"Why are fans such assholes?" The question was asked by my sister in response to an incident that I had just described from the night before. Juliana Hatfield had played a local club accompanied only by her guitar and somebody else's keyboard, and everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Having just returned to Juliana via the twin releases Beautiful Creature and Juliana's Pony: Total System Failure after an eight-year layoff, I felt ill-equipped to join in the ritual of calling out requests and decided just to enjoy whatever she wanted to play, which had been working fine for the past 40 minutes or so. Others wanted specific songs, though, and it started becoming something of a game.
That's when it happened. A poor, unsuspecting woman yelled, "Play 'My Sister!'" And, as if he'd been lying in wait for this precise moment, some guy about ten feet from me shouted at the top of his lungs, with a mixture of condescension and pity, "Oh, yeah, real original!"
The effect on the crowd was dramatic and instantaneous, as it was on Juliana herself; she leaned into the microphone and very reasonably said, "Hey, we're all here to have a good time." She never did play the song but, as her set ended with a terrific version of Madonna's "Gone" ("Selling out is not my thing/Walk away, I won't be broken again/I'm not/I'm not what you think"), she didn't seem to shy away from songs that have met with a degree of mainstream success.
I could talk for hours on the indie-rock community's embrace of Madonna's Music album (which is fascinating in its political and aesthetic implications), but my concern is the exchange detailed above and why it occurs (and why it so obviously runs through the minds of many fans even as it fails to travel through the lips of the majority of them). To get back to my sister's question, why are fans such assholes?
I have a theory which is so unoriginal (for me) that Cameron Crowe won an Oscar last year for saying the same thing, and it is this: we want our favorite musicians to love us as much as we love them. With someone who deals in intense vulnerability like Juliana Hatfield, we want her to know that her music has gotten through to us, that we understand everything that she was brave enough to trust us with (those gagging at the invocation of Juliana Hatfield here are invited to replace her with their own favorite performer). She tells us that there is somebody else who feels the way we do. More than anything, she makes us feel special.
But we are not special. Or, rather, I am not special. You are not special. Nobody else standing on the floor of the club is special. Each of us, individually, is merely one of hundreds of faceless people in the room, and one of thousands if not millions of voiceless enthusiasts. Does she love us? Absolutely, I would think. But she does not love you or me individually.
We try to make her anyway, the only way we can: by telling her just how much we love her. That involves letting others know that we have been listening longer and more deeply than they have. We must make a comment so clever, so insightful into her work that she will remember us, take us with her on tour and very possibly fall in love with us.
Am I guilty of this behavior? Most of it. If I call out songs, I'll go for less obvious selections to show that I'm not just some dilettante who doesn't know the first thing about the artist. If an obscure cover is played, I will cheer loudly, as if to say, "Yes, that was a good rendition of 'Moonage Daydream,' which I know because I know these things." If I should happen to say hi after the show, I will attempt to say something witty and arcane to let them know that I've done my homework. They, almost without fail, hate that.
In short, I try to outcool everybody in the room. But, and here's the distinction, I never try to uncool anyone. It's the difference between raising yourself up and knocking others down. The former makes you look like an arrogant know-it-all (trust me on this one); the latter makes you a bully. If you are the guy who felt pretty proud of himself for yelling at someone who had the audacity to request a song that I'll bet you yourself concede in private is pretty great, I want to you know something: you were an asshole for one night, and the rest of Juliana's fans hated you, and not for the reasons you wanted. And not only that, your one simple statement, designed to establish yourself as her Number One Fan, backfired in the worst possible way, because not only did the audience know you were an asshole, Juliana knew you were an asshole. If the thought of that eats at you, you have an alternative, which is to shut up and take your spot with the rest of us. It means that Juliana probably won't notice you, but neither will you turn the hundreds of strangers in the audience against you. And to be honest, we're all far more likely to become friends with you than she is. END
Juliana Hatfield -- http://www.bar-none.com/bios/juliana_bio.html
Photos by Marc Hirsh.