The 30 or so acts (yes, there were over thirty acts!) that followed mine never seemed to quite live up to the level of the Bon Jovi performance. There were some great acts, to be sure -- one girl sang the song from Portal amazingly well, a family with two young kids played Enter Sandman by Metallica, and Wil tried his hand at Poker Face even though he’d never really heard it before. But still, a light began to fade pretty rapidly after our band performed. I’m sure the events that preceded Rock Band didn’t help.

At one point, Danielle looked around crestfallen. “No one’s dancing....” she said, and not for the only time. “Last year, we all danced. It was like a real rock concert...”

“We’re all tired...” I pointed out.

And it was true. I, personally, didn’t feel like doing much of anything except simply sit there and enjoy the show. And as I watched Wil up on stage, I felt both incredibly sorry for and incredibly thankful of him. I really hope that some other fans went to him later and thanked him for sticking it out up there for over three hours -- he was exhausted, and it was very noticeable not long into the evening. Con must be tiring enough as it is - travelling, meeting fans, doing panels - but staying up til 2am playing Rock Band? (And he truly played Rock Band -- he played either hard or expert on every instrument, INCLUDING drums). That’s dedication. I know he’s not reading this, but I have to say it anyways -- holy crap, Wil, thanks so much!

And another thing I, personally, had to thank him for.... and am still indebted to him for....

Twice during the night, they paused between bands, probably to allow Wil a water break and a chance to catch his breath. To keep us occupied, one of the Harmonix people walked out to the edge of the stage with FREE ROCKBAND T-SHIRTS!!!

And I wanted one. Of course I wanted one! It's a free t-shirt! It's a Rock Band t-shirt! It's a FREE ROCKBAND T-SHIRT!! Not everyone gets one of those, you know.

I begged and pleaded and jumped for one the first time he threw them. I missed out.

The second time around, I screamed and begged and pleaded and jumped for one. I was RIGHT THERE!! How could he NOT GIVE ONE TO ME!!

Some went in my general direction, but I never actually managed to get my hands on one. They always either went too far, or strayed a little too much to one side or another, grabbed by people of greater stature or vantage point than me.

I was devastated, already resigned to defeat as the Harmonix guy prepared to throw the last shirt in the direction opposite from me.

All I wanted was a free t-shirt to commemorate the night.... I mean, come on. I was the one who came up with the plan to make him do Bon Jovi as the second song in. Didn't that mean anything??

Apparently not.

But, suddenly, there was a flash of black and denim, appearing from nowhere and descending on the Harmonix guy like a panther.

The next thing I knew, I was staring at a Rock Band t-shirt, held out before me by Wil Fucking Wheaton.

I automatically grab it without even being able to register what had just happened, a flabbergasted "Thank you" rolling off my lips. I just hold it with my mouth dangling open, staring as he runs off to the back of the stage.

Did... he just grab a t-shirt for me??

I immediately rip off my suddenly-lame nerd shirt (I wore a dress underneath it, don't freak out), and pull my brand-new completely free Wil-Wheaton-gave-it-to-me Rock Band shirt on.

I could not stop grinning.

I didn't know why he'd done it. Some part of me wondered if it was his way of thanking me for the awesome gift, or something like that. Maybe he thought I was the best fan evur, misspelled purposefully, and wanted to reward me as such. I also considered the possibility that I was just in the right place at the right time. (The true reason would not be clear for another two days -- oooooh, reason to keep tuning in for more!)

The last song Wil played that evening was “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, with writer John Scalzi on vocals. It was a great way to end it (there were a few performances afterwards, but this was right at 2am, and the boys needed their sleep for the next day). Danielle and I, and some other people, did end up jumping up and dancing for it. We sang. We enjoyed the last song. We didn't care that we were tired, or that our voices were gone. It was the last song, and it was pretty awesome. Then Wil and John left. I can’t remember if I stuck around long enough to see the last acts, or if I just decided to head out. If it was the latter, sorry last-in-line....

When I got to my room, though, I was wired!! I couldn’t believe what had happened! Rock Band! With WIL WHEATON!! I couldn’t believe it! I'd PLAYED with him-- no, correction, I'd ROCKED OUT with him! I'd gotten a high five from him! I'd gotten a FREE T-SHIRT, personally, from him!!!

Tanya was fast asleep, but I was wide awake, and not sure what the hell to do with myself.

I plugged my phone in (my only means of communication to the outside world during the entire weekend, a burden which causes phones to die rapidly if you’re stuck in line and waiting for panels for hours on end with nothing to do but check twitter over and over again). I tweeted and updated facebook. I whispered a video that I still haven't watched back. I stared at my hands and tried to remember which one had been the recipient of Wil’s high five -- I’d never had a reason to not wash my hand before, but now that I did, I honestly had no idea which hand it was. Was it the right? That... felt right... but Wil was left-handed.... wouldn’t that mean he would high-five on the left...? In the end, I decided there are far too many germs in the world for me NOT to wash my hands, no matter who may have touched it. But just let it be said that, for about five minutes there, I made the conscious choice to “Never wash this hand again,” like a silly preteen 90‘s television show dreamer.

I got into bed about four times over the next two hours, but never really lasted long before getting back up again, either to check something on my phone, or to sit in the bathroom and just kinda silently fangirl out, or whatever. In the end, I took a shower (oh mah GAWD that massaging foot soap was AMAZING on my poor soles....) and finally went to bed and stayed there.

I dunno what I dreamt that night, but I’m sure it was amazing.

All I remember was that Living on a Prayer was stuck in my head, and I didn’t care. In fact, I relished in it, a smile to my face as I drifted to sleep.

(Postscript: In the end, it turned out that our band’s performance would be deemed “My best performance of the night” by Wil on his blog, and as such, I think it’s safe to say that we were the best performance of the night. Not that I’m biased or anything. XD Check it out here: http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/wwdnbackup/2010/06/the-2010-phoenix-comicon.html )

Coming up soon -- Comicon Saturday, or How I Went To Prom With Spock

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