Thursday, December 08, 2005

"I fell in love with you before the second show"

There's a 1994 album called If I Were a Carpenter which features the leading young bands of the time taking on Richard and Karen's catalogue. A list of the various artists reads like a roster of yesterday's hitmakers: Cracker, 4 Non Blondes, The Cranberries, Shonen Knife...and on track 3 Sonic Youth with Superstar. With an embalmed vocal scraping away at the claustrophobic space of the lyrics and a guitar that slowly breaks down into careening noise by the third verse, it goes:

Don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you I really do

Loneliness is a such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again

What to say to make you come again
Come back to me again

It ends with a sound effect that sounds like a shot. I've never checked on whether there was an intended subtext, but I can't hear this version of the song without thinking 'Dakota' or 'gun' or 'I'm your biggest fan.'

Twenty five years on, I did not expect I would find myself here in England for this particular anniversary. I didn't think I would have Liverpool in-laws or that I would have lost a close member of my own family to violent crime. Has any of this given me any insight? Not much, but I do think when the train sweeps by a long, depressed area of industrial decay or when I share a pint at the local pub with a life ruined by a lifetime of diminishing opportunities and expectations, I may just have a glimpse at what was going on when John Lennon added -- let's go ahead and say screamed -- the lyrics "I want to be Free" to Barrett Strong's Motown hit Money.

But twenty five years ago, I was watching Sunset Boulevard on a local television station when the news broke. That is, I watched up to the scene where Norma Desmond throws a grand New Years Eve party for her screenwriter turned sulky lover Joe Gillis. After that, I was listening to the radio, along with everyone else awake in America.

Much later I realized that the myth from Hollywood and the news from New York City that night were telling me two sides of the same dark, hungry story. Norma, crazed into murder by the fading glow of stardom leaving her, becomes a metaphor for the thing that is at the heart of the matter at hand. For behind the blinding hot spotlight of Los Angeles or the dark stage doors of the Dakota, there is that thing that wants fame. And when fame does not come, it will accept notoriety.

Celebrity and fame are bigger than ever these days. It would be too easy for me to blame that, but I can't. Or to castigate the ordinary person who devotes themselves to a jukebox hero. But it is a false argument. Many people survive the intense thrall of fandom and look back in rueful affection on their earlier phases. Others learned early to recognize the borders, where fandom becomes something a little less wholesome. One Take That fan recalled her days of loyalty in yesterday's Guardian:

Hailing from their hometown we enjoyed elevated status, but fans the world over made the pilgrimage to Manchester. They sneaked hallowed pebbles from the dirty pavements into their handbags, they graffitied the walls, they consumed the world's supply of Kodak film, they left lipsticked, scented love letters. The hierarchy was split in two; between "cravens" (ie screamers, the worst of the bunch) and those diehard followers who were actually known to the band and need not, therefore, scream. The latter category included Lisa-from-Burnage, Blonde Streaks, Emma'n'Karen (unbearably cool by virtue of being 17), and Alex-from-Germany who had relocated to Manchester, swapping her life for her love of Mark Owen.

To meet Robbie, though, you had to venture beyond the M62 to Stoke-on-Trent, and brave the risk (much rumoured) of Rob throwing buckets of water on fans, swearing at them and other such unimaginable horrors.

"Do me a favour, babe," grimaced Robbie one fine day as I melted into the pavement. "Get yourself home safely now."

Oh my God, "Rob" called me a babe! Could it have been my sparkley silver eyeshadow from Superdrug, now smudged across my face, or perhaps my favourite £6.99 green leggings, or the two highlights in my hair that were intentionally of a sophisticated deep maroon colour but somehow washed to a frizzed out ginga?

The world of a groupie is indeed a sad one. It takes place in liminal spaces: airport lounges, hotel lobbies, football sidelines, deserted city centre streets at four in the morning long after the concert is over, your head still hurting from all the screaming. It is the life of an outsider standing in the dark, looking into brightly lit chandeliered rooms.

The hardcore fans even ventured as far afield as London for the Brit Awards, the Smash Hits Poll Winners' Party, for (what was supposed to be) their final concert at Earls Court. They were the kids who would wait the longest, wait even though they knew TT wouldn't turn up, they were yearning to be part of a "group", emptying their pockets to fill their hearts.

Anoushka's mum was "a right old bitch who battered her" and her dad "couldn't give a fuck about her" but "Markie" apparently did. Whenever the word came out to "go home now, girls," she would desperately not want to.

At this point, it might be occurring to you that this entry has been written by someone running an unofficial fansite and a blog shamelessly devoted to all sorts of fan musings on a variety of things. I thought I'd be writing mostly about the irony of that. I thought I'd have to write and say "I have no neat conclusion for these observations." I also thought I'd write about my antipathy to ask for autographs, which looks like it dates from about that year. Even that time-honoured exchange between star and fan, which Lennon was willing to perform again after five years of staying far away from fame's glow, feels intrusive for me. Actually I don't know what I thought I'd write about. But twenty five years ago the night I spent grieving next to the radio was a night also spent writing page after page of bewildered rage in my sketchbook journal, and so it seemed only fitting that I write something tonight.


Ol' Pork Chop said...

You're on a roll!
Way to go! Don't stop.

"This is Johnny Rhythmger saying, "Goodnight to yiz all!" (Christmas fan club disc '63)

Guy Wonders said...

Beautifully said.

Count Screwloose said...

Very nice indeed, Miss T.

Very nice indeed.


Brownie said...

That's not Count Screwloose, it's Zero Mostel!
Miss T - your post was beautiful, thank you for sharing.