Fandom at Forty

by boholu

As you now know from the few small posts before this, besides being perhaps somewhat quirky, I am also a massive Depeche Mode and Thirty Seconds to Mars fan…and yes before you yell at me, they are not only in that order because alphabetically that’s where they fall, but also because that’s the order in which they came into my life and I fell in love with their music.

I’ve been a fan of Depeche Mode ever since 1985, a whole 28 years of their 33 year career to date. They were (and still are) a band for whom all of their albums have massive meaning. With each new album release has come a plethora of songs which seemed to echo my life, my thoughts, hopes, dreams and desires, their songs feel very much part of my existence.

I have every album on tape, vinyl, CD, remastered CD, various bootlegs from the days when imported, reworked or DJ tinkered with albums were the ultimate in cool band accessory and a small but very coveted collection of tour t-shirts that represent a whole lot of singing, dancing, crying and worshipping at the temple of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore. I have a couple of treasured photos of the band taken during the Devotional Tour when they played Crystal Palace on 31st July 1993, Dave was my ultimate fantasy with his long dark hair, leather trousers, bare chest & tattoos, his voice like honey mixed with razor blades, singing spine tingling tales of wanting to strip me naked and lay my soul bare. I’ve been to every UK gig of theirs since, watching the music evolve, the hairstyles change and the tattoo collection increase.

Fast forward almost exactly 20 years from that gig and I found myself adding an additional love to my music collection quite unexpectedly. I couldn’t even really tell you where exactly I first found them, I guess probably Spotify, YouTube or Amazon on one of my musical forays through the ‘people who like this, also like this’ journey that occasionally takes my fancy.

The band I encountered was Thirty Seconds to Mars. I was intrigued by the voice, hauntingly beautiful tones with a soft American twang surrounded by complex arrangements of both orchestral and rock instruments, harmoniously intertwined like illicit lovers.

‘Alibi’ led to ‘Up in the Air’, led to ‘Hurricane’, led to ‘The Story’, led to ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ and with each track I listened to, I found myself experiencing that same emotional connection, like an intense love affair, one which threw in fleeting sound bites from my musical past.

The owner of the voice was also breathtakingly beautiful, like an anime character brought to life, with big blue expressive eyes, but shrouded in a slight gothic air of sadness, one look into those baleful eyes and you just wanted reach out and hold him close and tell him life would be okay.

Of course had I no clue beyond that who they were, let alone who the singer who did funny things to the pit of my stomach was…never was I more shocked to discover that in fact these guys had been around 15 years already themselves and that the guy I could so happily adopt and take home to Ma and Pa was in fact Angelface! I had no idea that Jared had a rock band let alone a good one and could sing! I guess perhaps that’s the misfortune of starting up during the influx of actors with rockstar pretentions/ambitions, any of the good ones are liable to get tarred with the Keanu brush and ridiculed into obscurity generally.

Becoming a massive fan of such a band in what is a very changed musical landscape has been quite an oddity though. Firstly I’ve condensed 15 years’ worth of albums and history into a few short months and for me particularly I’ve grown up during a period where like for the band itself, those musical influences of The Cure, Pink Floyd, Bjork, Rush, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode etc. were my musical influences, so reading articles written about them claiming a departure from their previous style seems a nonsense to me.

Like Depeche Mode, of whom for me Thirty Seconds are a similarly inventive and creative band, the music has evolved over the years and taken under its wings the various stylistic influences of prog rock, electronica, gothic undertones etc. It has not departed from anything per se, it’s just grown organically harnessing its own musical tastes as any good band should!

Of course fandom also now comes with the application of social media, tools such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook are at both the artist and the fans disposal for both adulation and marketing purposes. Bands have to become cuter at taking control and finding new avenues to promote themselves, not least of which in order to generate an income stream for touring and merchandising, particularly with the evolution of the download market. Often these are the only elements not solely in the grip of the record label – for those wanting a stark look at how to get treated badly by a record company you only have to watch Thirty Seconds own personal documentary Artifact to see what size of a slice of creative freedom the music industry thinks it has a right to!

The problem with all of these media changes is that over time lines have become blurred, firstly there is the download/file sharing arena, bands get understandably peeved that their hard work gets leaked or stolen – especially when you look at what’s left after the label takes their cut. The fans on the other hands often don’t see it that way, some see it as something for nothing seeing the music industry (not the artist) itself as rip off merchants , some see it as a means of music becoming more widely popular, some as merely a testing ground before buying a legit copy.

Then there is social media, fans want a piece of their band, something personal that no one else sees, they want to show adoration and adulation – sometimes in scary proportions!

Gone are the days where it was just Beatle style hysteria, fans screamed outside venues and camped out in hotel lobbies, or you waited patiently outside the back of the gig venue to get an autograph or photograph with your idol. Now fans can monitor and track every comment, photo, movement online with almost serial killer like precision.

Unfortunately what this also seems to encourage is a lot of in-fan fighting over who gets tweeted back and a more profound sense of loss when comments are not acknowledged. Social media is so much a part of peoples individual daily conversation repertoire that it’s easy to forget that the conversation with someone like a band or artist is often one-sided, unless they have a small fan base and are glued to their Twitter or Facebook feed most will have someone else doing the legwork and so what you get can be a fairly sterile view of your idol, often with a whole heap of marketing opportunities and ‘buy now’ posts which certainly for an older music fan can feel a little exhausting at times and a bit opportunistic.

For the artist themselves social media is a blessing and a curse, ideal for building an enormous fan base, marketing wares and getting information out there, but the volume of messages back must be enormous and after a while every inane question a fans ever wanted to know is going to get asked ‘what kind of socks are you wearing?’ – the question rumoured to have finally killed Vince Clarke’s ardour during the DM years , I’m sure it would wear my patience to the bone!

On top of which can be an all too visible and personal attack on their freedom and choices, ‘why is he/she sleeping with them?’, ‘why are they wearing that?’ blah, blah, blah, slowly chipping away at the soul of the very person the fan proclaims to love. We seem to forget that just because our idol is famous it doesn’t give us a right to know everything about them in the tiniest minutiae, that maybe they are just as introverted and fucked up as we are sometimes and that this is and should be okay.

So is there an answer? In truth I don’t know, certainly not a perfect one anyway!

I guess like any fan I’d like to see glimpses, teases of the real person, I prefer a bands own web/Twitter/Facebook page or their shop page to be left as the place for promotion and marketing and the individual members ones as a place for self-expression. I like a sense of mystery and intrigue, I like flashbacks to past gigs, albums. I hate being sold to, I know it has to be part of it, but I still wish it wasn’t ever present so that I could feel more excited about the post and less ‘oh :-(’.

Fandom in an online world though can certainly be quite enjoyable, I’ve met a whole heap of lovely people across the globe through my love of various things and it’s always great to find like-minded people and have a giggle….and no matter what there is nearly always someone else wide awake thanks to those international time zones!