On being a fan

I had a thought while cutting the grass the other day (that’s when I do my best thinking). The elusive definition of “fandom” — debated in a recent thread on this blog — crystallized for me into a rather simple equation.

Here’s what I decided: You’re a “fan” of an artist, not an artist’s work. In other words, if you really think about and care about what Person X expresses in her music, so much that you’ll follow her down musical paths you might otherwise avoid, then you’re a fan. On the flip side, if you really love an album or two by a particular artist but feel no need to experience everything he produces, you’re not a fan.

That’s why early in an artist’s career it might be difficult to tell whether or not you’re a fan. If the first two albums are great, that’s a good start. But if the next two are mediocre and not mediocre in an interesting way, they’ve likely lost you. Perhaps you’ll enjoy more of their work down the line, but they probably won’t earn a spot on your list of favorites.

Elvis Costello is probably the ultimate example of this sort of fandom. Being a fan of Elvis Costello means taking detours into country, classical, jazz, Bacharach balladry, even a TV talk show. Lots of people out there probably dig ‘Alison’ and ‘Veronica’ and might own an album or two of his, but a true fan finds at least some value in every new adventure he attempts.

On the flip side, there’s Wilco. I’m a huge admirer of a few of their albums (Being There, Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) but the rest leave me rather cold. They have a new one out this week and I won’t buy it unless the word of mouth is great and I hear a few tracks ahead of time. I don’t have a need to know what they’re up to.

I’m not sure if this definition strays all that far from the last one I gave but it makes a lot more sense to me. It also explains the Woody Allen conundrum… I remain a fan of his (even though his recent movies have sucked) because he has a worldview and a perspective I value.


15 thoughts on “On being a fan

  1. pegclifton says:

    I agree with you. As a fan of Sinatra, we bought every single album as soon as we heard there was a new one out, and also attended every movie he was in, just because he was in it. So, I relate to your definition of a true fan. I can’t think of anyone si nce then that we have followed with such dedication in music or film.

  2. Amy says:

    I agree with this definition, as long as it allows for the likelihood that one won’t like every single thing that the object of his “fandom” is up to. That there will be albums that are returned (or at least remain shelf bound) and movies that will wait until Netflix because they represent a departure from the work for which that artist has earned your fan appreciation in the first place. Does it allow for that? If so, I’m with you.

  3. Clay says:

    Absolutely. Woody Allen is a perfect example (as well as Elvis Costello, who has at least one or two weak albums among the dozens he’s produced).

    In fact, I think that’s an essential ingredient in this definition. If you remain engaged in somebody’s work even when they take detours that don’t necessarily appeal to you, that’s a sure sign that you are invested in the artist and not just the work… that’s how you know you’re a fan.

  4. Amy says:

    Well, in that case, I think my posts in our previous thread are what led to your lawn cutting epiphany 😉

    Yes. I agree wholeheartedly.

    I consider myself a current fan of Steven Spielberg, Charlie Kaufman, Jason Castro (:) – he’s a new one, obviously), the crew behind The Daily Show, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis, maybe. There are only a handful of current artists whose association with an album, movie, television show would ensure my patronage. Those are among them.

  5. Clay says:

    Lyle Lovett?

  6. Amy says:

    He’s my desert island artist. That’s a no-brainer 🙂

  7. pegclifton says:

    and don’t forget George Clooney 🙂

  8. Kerrie says:

    Way to keep it real, Aunt Peg. 🙂

  9. Dana says:

    I’m obviously coming to this thread late, but I continue to challenge the notion that Clay is a current fan of Woody Allen. Indeed, I find it interesting that he says Allen’s “recent movies have sucked.” Which movies are those? Vicky Cristina Barcelona was very good, as was Matchpoint. Even his “mediocre” movies are interesting to me and I wouldn’t use the word “sucked” to describe any of them.

    It seems to me that you are a “fan” of Woody Allen movies of the 70’s and 80’s–and you are not currently a fan of Allen or his movies. You make very little effort to see his films in the theater, and eventually “get around” to them on DVD. That, to me, isn’t a fan. Will you see an Allen movie that gets very good reviews more quickly? Sure, but the same can be said of any movie with good reviews.

    I maintain that, in a similar way, you are no longer a fan of Rob Reiner, Ron Howard or Steven Spielberg. Again, you are a fan of their work in past decades, but have very little interest in seeing their current works unless they get very good reviews (which again, with you, would apply to basically any new release by anybody)

  10. Clay says:

    I was using “sucked” for effect… I liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona well enough, and parts of Match Point. Even including those, though, you can’t really argue that his recent work is anywhere close to the level of his best work.

    But that’s my whole point… you can remain a fan of somebody despite poor output. I still very much value Woody Allen as an artist.

    I’ve never considered myself a fan of Ron Howard. I’ve liked some of his movies quite a bit (I’d rank Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon as his best) but I don’t really care about his vision. I think he is a solid director who can work magic with a great script.

    I do think you have a point about Rob Reiner. I think his post-Misery output has revealed him to be a director who requires a great script. He doesn’t have a cinematic vision that makes even his failures somewhat interesting. By this definition, I’m not a fan of Rob Reiner, though his early films numbers among my all-time favorites.

    Finally, Steven Spielberg? Some of his best work has come in recent years. Munich is a masterpiece. Everything that man does, even crap like A.I., is visionary. I’m a huge Speilberg fan.

  11. Amy says:

    Well, but isn’t that true of any discerning movie fan? I didn’t rush out to see Angels vs. Demons, despite the fact that I generally admire Ron Howard’s work. I have yet to rush down to South Beach to see the newest Woody Allen film, though I’d likely see it if it were playing up the street (before perhaps forking over $ to see The Proposal or My Sister’s Keeper, two mediocre films I saw this past weekend when a Woody Allen film was available).

  12. Amy says:

    Oh, and as Clay said, I defy any of us not to be among the first in the theater to see a new Steven Spielberg film. I think Dana is way off base on that one.

  13. Amy says:

    Oh, and by the way, Dana saw The Proposal with me. He hardly threw a fit that any self-respecting Woody Allen fan should be spending his movie viewing hours and dollars on the newest offering of that great filmmaker.

  14. Dana says:

    Look, I agree that a fan need not blindly love everything the artist does. But I do think that you stop being a fan when you are not craving seeing/hearing the next thing that the artist does. And that is why I reject the notion that you remain a present day Woody Allen fan.

    As I have said before, in the context of other things that I am truly a fan of like Star Trek or the Miami Dolphins, I will NEVER lose the desire to see the next Trek film or watch the next Dolphin game. It doesn’t matter how bad the Fins played in the last game or season–I will be there for the next one–I will crave it, need it, because I am a FAN. Ditto with Star Trek. Ditto with Elvis Costello. That is MY definition of being a fan. A fan does not wait to see the artists’ work on DVD or wait for reviews. He/she dives in.

    And, by the way, I never said that I was a fan of Woody Allen–which is why we didn’t go to South Beach to see his movie. I can guarantee you that, if Star Trek had opened in only South Beach, I would have been there, and not been watching the Proposal equivalent.

    And I will take back Spielberg, having been duly reprimanded by the 2 of you. However, I don’t completely take it back because I suspect that if a Spielberg movie was getting really crappy reviews, you all wouldn’t rush out to see it. Now, again, that DOESN’T mean you need to come away from the movie blindly loving it, but to not crave/desire seeing his next film, reviews be damned, suggests to me you are not a fan.

  15. Amy says:

    I don’t think Spielberg can make a film that’s not worthy on some level of being viewed, but I was there for Hook and there for Always, two of his arguably lesser offerings. Critics be damned.

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