As one of the many who were sure that Simon LeBon's cultural (and musical) relevance had flamed out somewhere between "The Reflex" and "A View to a Kill," count me among those intrigued to learn that Duran Duran's reportedly working up another concert.
On an island, no less.
A virtual luxury island, somewhere in Second Life, the virtual world with the Sims-style sensibilities and (in most of the grids, anyway) the anything-goes attitude.
With a reported subscriber base that's approaching half a million people, Second Life is more than just an online phenom — it's a better, busier place to stage an impromptu concert than Kudu Coffee or Marion Square.
Amateur indie artists already knew this, of course, having augmented the Murdoch-owned fields of MySpace and the wild soup of YouTube with the virtual venues of Second Life. The boyz who gave us that "Girls on Film" video aren't even the first mainstream group to take advantage of this unusual musical delivery method. That honor goes to fans of U2, a band that's embraced the musical marketing possibilities of interactive entertainment better than almost any other. (Bono, you'll recall, is a key financial partner in Elevation Studios, the monolith that recently snapped up Pandemic and Bioware). Back in April, fans threw together a set of U2 avatars and used Second Life's music-streaming feature to serve up highlights from the Vertigo tour. Last month, willowy pop-folkie Suzanne Vega, who's been off the pop-cult radar only slightly longer than the LeBon boys, performed her own concert, simulcast on public radio.
The way I see it, this marriage of real-world music and the massively multiplayer online world could go one of two ways: It's either going to be a model of how two entertainment mediums work together to their mutual benefit, or the equivalent of hiring Mark Cuban to run your media enterprise — a situation you just know is going to end with profanity-laced embarrassment. You have to admit it's a hell of a lot more interesting and user-centric than jamming the latest set of hip-hop hits into the NBA Live version of EA Trax. I appreciate tuneage during my menu navigation screens as much as the next guy, but seriously, where's the artistry in that?
Watching a digital avatar that looks like Suzanne Vega at age 25 channel the live, actual voice of a much older Vega in an online universe is cool in the same way that seeing an animated Aerosmith and Sonic Youth jamming with Homer and Bart on The Simpsons was cool. (And even groundbreaking.) For the moment, anyway, it's another instance of establishment pop culture — B-list, retro pop culture, but still — crossing mediums to plant a kiss of mainstream credibility on something that the cool kids (I use that word loosely) have been playing around with for months.
Enjoy it while you can. Just like the celeb cameo trick became a horse Matt Groening (and every other network television show) ground into sloppy pop-culture sawdust, it's probably only a matter of time before the music industry takes the music-marketing potential of Second Life and drags it down to the lowest common musical denominator. Can you imagine paying real-world prices to attend a virtual Ashlee Simpson concert at Second Life's Muse Arena ? (And how would we know she isn't lip-synching? The mind reels, the gut churns.) If it ever comes to that, Second Life may well have jumped not just the shark but the schlock as well.
Aaron R. Conklin thinks a Second Life Devo reunion, complete with those ridiculous red hats, is totally overdue. Are we not digital? We are Devo!