In Rock Star, Mark Wahlberg gets to live his headbanging fantasy. Some new websites let you do the same

By Clive Thompson
Updated September 07, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Heavy metal has always had its own interactive culture. What hard-rock shredfest would be complete without an army of teenagers playing air guitar and whipping their heads back and forth in perfect unison, their untamed manes thrashing like a field of wheat in a hurricane?

Now Warner Bros. is going hell-bent for leather with a set of Web offerings tied in to its new movie Rock Star. In the film, Chris Cole (Mark Wahlberg) is the frontman for a headbanger tribute band, and, in a rags-to-riches twist, is hired to sing in Steel Dragon, the made-for-the-movie metal act that he idolizes. What could possibly rock harder?

Well, you, theoretically. The official movie site, filled with the usual promo bumph — a poster, a trailer, and production notes — is at http://www.rockstarmovie.com. But a few other sites attempt, with mixed success, to bring out the prancing rock demon in all of us:

ROCK STAR KARAOKE (http: //rockstarkaraoke.oddcast.com) Want to step into Wahlberg’s shoes? Try this online karaoke machine: Pick a Steel Dragon tune, plug a mic into your computer, and wail away as it plays music from the soundtrack. Assuming your neighbors don’t kill you, upload your performance to the site’s ”listening lounge” and inflict it on the world. The machine works surprisingly well, though it may be frustrating for those with slow modems — and psychologically scarring for anyone who hears you singing lyrics like ”Risk my soul, test my life/For my bread/Spend my time lost in space/Am I dead.” Grade: A-

NINA AND SAMANTHA CHAT-BOT Virtual band, virtual fans. If you send an America Online Instant Message to ”Ninaand Samantha,” you’ll find yourself talking to an auto-responder — programmed with the conversational tics of Nina and Samantha, Rock Star’s two lion-maned groupie chicks (played by Carey Lessard and Kristin Willits). Artificial, yes; intelligent, maybe. Sample dialogue — and punctuation — includes such gems as ”THIS MOVIE IS GONNA KICK BUTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” ”Steel Dragon RULES!!!!!!!” and even ”Blood Pollution ROCKS!!!!!” Any attempt to ask the groupies for sexual favors is met with ”LIKE I WOULD EVER!!!!!!” Grade: B+

BLOOD POLLUTION (http://blood pollutionrules.com) This is a note-perfect emulation of a typical small-town band’s site. The most wretched design on the planet — spinning guitar icons and seizure-inducing color combinations — accompanies the band’s boast that they are ”The Best Metal Money Can Buy” and are available to perform at barbecues. A note of caution: This site may be too painful to look at for anyone who’s ever played in a cover band. Grade: B-

STEEL DRAGON (http://steel dragon.launch.com) It’s amazing how Spi¨al Tap has infected headbanger culture. Steel Dragon’s site has the same weirdly tongue-in-cheek humor — as if literally nobody can take heavy metal seriously anymore. Fictional bios of Steel Dragon members include the charming tale of the drummer, thrown out of high school after being caught, er, practicing his paradiddles ”under the table one day in science class while watching a film on animal reproduction.” At least he didn’t spontaneously combust. Grade: B-

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