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Save Me From Your Followers

Are there any bands you love but whose fans you fear? Is there a band message board you are afraid to comment on because the people on that board are nutjobs? Or, are you or were you one of those fans and do you wish everyone else could just understand?

After attending more shows in one week than I would usually go to in a year (a.k.a. SXSW), I've been thinking about music fans and fandom. First and foremost, I am a fan of music. I've been a fan from the first time my dad put on a Joni Mitchell album, or I sung along to "Rocky Raccoon" (thinking at the time that it must be children's music), played 'air keyboard' on a table along to Fleetwood Mac, or hung an Elvis poster on my wall (about 25 years too late but I didn't know, or care). Since grade school, I've been obsessed with music—with the melodies, harmonies, choruses, riffs, rhythms, lyrics, and with the mystery of it all, that magical element whose solution is always just beyond our grasp. And I'm guessing this love for music makes me similar to a lot of you.

Most of my musical obsessions were quiet ones, known only to a few friends and to the walls of my teenage bedroom; walls poked with thumbtacks bearing the weight of a band poster, only to be removed a few months later, replaced by something new. The Clash and Ramones gave way to the B-52's, which gave way to the Stone Roses, and then finally it all ended with Fugazi (which is to say that I left for college and never again put a band poster on my walls.)

I never baked cookies or wrote letters to bands, never waited after the show to meet the members, never shook a hand or asked for a guitar pick or an autograph, I never even brought a camera to a show. I just wanted to be at the show and be able to talk about it later. Much of my fandom was tied up in the process of collecting: fliers, handbills, LPs and 7" singles, fanzine and magazine interviews, stories about the bands from friends of friends. The rest of my obsession involved deciphering lyrics, mostly Replacements songs, words that meant more to me than those by any other band. Ultimately, my love for bands consisted of a language with which to communicate with friends, a secret code made up of band t-shirts and stickers, lyrics scribbled on notebooks, and ticket stubs.

And yet it is this secret code, this common bond among fans, which often becomes obnoxious en masse. The fans might not change your love for the bands themselves, but the way fandom of certain artists manifests itself can seem less like an innocuous gathering of like-minded people and more like an elitist, annoying tribe. (I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere near my friends and I during our Fugazi or Bikini Kill listening days; admittedly, we were not very fun).

Today, the fans I have a hard time being around are the ones who deem their favorite bands precious, just shy of saintly, and evidence of their sophisticated taste in music. (Belle & Sebastian, Radiohead, and Magnetic Fields). Then there are the bands that, unfortunately, attract such a hipster fan base (like MGMT, Yeasayer, and Liars) that you want to attend the show wearing a fleece jacket, khaki slacks, hiking boots, and a fanny pack, then push your way to the front and line dance, except that you worry people will think it's ironic.

I can't really come down too harshly on the various ways fans express themselves. Sure, Deadheads, Parrotheads, and Claymates might be threatening, or even excruciating, but we've all been part of the crowd, and we chose to be there, even if we didn't fit in.

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