A Different Take on Music Fandom
Paul Williams, who started the music magazine Crawdaddy! in the 1960s, wrote in its first mimeographed issue that “you are looking at the first issue of a magazine of rock and roll criticism” (Williams 1966, p. 2). He also made it clear that it was not a “service magazine” for the music industry (albeit record labels were later allowed to advertise in the magazine when its circulation grew). In Rock Criticism from the Beginning, Ulf Lindberg (2005) states that Williams—who was a teenager at the time of the launch of Crawdaddy!—had the “attitude of a fan,” but that he separated himself from “ordinary” fans by insisting that listening to and writing about music in an intelligent manner was a serious business. Like the term “fanzine,” which was used by science fiction readers as early as the 1930s, Williams had his roots in science fiction and had started a magazine (called Within) covering that genre before he launched Crawdaddy! in January 1966 (Lindberg 2005, p. 106).
In media fan studies, science fiction fans are often held up as progressive and enterprising pioneers, and it is widely argued that the idea of fanzines started in this genre and was later picked up by music and sports fans. Music fan magazines were culturally important, as they helped contextualise and make meaningful individual experiences of youth—addressing as they did, various aspects of growing up. Richard Goldstein, who helped bring rock criticism into the mainstream, put it like this in an early piece for the Village Voice: “Because—ask anyone. Fourteen is shit” (Goldstein 1996, p. 100). Goldstein was one of the first to understand the potential of writing about music, and contributed significantly to raising the status of rock criticism. It is important to understand that, at least for a period of time, rock critics also had fans. In Sweden in the 1990s, for example, particularly Linda Skugge and Andres Lokko were held in high esteem and had fans of their own. The popularity of individual rock critics has waned, however, as rock criticism has taken on a different role in the age of social media—and the music industry as a whole has of course gone through significant changes since the 1990s. It is increasingly difficult for rock critics—or critics of any kind, for that matter—to find meaningful employment as newspapers and general interest magazines devote less and less space to popular music as well as art criticism.
Karl Maton conducted a survey among The Smiths fans in the late 1980s and early 1990s—research that he did not write up until 16 years later. In his chapter “Last Night We Dreamt That Somebody Loved Us: Smiths Fans (and Me) in the Late 1980s,” Maton (2010, p. 181) notes that what attracted fans to Morrissey and his group was that “they articulated an alternative mode of thought and behaviour in relation to many of the concerns and issues faced by the young.” The “alternative” here should not be understood as routine teenage rebellion, as Morrissey’s ideas and being “ran against not only the fads and fashions of the prevailing music scene but also societal norms in general: celibacy, androgyny, a feminised masculinity, vegetarianism, dismissal of the standard pop-star lifestyle of ‘sex, drugs and rockn’roll’, republicanism, valorisation of Englishness, and a penchant for such unfashionable accessories as National Health Service glasses and hearing aids” (Maton 2010, p. 181). Maton’s research was conducted only two years after the split of the group, in the midst of the early stages of Morrissey’s solo career. The timing meant that this, in Malton’s (2010, p. 182) words, provided a “golden opportunity to capture a sense of what The Smiths had meant to fans for whom the band had been a living presence.”
Morrissey has throughout his career been highly influential, illustrated by Maton’s own admission that he became a vegetarian because of his idol (during a time when vegetarianism was far from as common as it is today, Morrissey was the reason for many to make the decision to stop eating meat). Morrissey also “gave voice” to many fans’ already existing (but far less articulated) anti-royalist and anti-Thatcher views. Although not explicitly formulated, Maton’s research participants hint at the transformative nature of being a The Smiths fan, which shows that people in search of an alternative way of interpreting life were drawn towards Morrissey. A female respondent, referred to as Mariana, writes: “Morrissey is the anti-thesis of macho ... This, I believe, has great appeal to females, who are directly victimized by rock and pop images, and to males, who are victimized by the pressure to live up to that kind of roughness and omnipotence.”(Maton 2010, p. 190). In addition, there is a clear sense of community among The Smiths fans, as the persona of the object of their fandom transcends to include the fans too, the representation of the fans (and perception of them) is closely linked to the attitude and values of the fandom. One contributor to Maton’s study states: “There is a kind of love and comradeship that I feel whenever I see someone who is wearing a Smiths T-shirt ... you feel safe as if you know them. You know that they are probably very shy and vulnerable like yourself” (Maton 2010, p. 188).
Although Morrissey has a loyal following, his fans are not uncritical towards everything he does. In 2015, there was widespread criticism from fans and the media for the video to Morrissey’s single “Kiss Me a Lot,” directed by his nephew, Sam Esty Rayner (2015), who as a child had played a minor role in the “Suedehead” video we discussed in Chap. 6. The “Kiss Me a Lot” video was partly criticised for its poor technical and visual quality, but the main point of criticism was the deployment of, seemingly for no reason, two half-naked women popping in and out of the video—a practice widely used in music videos, but not in Morrissey’s work—in fact, Morrissey had always stood up against sexism and the objectification of women. The criticism was mainly aimed at Rayner, who was deemed inauthentic and lacking an understanding of Morrissey as an artist and of the Morrissey heritage. Due to the negative comments from fans, the YouTube comments function was quickly disabled by Rayner—a decision that, according to Morrissey’s fans, further showed Rayner’s lack of understanding of the fan-artist relationship. The fan discussion was particularly intense at the Morrissey-solo (2015) webpage forum thread “‘Kiss Me A Lot’ official video directed by Sam Esty Rayner—TTY,” but the video was also dissected by mainstream media rock critics. Fredrik Strage (2015), in an article in Dagens Nyheter
(Sweden’s biggest “quality newspaper”), writes that never before have Morrissey’s fans been this upset—and wonders whether the video was deliberately controversial to cause publicity. Strage, who had his breakthrough as a rock critic in the early 1990s—often seen as the golden age of Swedish rock criticism—published a book about fans in 2005, simply entitled Fans, with a chapter devoted to Morrissey fandom (Strage 2005).
Fellow British artist Elvis Costello’s Facebook page has multiple usage areas, and consists of a mixture of ads, news messages and comments. As of 11 June 2016, the page had 530,225 likes. Sites such as Facebook provide opportunities for fans to interact with each other in a more casual manner than specialist fan forums. Fans contribute to the page through various types of comments ranging from matters relating to live gigs (such as brief reviews of them) to Elvis Costello in general. In May 2016 Costello played four shows at the London Palladium (see Fig. 8.1) and after the first of the shows, which formed part of Costello’s Detour tour, one commenter wrote: “G[r]eat gig as usual. Disappointed not to get
Fig. 8.1 Elvis Costello at the London Palladium, 2016. (Photo: Henrik Linden) my copy of his book signed. Maybe next time.” (Nick Wright, in Elvis Costello 2016d).
The page is also used by fans for more practical reasons, as evidenced by a commenter offering tickets to fellow fans: “Hello! I have 2 tickets for Elvis Costello tomorrow night 11th May. Can no longer go, looking to sell at face value please feel free to get in touch if interested, selling first come first serve!” (Stuart Provan, in Elvis Costello 2016c).
For some, Facebook gives the illusion of a direct link to the artist—as some fans, rather than writing to and for other fans, address Elvis Costello directly. An American fan writes: “PLEASE bring your tour to San Francisco! I’m dying to see you live!!!!!!” (Qiydaar Foster, in Elvis Costello 2016b). Also, fans are seemingly attempting to contact Elvis Costello through more personal messages: “Hi Elvis can I please send you my new Cd. HONEST WOMAN?” (Thornetta Davies Thirdpage, in Elvis Costello 2016b). Facebook as a social media tool is often associated with the personal, as its vast majority of users are individuals who share information, comments and pictures with their friends and family—albeit often in a self-promotional manner (Marwick 2013). Many band pages are managed as business pages, which means that the artists themselves are not interacting with fans regularly on Facebook, but it is instead the artist’s management team that maintains the page. (Twitter, however, is a slightly different proposition as Baym 2013 has pointed out—as it offers a more convenient way of communicating for many artists and musicians). The most common fan concerns and questions on the Elvis Costello Facebook page are not directed to Costello himself, but are rather linked to practical information to do with shows, such as: “What merchandise will be available at the London gigs?” (Dave Gordon, in Elvis Costello 2016a).
Although Elvis Costello has plenty of fans of his own, he is also known to be a passionate football fan. Costello has participated in several football- related TV programmes, such as Football Italia (1995) (Lpstd1 2007) and Fantasy Football League (1994) (Andrew Crist 2013), and has supported Liverpool FC since he was a child. Unusually, as a child he was taken by his father to both Goodison Park (the home of Everton—Liverpool’s local rivals) and Anfield, so that he could himself choose the team to support. He told Stephen Done in an interview at the LFC Museum and Tour Centre in 2000:
My dad was very fair, he took me—in 1962, alternate weeks—to home games at Anfield & Goodison. So I could make my own mind up. The worse problems would just not exist would they, if you could choose religion in the same way? (Done 2000).
In the Football Italia show, on 30 April 1995, he tells the host James Richardson about his support for Juventus, which indicates that his interest goes beyond following Liverpool. In addition, with close family links to Birkenhead, he also supports its local club, Tranmere Rovers.