”One of these days, you’re going to have to grow up,” said a coworker as the latest piece of clamorous rock & roll noise blared from my office stereo. I nodded absentmindedly and went back to thumbing through my rock trading cards. You see, in the ever-expanding galaxy of music merchandising, old standbys like T-shirts, posters, and buttons are old hat, dude.
RockCards are indeed the size of baseball cards, but with their emphasis on metal and hard-rock acts, they’re designed for kids (or kids at heart) who think softball is a drag and would rather stay indoors and draw pentagrams on their basement walls. The cards are sold in packs of 13 for about 99 cents at novelty and convenience stores. And like baseball cards, each features a color photo on one side and vital statistics on the back (but, alas, no gum). I learned, for instance, that guitarist Tim Kelly of Slaughter was born in Trenton, N.J., and that drummer Nick Menza of Megadeth likes to scuba dive. Packs feature different shuffled assortments of groups and band members, but according to Joan Whelan, marketing manager of Brockum, the cards’ manufacturer, the metal connection holds it together: ”There has to be a certain musical integrity to each pack. You can’t open it up and find a Debbie Gibson card inside.”
Nor would you want to. But after a while even the metal trivia, while fascinating, start to get a little numbing. I needed to plunge even further into the mind-set of a twisted rock fan, and what better way than reading a comic book? So I reached for the first issue of Grateful Dead Comix, which turns lyrics to the group’s songs into stories. As a result, issue No. 1 suffers from thin plot lines (”One More Saturday Night” is about, um, a party). But the underground-comic-style illustrations are quirky and visceral: The conductor in ”Casey Jones” gets eaten by vultures after his train crashes, and the narrator of ”Dire Wolf” is blown to bits by a six-gun at the end of that strip. Cool!
Desperate for still more cheap rock thrills, I ripped open a copy of Rykodisc’s new CD board game, Play It by Ear, which amounts to Trivial Pursuit with sound effects. Players have to reach the end of the board by correctly answering a question from one of 12 categories; each question involves a snippet of music, speech, or sound heard on the game’s special CD. There’s plenty of standard baby-boomer nostalgia, but there are also pop-music questions relating to the far less predictable likes of the Bangles, Luther Vandross, Meat Loaf, the Beastie Boys, even Mott the Hoople! So keep your Scrabble and Pictionary; I’d rather indulge in a game that plays a bit of L.L. Cool J and then challenges you to spell out what his name stands for (it’s Ladies Love Cool James). Thanks to amusements like Play It by Ear, obsessed over-30 rock fans caught up in terminal adolescence may never have to grow up.