Before heading over to the Theater At Madison Square Garden for The Legend Of Zelda: Symphony Of The Goddesses, I spoke with fellow Gameological contributor Ryan Smith, who had attended the concert a month before in Chicago. “I felt overmatched,” he admitted. “I was sitting next to these Zelda obsessives who were crying and shaking like Baptists at a tent revival.” The shrieking hordes that concerned me more, however, were those attending the Justin Bieber concert taking place that same evening next door, at the Garden proper. The Bieberite swarm has been known to decimate entire city blocks, and I felt ill-equipped to confront the howling tween wave.
The Legend Of Zelda: Symphony Of The Goddesses is a traveling orchestral show that adapts scenes and music from the beloved series into a full woodwind and string musical experience. The four movements focus on The Ocarina Of Time (released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998), Wind Waker (GameCube, 2002), Twilight Princess (GameCube/Wii, 2006), and A Link To The Past (Super Nintendo, 1992). Bits from other games are thrown into the intro and finale.
Outside the box office, the Garden security staff looked harried but resolute, a Midtown Manhattan parallel to my mind’s picture of Marines manning Green Zone checkpoints in Iraq, circa 2006. Amid all the wailing and rending of commemorative Bieber t-shirts, there was a hint of barely contained violence circulating below the Cotto-Trout fight banner. These kids were going to see their floppy-haired prophet, and nothing short of the act of a vengeful God—perhaps upset at his children for raising up a false, YouTube-spawned icon—would stop them.
But among the writhing mass of young Bieber acolytes, there were more than a few green felt hats to be seen. While certainly fewer in number, the older, Link-loving crowd was no less visible. What they lacked in troop strength, they made up for in colorful Hyrulian regalia.
Justin Bieber was born in 1994. The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past predates him by three years, and Bieber was only four when Ocarina Of Time was released. For many of his most ardent fans, the Wii was their first Nintendo experience. So among Symphony Of The Goddesses’ four movements, Twilight Princess could very well be the only one they would recognize. The rest might as well be fossils.
Generational distance aside, the two fanbases share some important traits. Both are passionate to the point of obsession. The respective cults of Bieber and Nintendo leave no room for doubt or heresy. The people wearing green Triforce-emblazoned T-shirts, screaming wildly while they watch Link ride his obedient steed Epona across sun-speckled plains, could be mistaken for any shrieking Belieber next door. At least in that moment.
Yet a large part of Bieber’s appeal (to his fans and detractors both) is the almost certain fleetingness of his moment. His forebears—cultural obscenities like the New Kids On The Block and Backstreet Boys—were hugely popular during their brief time, but soon enough they are discarded, replaced by the next soon-to-be-forgotten trend. They and their fan base aged, and everyone moved on to different things. It’s the circle of pop-life.
There is no such natural death for the hero of Zelda (who, it should be noted, bears more than a passing resemblance to Peter Pan). Through over a dozen iterations, it has become painfully clear that Link is caught in some kind of cyclical nightmare, doomed to over and over again solve the puzzles, gain the Master Sword, defeat Ganon, and save the princess. It’s depressing. Where Bieber will in all likelihood one day get fat, lose his hair and do a turn on some terrible reality television program (or whatever passes for it in the future), Link is ageless.
Bieber’s music is a celebration of youthful energy; Link’s ocarina allows him to recapture youth itself. The price Link pays is that he must keep fighting the same battles over and again. Likewise, those of us who grew up invested in his quest are stuck right there with him. Because the mythology is so ossified, it’s difficult to appreciate the games as an adult through a different lens than we did as children. Link is a more perfect Bieber.
During each segment of the concert, scenes from each specific game would play out on three big screens. Link scampered through the scorched earth of the Dark World, flew through canyons using a chicken as a makeshift hang-glider, or battled an evil wizard. Who can forget the moment when a young Link was told he had moxie by the desert bandit Ganondorf, or the sadistic rigors of the Water Temple? Not this crowd. The Nintendo faithful ate it up while the crooner next door served up old favorites like “Baby” and “One Time.”
While enjoyable from a nostalgic standpoint, as a narrative device the videos didn’t really work. I could follow along easily enough with games I had played, but when scenes from Wind Waker—a game I had never played—flashed across the screen, I was lost. The local Orchestra Of St. Luke’s was excellent, for its part, but I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through the violinist’s mind as she was applauded by a theatre full of 3DS-playing Keebler elves.
The visuals worked best during one of the three encores—three encores?—which included a short segment based on The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. This game strays further than usual from the standard Zelda paradigm, and that, I think, worked in its favor. By the finale, as the gargantuan Majora straddled the earth and time had run out on the hero’s quest, I felt something of the excitement perspiring from my fearful, trembling neighbors.
One young man in full Majora ensemble jumped into the aisle and took off his mask—shaking it wildly, exulting in his moment of triumph. The rest of Zelda’s worshippers roared their approval, as if he were a young snake handler in the grip of the Holy Spirit. It was like I had wandered straight into a Conrad novel. “I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast, the smell of the damp earth, the unseen presence of victorious corruption, the darkness of an impenetrable night.” But in Heart Of Darkness, Kurtz dies. The Nintendo god-tyrant Link, on the other hand, is apparently immortal. I’m not quite sure what this means, except that I had to resist the primal urge to buy a yellow and green T-shirt on my way out.