The year was 2005. iPods were the hot thing, YouTube had just been launched, Twitter didn't exist yet, and the words "podcast" and "social media" had only just been added to the dictionary. It was, in short, a great time to be a kid, as well as the nexus point of many of our modern everyday experiences, like being able to listen to music wherever you are, or watching videos of some guy at the zoo whenever you fancy.
It was also the year that I played a lot of Tony Hawk's Underground 2. The game originally came out for GameCube and Game Boy Advance (and other non-Nintendo platforms) in 2004, but the PSP version — the one my brother was gifted, and which I promptly claimed for my own — came out the following year on Universal Media Disc, a format which turned out to not be so "universal" after all.
Was it a good skateboarding game? I have no idea, really. Metacritic says yes, and at the time of writing Nintendo Life readers rank it in eighth place on our Best Tony Hawk Games Of All Time list, but I pretty much played that game as a moving-around simulator with a fantastic soundtrack. Sure, I'd pull an ollie or a kickflip every now and again, and I really enjoyed grinding on just about any 90-degree angle available to me, but I was in it for the jams — and I still am.
To this day, it's tough to quantify exactly how much influence THUG2 had on my musical taste, but it was lot. I was of the age where I was basically a big ball of putty, ready to be moulded; all it took to get me into something was for it to be in front of my face for a few seconds. It was the era of Jackass, Bam Margera, pop punk and Avril Lavigne, and yes, I was the teen who had spike bracelets and massive, baggy jeans. We all make mistakes.
Baby teens don't tend to know much about music beyond what their parents listen to (or they didn't back then), which for me was classic bands like The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac for my mum, and dad-rock like Dire Straits and The Eagles for my dad. Nowadays, I'll mix in a healthy dose of the Mac, Sheryl Crow, Steely Dan, T-Rex, ABBA and Neil Young alongside much, much cooler stuff (don't worry, I still think Steely Dan are cool), but as a teen, there was nothing more embarrassing than acknowledging the things your parents enjoyed. Teens are awful. Sorry.
Tony Hawk soundtracks were pretty much cheat sheets for kids who didn't grow up in the '80s and '90s, but needed a crash course in everything they missed
Instead, it was the extremely cool-for-its-time Tony Hawk's Underground 2 that coached me. Bands like Faith No More, Jimmy Eat World, and The Distillers became my musical blueprints, and because the worlds of rock and punk are incredibly incestuous, that took me to bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, The Strokes, The Offspring, and Eagles of Death Metal. Sprinkle in a bit of pop-punk-du-jour like Sum 41, All-American Rejects, Avril Lavigne, and Blink-182, and you have a pretty fully-formed taste in music there, kiddo.
(Also, shout out to my uncle, who pre-loaded my first-ever iPod with music from his teens and twenties, introducing me to other bands including Green Day, Weezer, Muse, and Rage Against the Machine. Probably inappropriate music for a young teen to be listening to, but that's why he's the cool uncle.)
I would later buy the soundtrack to Tony Hawk's American Wasteland without even playing the game, which probably makes me a poser, but listen: Tony Hawk soundtracks, most likely without intending it, were pretty much cheat sheets and starter packs for kids who didn't grow up in the '80s and '90s, but needed a crash course in everything they missed.
I ended up going to see many of the bands I just listed live, in a sticky-floored venue that had a thick haze of cigarette smoke (this was before the indoor smoking ban). I would come away from each gig with my clothes stinking of tobacco and ash, and my ears ringing with the warning peal of tinnitus. I wore these dubious honours like a badge of coolness, because once again, teens don't have fully-developed brains, and make bad decisions sometimes at the expense of their future, wiser selves.
But god, was it fun. And who could have predicted that a PSP game about skateboarding would directly lead to me stumbling into moshpits, being invited to dance on stage at Dropkick Murphys concerts, and forming a lifelong love for Queens of the Stone Age? So thank you, Tony Hawk and friends, for being surrogate older brothers for me. Sorry I never actually got into skateboarding, but at least we can share the music.
Be sure check out the other Nintendo Life VGM Fest articles in our season of music-focused interviews and features.
- Further reading: Best Tony Hawk Games Of All Time