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Why I'm Not a Fan 

Your favorite albums say less about you than you think

Wednesday, May 28 2014
Comments (30)

I am not a fan. Does that make sense? I am not a fan of any specific bands, or superheroes, or movie franchises, or sports teams, or manga authors. It's not that I don't love music and movies, it's just that it's not in me to be a fan. Yeah, I know it's blasphemous, considering that the whole world has reoriented itself around the concept of fandom. The nerd liberation movement grows more powerful by the day, consuming media and calling it personality. People rank and stack and record other people's creative work, and then claim ranking and stacking and recording also are creative. Whole industries are built on the total identification adult people have with cartoon characters. You are your favorite movies. You are your favorite bands.

Even at 8 years old, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough to think anything by KISS was worth money.

I was defensive about my lack of fandom for a long time, because one of the first questions a musician gets asked is: What are your favorite albums? It makes sense, I guess, but I was always offended by it. Who cares what my favorite albums are? Your favorite albums aren't interesting to me, even if I love you. You didn't make them, you BOUGHT them. If you'd heard a completely different set of albums at the same point in your life, you probably would have identified with those in the same way. Maybe you got lucky and heard some good albums, but who cares? Your favorite albums say less about you than you think.

I sometimes wish I were more of a fan. When I was in fourth grade, the other kids were fascinated with Spider-Man, KISS and Evel Knievel. I liked those things too, but why spend the money I made mowing lawns to own a KISS record? Even at 8 years old, I couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to think anything by KISS was worth money.

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It's not like I didn't like stuff. I LOVED being a kid. But there was a turning point somewhere at the end of grade school where kids started lining up behind brands. I mean, I read Mad magazine, but I wouldn't have called myself a fan; the whole point of Mad was that they were ripping you off and laughing at you. The British invasion bands kinda smirked at their fans, too.

My fandom pretty much stopped at the door. I owned the records, what else was I supposed to do? Put a patch on my Levi's jacket? Buy a tapestry? That meant going into a head shop, talking to the dude behind the bong counter, picking out a patch or tapestry, ruining a perfectly good Levi's jacket, etc. It felt like a big commitment.

Maybe that's what I dislike about fandom: commitment. I never wanted to be so tied to a band that I couldn't pull back. Plenty of guys were big fans of Billy Squier and then had a lot of soul-searching to do when he wore a pink tank top and humped the bedsheets in the video for "Rock Me Tonite."

In my late teens once, I was very stoned and decided I was going to be a fan of Jethro Tull. I didn't know other Jethro Tull fans and thought maybe I would plant my flag there and see how it felt. I listened to a friend's copy of Thick As a Brick all the way through, driving around in the car, and thought, "Am I crazy? They're OK but I'm not a fan of these guys!" I'm glad I didn't spend $9.95 on Thick As a Brick.

Music affects me the same way it does other people — don't get me wrong. It's just that my attention is different, or something. I've been trying to explain this for decades now. My best friend in high school was a fanatic. He used to study for exams with his stereo blasting, falling asleep with his face almost pressed against the speakers of his boombox. We listened to records together, but when I went home I didn't want to hear more records; I wanted to have some quiet time. My friend looked at me sideways, distrustfully. Quiet time? Weird.

Then I taught myself guitar. I loved writing music, playing it and watching bands. My peers were constantly playing me new music — it became my life!

But still record stores baffled me. The process of choosing packaged music, owning and maintaining all the machines to play it and making the time to listen to it seemed like an otherworldly occupation to me. The sacred rites of music fans felt like the practice of an unfamiliar religion. Sitting at home listening to a Radiohead album felt like listening to a tape of Tony Hawk skateboarding. Why listen to other people having fun? We have all these guitars right here!

In my early 20s, I remember being at a punk-rock cool-kid party. This was '93, when that stuff mattered. The walls of their apartment were lined with 7-inch records and zines and LPs and every kind of media, enough to open a small record store. At the end of the night we were sitting around, wasted, and the hostess said, "Hey, John, I know we just met but you're cool and we want to be friends with you!" I was thrilled! Badass! These were some very cool punk-rock kids and I was between friends at the moment. So I said, "Yes! Let's be friends!" She immediately pulled her chair over and said, "Awesome. So, tell me what bands you like."

I was nonplussed. What bands? Um, I dunno, all the bands, I guess? She laughed, "No, come on, what are your favorite bands?" It wasn't a test of coolness, she was just really excited for me to list some of my favorite bands so we could get excited about our new friendship and the bands that we loved. But I didn't have an answer. The Beatles? Jesus Lizard? I liked Bad Brains, for instance, but I couldn't name their bass player or their label, or any bands in their scene. I loved it when someone put on a Bad Brains LP but I didn't want to spoil the magic by owning one myself. I'd have to buy a freaking stereo, for one thing, and that would mean getting a job! I couldn't be a fan with her, and our friendship withered on the vine.

The hardest part of all this is that I make music now, and I have lots of fans. Fans of me. I tend to like the fans of me, because I agree that they have good taste. And I immediately like them, because they're often smart and intense. Telling them I am not a fan is like saying, "I do not have functioning genitalia, so a lot of your decisions seem weird and impulsive to me."

I wish I could be a fan, I really do, because we could talk for hours about Jim Jarmusch and Die Toten Hosen and Steven "Jesse" Bernstein. I agree that lots of their works are good, but when they're finished I just turn it all off and let it get quiet again.

When I love something, I set it free. Fly away, things I have loved! I don't want to live in a house made of memories of all the things I consumed and enjoyed. Some things I've loved I never hear, read or see again! Imagine just savoring your experience of a thing in your imagination, making no attempt to repeat the experience. Imagine how much better Star Wars would be if you only saw it once! It would still be amazing.

Honestly, I'm a fan, but not a fan.

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