From the very bottom of the fan feeder pool (think: gluttonous rock radio) to the devoted, I have been through it all and will stand in line for tickets for days while singing the most obscure lyrics in a “name this tune if you can,” deathmatch-with-other-fans pinnacle of excess.
Yet, at the back end of dizzying rock success there is only one place to head, and that, of course, is out the record company’s back door and into the burgeoning trash heap, sandwiched between Stacy Q and Falco3. The loyalty of corporate conglomerates to artists is as traitorous as this week’s 28 million-dollar buyout of Mariah Carey (though I doubt she is complaining about the terms). Abandoned by the same wide smiles that promise the artist everything (even those sought-after and decidedly purchased Grammy Awards) the artist is left without the one thing that the record company most assuredly could provide – a conduit to the fans.
Fans, left to their own devices (literally, new technological devices), are abandoning the tepid corporate Web sites and Top 40 radio, instead finding safety in the comfort of their own home. They are connecting to other fans, while loving their gods and goddesses like only a tech savvy fan can. It is the irony of these new principles that miffs the record companies, for they were all too well aware of the devoted audience’s penchant for competition: snapping up every new single, keychain and poster.
Now the fans are finding safety with each other. Whereas before only a chilly reception awaited you in the long ticket line for first-row rock glory, now the rhinestoned and beaded love-chain grows longer from one computerized fan to another. An aficionado can easily download hundreds of thousands of images, bootlegged concerts and the most current, most surreal gossip. And possibly the most gratifying thing of all – compiling and creating your own personal greatest hits collection, is easier and cheaper than ever before. As every fan knows, it was always all about the mix anyway.
The following musicians, despite record company mismanagement, mishandling and unequivocal corporate ignorance towards fans, flourish at the intersection of Web-fan loyalty and new technology.
As the blood of the doomed Bauhaus, Peter Murphy is a chilling reminder of the early days of the 1980s, when cocaine, the Reagan-Thatcher-oppression love triangle and the horror of Miami Vice was all yet to be realized. Always one step out of the spotlight, Murphy has equally notorious moody and rabid fans, and they love each other for it. To top it off, over a half a million Web page matches can’t be wrong.
There is just something about Cyndi Lauper that “translates,” man. It is somewhat disconcerting that my grandma, my little sister and my little brother still rock out to “Girls Just want to Have Fun,” screaming and pursing their lips all in unison, almost 20 years after its release. In 1983, Cyndi Lauper hit the radio, MTV, People magazine, TV talk show, WWF, Spielberg movie, USA for Africa-circuit like no one before her. While Madonna earnestly rolled around in a white wedding dress, Cyndi seemed to laugh it all off.
What the record companies just could not do was pin her down (though Captain Lou Albano tried). She was here, there, everywhere and that really pissed off the conservative American establishment. They wanted their “girls” slutty, predictable and controllable or chaste, predictable and controllable and Lauper was neither. Just when everyone said they didn’t want to watch, she would sing, and, God, could she sing. She brought pop-punk, via the Village via the thrift store, to Duluth, Salt Lake, Olympia, Guadalajara and everywhere in between. But the same critique was always applied, “just who does she think she is?” Even after selling 15 million records for Epic the execs just never understood what she was about, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, damnit.
Her fans understood and created a Web-ring that is the envy of the Internet. It documents her every musical move over hundreds of Web sites, paving the way for recent #1 NYC Dance Club Hits, including a song that has never even been officially released by a record company.
The golden days of New York rooftops were ushered in by the swooning and breathy rapping of Miss Deborah Harry, lead singer of Blondie. She swept into every party with the status and coterie of friends that only a drug dealer in the dying days of disco could match. She left it all behind to care for her gravely ill companion. In the meantime, she released strangely heartbreaking hits like ‘French kissing in the USA” and mustered several new record deals. By the end of the 1980s, she was already on compilation albums and being sold on discount. However, her fans stayed as loyal as she was to her companion and in constant enamored bytes have sung her praises all the way through to 2000’s critically acclaimed Blondie release.
Possibly the pre-emanate god of all the harmless trench coat boys, Reznor has redefined the command of the Web and digitally produced music for legions of fans. Though gone are his days of actual radio play (his music now being far too sophisticated and “dark”), he has allied himself with a loyal Web foundation and he treats it with due respect. His most obscure offerings are released over the Web and passed between fans in an ultra-modern version of reciprocal exchange.
Without one top 10 hit to her credit, Tori Amos has defied the programmatic formula for musical success. Or, in an alternate telling, she returned to the roots of what was once an American classic: the band as road dogs slogging from LA to Dallas to Denver. What is so unique about the Tori Amos show is that the concert attendee more than likely saw the same people in L.A., Dallas and Denver. In a Grateful Dead-esque turn of the screw, Tori Amos is only matched by Phish in the subculture of touring. But, while Phish fans on the average rely on good vibes, luck and a not inconsiderable amount of drugs to get from here to there, Amos fans rely on digital cameras, Internet cafes and, OK, not an inconsiderable amount of wine and weed. Her fans are connected to such a degree that they often refer to each other by their computer chat names, rather than their “real” names, and they even have a collective name, “Ears with Feet” (I am imagining a horrifying Dali print). The loyalty of these “ears” is what is rumored to have compelled Epic records, last month, to offer her a contract purported to be groundbreaking in the industry for allowing her complete artistic control.