A Reluctant Fan: The Myth Of Commonality By Way Of Music Affinity

1348253362756_1500824When it comes to music, I am a reluctant fan. Mind you, it’s not because I don’t enjoy music. Quite the contrary. Music is an essential part of my human experience, as it is for many.

However, while I had hoped to hang on to the conception that those who share an affinity towards a certain music or band do so with their respect for the music being at least connected in a shared life-context or appreciation of the musical context, I am letting that naiveté slip away. Further, as much as I have tried to will this hypothesis into fact I am hereby admitting that the empirical evidence points to this theory being bunk.

I enjoy music because I gravitate towards the energy and the context. It typically has a message that I relate to either emotionally, intellectually or socially. I prefer singer-songwriters, neo-soul, jazz, jam bands and symphonic music. I enjoy the thoughtful lyricism and in some cases the seemingly erratic orchestration that ends up truly allowing you to transcend your terrestrial experience and appreciate human existence on another level for a space in time.

But I am a reluctant fan of any artist. A fan is defined (cheating with freedictionary.com) as “an ardent devotee; an enthusiast” and I never knew why I always got a knot in my stomach if someone tried to refer to me as such, even for the artists to whom I relate on a spiritual level. However, looking to urbandictionary.com, some other definitions resonate more subjectively with what I have now arrived at as my conclusion, including: “someone considered to be a bit silly or crazy” or “Short for fake ass nigga. Used to describe all the people who actually believe they are hardcore despite their retarded appearance and antics.” Admitting the obvious political incorrectness, I stand by the meaning in the message of the urban dictionary choices in order to illustrate my narcissistic point.

The fact is, as I have continued to observe from one live music show to another, that not everybody has the same respect for or experience with the music as the rest of the room. Most likely, a venue full of music fans will have some very disparate context….unless of course you are at a concert that is very niche oriented (like an Insane Clown Posse show, for example). So, I feel like as much as I want to say I am a fan of my favorite bands I am loath to do so lest I unintentionally associate myself with the ridiculousness of some of the stereotypical “fringe” of that fan base. This makes me sad.

Let me also point out that, as an anthropologist, I do see some of the holes in my argument. For example: there are a lot of Jam Band Fans (Grateful Dead, Phish, Widespread Panic ) that strongly associate with the music by way of a lifestyle centered on pot-smoking and earth-bound counterculture. And per the example that set me off, female fans of bands like The Indigo Girls who follow religiously because they themselves are lesbians – but not inherently because of the music. Then there are the big band fans who appreciate the nostalgia more than the music and come to shows to wear their vintage 40’s attire and wink at musicians. There are also the punk rock fans who are really just wayward teenagers that like to dress aggressively, get in mosh pits and beat people up / get beat up to release their angst.

All I am saying is that by virtue of the ethnographic experiences I have had with live music, my conclusions might be skewed. The above examples represent areas where my live music show experiences over-index and the environments where one would properly observe a collection of said designation of fanatic music followers.

The experience my wife and I had last night was also the one that broke this narcissistic camel’s back. We attended a rare event for one of our favorite bands: The Indigo Girls – playing with the symphony orchestra here in the town we all share as home. It was here that we were smacked in the face with the reality that not all fans are created equal. While the vast majority of the audience was of the Lesbian persuasion – the guilt by association consequence began to make us cringe when confronted with the row of “fans” in front of us who spent the entire show jumping up and down out of there seats during the rare (but still somber or contemplative in tone – if they would ever actually listen) “up-tempo” songs, screaming “whoo hoo” and making drunken toasts with their double-fisted cans of beer and constantly yelling out requests despite the fact that the band was playing with a rehearsed symphony orchestra.

I came to realize that the context of Indigo Girls appreciation for these fully grown women who were acting like ten-year-old boys was one rooted in their lesbian identity and need to be accepted by a group. Because they were locals and had mostly experienced Indigo Girls concerts in bars or similar venues, they associate the band with a party and while they can enthusiastically sing along with every song, the boisterous merriment with which they engage suggests that they don’t actually understand the lyrics. Other evidence included being taken aback at the request to sit down so we could see the orchestra and the performance. One member of this group insisted that you should “stand up for an Indigo Girl’s concert” – completely missing the point of this very special engagement – even though they were the only ones in our section (and most of this theatre that also typically houses the Opera) not appreciating the show with their butts in their seats.

So, even though I would like to think that by going to a live music show I am going to have some collective religious experience with like-minded humans, I now realize I have to be more diligent about scrutinizing those choices lest I become disappointed by the “fans”. But I will rest easy knowing that modern technology can allow me to appreciate great sound quality and that ultimately, because I am blessed with a community of friends who also over-index on musical talent – we can always (and frequently do) create that experience at will in the privacy of our own back yards.

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2 thoughts on “A Reluctant Fan: The Myth Of Commonality By Way Of Music Affinity

  1. While I am very passionate about my favorite musician/producer (who funnily enough released a song back in 96 that relates directly to your argument in this post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfB6-CcbMJ8 “Fake Punk” by Punky Bruster), I predominantly refer to myself a music listener as I too have reservations over using the word fan. Fan seems to imply willingness to worship the ground the artist walks on even when they don’t deserve it.

    As for gay/trans/queer music, I have my issues with it in general. Out lesbian and trans men musicians tend to be brooding song writers who rarely use anything other than an acoustic guitar and are always like f*ck this political stance; gay men and trans women who are all cheap dance beats and f*ck talking about anything heady and queer peeps who seems to think grrrrrl riot is the only genre of music in existence. That isn’t to say, that some don’t expand beyond these tropes and head into unfamiliar territory, but that these seem to be the most prevalent and popular images.

    And, for my own vanity’s sake, if I may quote Devy (again),

    “…I’d like to take ourselves seriously, but we can’t. We got a huge drummer, a bald singer. We got an old guitarist and a big, crazy bass player. As opposed to worrying about it and trying to dress up-we’d break photoshop if we had to retouch our photos. Heavy metal is an ugly art form so we embrace it. We are a band of muppets. …we are blessed with our looks so to say. This is what we look like and this what we play. …and we accept that people are going to look at it as an image so yeah there you go. Buy two t-shirts.”

    I guess the opposite side of the coin you are talking about is that like all other forms of marketing, musicians market themselves and often that materializes in forms like the Indigo Girls concert where there disparate interpretations from the somber to the lively.

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