Tommy Tallarico, You Have My Thanks

One of the earliest lessons you learn when trying to write to about video games is that it’s hard as hell to get people to talk to you. As a general rule publishers and developers are busy folk. PR representatives concurrently have little use for the myriad writers trying to make a name for themselves. If they respond to you at all their message will often contain little more than a prettied up“no” and perhaps a few screenshots as a conciliation prize.

I wasn’t expecting much when I first emailed Tommy Tallarico. I had almost literally just walked out of the Burlington show of Video Games Live. It had been a fairly cathartic experience, and perhaps energized by the spectacle I decided to write about the show for a gaming site I was working for at the time. Feeling a bit brave I headed over to the Video Games Live website and opened up the contact page. I jotted out a quick message explaining who I was and expressing my desire to speak with the show’s creators. That done, I went back to work on a few other articles and prepared myself for the waiting game that I had become accustomed to in my previous endeavors.

You can imagine my surprise the next day when I logged into my email and found a message from Tommy asking what my number was and when he should call me. I couldn’t believe it. I told my girlfriend (now my wife) Mandi.

“That’s so cool!” she exclaimed. Our friends agreed. Nervous, but also excited I wrote him back and began preparing questions. The night of the interview arrived and Tommy called as promised. We chatted amicably for a few minutes, he inquiring what I thought of the show (it was fantastic) and I asking if he’d enjoyed his time in Vermont. The Ben and Jerry’s factory was a highlight apparently.

I then broached upon the first of my questions. I fumbled my words as expected but he listened patiently before answering thoroughly and enthusiastically. After a half hour or so, I wrapped up my questions and he in turn needed to get going. I thanked him graciously and the phone call ended.

It still stands as one of my favorite interviews. Setting aside the simple courtesy he did me by replying to my query at all, he was just very personable. The interview didn’t feel forced and I never had to pry answers from him. It flowed like a normal conversation and when I finished reviewing my tapes I had more great quotes than I knew what to do with. I wrote my article and was genuinely excited about it when it was published. It garnered only a few hundred hits, but it’s still one that I’m proud of today.

Flash forward two years and my friends and I were making plans to go see Video Games Live again in Montreal. I was as excited as the last time, though to an extent for different reasons. It had been a hard winter. Mandi and I, on our own for the first time, had not expected our heating bill to be what it was. That, combined with our usual bevy of bills, had all but drained us dry. Then as tax season approached we learned that we’d both filled out our W4s wrong and owed the IRS another nice wad of cash. “Lessons for next year” became something of an unspoken mantra between the two of us. Video Games Live would be a nice pick-me-up.

Even so, a part of me felt like a failure. Whereas Mandi seems to have this uncanny ability to shrug off hardships and look on the brighter side of things, I am the penultimate pessimist. I kept thinking of the plans that had been disrupted. The trips we’d been talking of that we could no longer afford. Even small things like celebrating our anniversary at the hotel where we’d been married, were no longer viable.

About two weeks before the Montreal show it dawned on me that it was going to fall on April 30th. Our anniversary would be the following Monday, May 2nd. A thought came to mind. I went to my email account and pulled up my contacts list. Tommy’s email was still there. Could I use that somehow?

I wrote him, explaining our forthcoming anniversary and that we’d be attending the Montreal show. “Would it be at all possible to work that in somehow?” I asked. Taking a moment to weigh the odds of success and convincing myself that it would probably be a no, I shrugged off my doubts and clicked send. It was worth a try.

Sure enough, Tommy wrote back the next day saying that he’d be happy to work it in there if he could. He asked if Mandi had liked any particular songs. She’d enjoyed the Civilization IV suite, so I suggested that one. He said he’d try to throw in a congratulations before that one.

Two weeks later I sat with Mandi and my friends in the Place des Arts theater in Montreal. Usually a blabber mouth about such things, I had managed to keep my plan secret. Even so, I was nervous; there was always the possibility that it just might not work out. I had no delusions about the amount of planning and preparation that likely goes into each show and while I hadn’t asked for fireworks and a banner, I knew that even a small alteration could be difficult. Beyond just the technical aspects I was worried about how it would go over with Mandi if it did work out. A fairly reserved person, a small part of me was concerned that she might walk out of it more embarrassed than happy.

The lights darkened and the show began. Losing myself in the music my anxieties vanished for a time. It barely needs to be said at this point, but Video Games Live is a lot of fun. I’ve been to some excellent concerts in my life. Metallica, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Danzig; I enjoyed Video Games Live more than all of these. A part of this is because I’m totally obsessed with video games. I love the things. More than this though is just the fact that Tommy puts on a really good show. You get the impression from his performance that he’s a guy that really enjoys what he’s doing. When he tells the audience that his passions are video games and music you believe him and for a time, even if you’re not an especial fan of gaming, he makes them the same for you.

A few segments into the show Tommy began to introduce another song. It had won a Grammy, been on the latest album, and featured two soloists. I knew immediately that it was Civilization IV. I held my breath; this was it. He had said it would be before the song began. I glanced at Mandi, she sat next to me eyes obliviously on the stage. He came to the end of his introduction and the song began to play. There had been no mention of our anniversary. I breathed a small sigh of disappointment that I quickly shrugged off. It must not have been doable I figured before settling back into the show.

A few more segments ran by, the crowd going so wild at some points that I could barely hear what was going on. Martin Leung came out and played a Final Fantasy medley. Fans cheered as the music of Halo 3 shook the theater, the emblematic figure of Master Chief charging across the stage.

“We’re going to have a brief intermission!” Tommy declared. He continued on, describing a contest to come after the break. I turned to say something to Mandi and was stopped dead in my tracks. “I’d also like to say congratulations to two very special gamers in the audience! It’s their second wedding anniversary and they’re celebrating with us! Congratulations Stew and Mandi!”

“What!” Exclaimed our friend Carrie.

“No way!” Followed our other friend Gil.

I turned to Mandi. Her eyes met mine, a quizzical look playing across the contours of her face. She would later explain to me that she was in shock. Not knowing that at the time, I assumed the worst. Oh crap, I thought, she doesn’t like it. She’s pissed. I embarrassed her. She stared at me for a long, languorous moment before her expression mercifully melted into a smile. She took my hand and leaned against me whispering sweet nothings that I could barely hear in the din of shuffling gamers, but that reverberated in my heart just the same. The rest of the show was great, exciting me in the same way it did the first time I saw it. Even so, not a single note of music would match that moment for me. It was, plainly put, perfect.

So in short, thank you Tommy. It’s sometimes easy to see kindness as a rarity in the world. That said, it’s always inspiring when someone bucks the trend and is willing to do a little extra to help out someone that for all intents and purposes is a stranger. I appreciate it more than you can know and all of Vermont looks forward to the day when you return to bang your head to One Winged Angel once again.

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