NPR logo I'm With The Fans

How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Phish

I'm With The Fans

I thought my love affair with Phish ended on Friday, but I was wrong. The romance lasted long into the weekend. I met their manager at the fantastic Decemberists show on Sunday, and just about everyone I ran into over the last few days asked for my closing remarks on the topic — in the hope, perhaps, that I might have some "off the record" comment. (I don't.) Whether I'm in the fold or out of the loop, I cannot yet say.

Though I think I'm ready to move on from Phish, I do want to stay on the topic of fans. As you may have read in Friday's post, I was really floored and impressed by the Phish fans I met. (Okay, I might have been a little scared, too.) Phish-heads know so much minutiae about the band, its music and its shows that you'd think they had CIA-like capabilities at their disposal. They also speak in their own language, using dates to identify shows. Sitting amongst them, it sounds like a secret code.

More extreme examples of fandom, loyalty and obsession have recently been resurrected — and maybe even called into question — with the death of Michael Jackson. Remembering that there are people who still dress like Jackson made other forms of fanaticism seem, well, less than dedicated.

But the Jackson model of worship appears somewhat outdated, more akin to Elvis impersonators. Phish fans, on the other hand, utilize an organizational and structural mode that's married to technology, making it more nimble, pervasive and powerful.

What I'm left wondering is this: Should other bands be jealous?

Who else has fans who gather on the Internet, form clusters and virtual gangs, who organize, rally, verbally take down the haters, and endlessly promote? Pearl Jam? Radiohead? Britney Spears? Miley Cyrus?

Or, to some extent, maybe fandom is another arena for which the Internet is a great equalizer. After all, technology means that even the most obscure bands have visible and staunch defenders. Yet not every artist has fans who mobilize, and in great numbers.

Other types of fans may not be interested in meet-ups, online communities, and exposure in general. In some ways, the fans' behavior is likely to reflect the artist's and the music's sensibilities. Antisocial music, antisocial fans.

I guess I'm wondering if there is another band whose fans I could have met up with last week? Are you out there? Or are Phish fans just that special? In other words, who wants to sit around and talk about Wire?