I’m a fan of music. That should be readily apparent to anyone who knows my work or follows me on social media or has seen the many shelves in my office groaning under the weight of thousands of LPs. But I feel like I don’t know what true fandom feels like, the kind that one would direct towards a particular artist, driving them to pick up every last sliver of music that they laid their hands on or traveling from state to state and seeing every show on a tour.
In fact, I’ve often forgotten what it means to be around fans like that until last night when one of my beloved cousins flew into town with the express intent of seeing her favorite artist J Mascis play a solo show.
His music speaks to her on some deeply profound level, scratching an itch for viscous guitar rock and finding some reflection of herself in his often abstract lyrics. She never misses one of his shows when he or his band Dinosaur Jr. tour into California. But this time around, as Mascis was touring in support of his new solo album Elastic Days, she was going to miss all of his dates in the Golden State due to work obligations. So, she found the next best and nearest show and flew up here to Portland to bask in his glow. And she invited me along for the ride.
I watched her go from her reserved calm self into a fidgety fan girl within the span of an hour. She had to take a picture of his name on the marquee. She had to buy something from the merch table. She had to make friends with the other folks around her who were also Mascis enthusiasts. And, though she was happy to sit for the first few songs, she had to get closer to the stage and feel every last iota of his ragged tunes and masterful guitar playing. At the end of the night, she looked like she was floating on air.
My reaction was, in comparison, muted. I loved the performance, especially hearing Dinosaur songs that colored my high school years, but I’m not such a Mascis acolyte that I could share in her blissed out sensations.
It did get me to thinking about the way that I have approached music fandom over the years. There are a few artists whose albums I look for every time I visit a record store or when I do the occasional eBay crawl (Stereolab, Prefab Sprout and Everything But The Girl, for those of you playing at home). But more often than not, I fall head over heels in love with an album, spend a few months reading every last thing I can find about that record and the people behind it, and maybe see the artist behind it on tour. Months later, they fade into the background. I don’t keep up with their subsequent albums or dig deep into their past work. They exist like an extended hot flash in my mind before I move on to something else.
I think it is, in part, because of my constant search for the new. I’m continually hoping to be surprised and shocked by someone I’ve never heard of before. I want to keep getting knocked flat and, instinctually, I know that I can’t get that feeling from an artist I’m already well aware of. The writer in me loves to explore the evolution of a band or a solo act. The fan in me wants to have my internal axis sent asunder at every turn.
What would happen if I were to stick with one or a couple of artists for a long stretch of time, focusing my energy on nothing but their work, at the expense of the never-ending waves of new sounds that flood my email inbox on the regular? Would that be to my benefit or my detriment? Is my way of approaching music too entrenched for me to make that kind of change?