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.