Inspired by James Mollison’s The Disciples, which collects photos of music fans “mimicking the manners and dress of their particular heroes,” Chuck Klosterman has written another think piece in which he a) describes the awkwardness of interviewing rock stars, b) recalls his own milquetoast adolescence, c) drops Best Week Ever riffs in the most pretentious manner possible (“I had never realised that the defining quality of a diehard Radiohead fan was the wearing of a diagonal strap across one’s torso. What does that even mean? What do these people hear on Bodysnatchers that makes this visual determination so self-evident?”), d) makes an ASS out of U and ME (“at its highest levels of achievement, rock’n'roll is supposed to serve as ‘lifestyle music’ It should have the potential to inform every single decision about being alive. And for these photogenic goofballs, it obviously does”), e) drops a list and f) leaves for Uranus (“Yet within the competitive context of life, these fanatics are almost certainly the winners”). Note that “interacts with the freaky goons he’s describing” is not included.
I spend a lot of time thinking about fanatics and I’ve concluded that the following 10 artists have the most dedicated, least rational fan followings:
2. Tori Amos
5. Bruce Springsteen
6. Black Sabbath (particularly the Tony Martin era, for some reason)
7. Jimmy Buffett
8. Iron Maiden
9. Guided By Voices
My suspicion is that highly prolific artists – especially ones slagged off by cultural elitists – unknowingly present themselves in such a way that audiences recognise elements of themselves within the sonic iconography. If a musician a) ignores public criticism while b) producing a substantial body of work, an unwavering fanbase will self-select itself. They will see the artist as extra-human, will feel they “understand” how that artist’s music reflects (and replicates) their own experience, and will immerse themselves in the musician’s catalogue. The Smiths did not exist to be liked by anyone; either you loved them or you didn’t care. Within the idiom of fanaticism, there is no benefit to emotional caution. You have to go all the way.
…Which brings us back to the pictures in the gallery above: they are group portraits of those who have gone further than all the way. These people do not simply allow an artist to represent who they are; they are now trying to represent that artist to other people. Spanish philosopher George Santayana described this process as “redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim”. He was not incorrect.
…Yet within the competitive context of life, these fanatics are almost certainly the winners. The purpose of good art is always twofold: it’s supposed to help us see ourselves, and it’s supposed to help us understand something greater. These people can do that simply by looking in a mirror. I mean, who needs music when you already have yourself?
And in the competitive context of life, the writer who can write a long column for a major newspaper about the psychology of a type of fan without ever interacting with one is the winner. I mean, who needs a quote when you already have yourself?
Wanna be in my gang? [Guardian]