By Alex J.
A few nights ago, I had the privilege of being one of a few hundred sweaty bodies crammed into the Crystal Ballroom for a show by the band Ween. Before the show began, standing on the balcony surveying the crowd, I encountered a broad mixture of people of all ages, some of whom were apparently neophytes, some of whom had been fans of the band for a long time and seen them many times before. The contrast between the older and newer fans started me thinking about music fandom.
I myself fall more into the neophyte category–I first heard Ween the way I’ve first heard of a wide variety of bands; a few years ago I read a review of one of their albums (Chocolate & Cheese, specifically) that made it sound interesting, so I downloaded it. A lot of people I know procure music in the same way–a few clicks and its on your hard-drive, ready to be played, without much of an investment in terms of time or money. The amount of music available this way makes the approach appealing and it’s true that I’ve discovered a few acts that I may not have run across otherwise–Jandek leaps to mind–but at the same time, there are dozens of albums on my hard drive that I’m not sure I can say I’ve honestly listened to.
This stands in pretty stark contrast to the kind of cassette-culture that spawned a band like Ween. While both downloading and tape-sharing were an embrace of the democratic potential of new technologies–in essence, forms of social media–cassette culture required a much higher investment from its participants. The dubbing and sharing of tapes required listening to them multiple times and interacting directly with other fans–the listener developed a greater personal connection to a band and the scene in a way that downloading can’t recreate.
While I don’t think the kind of intimate fan-base that follows bands across and long-term career is going to disappear from the fabric of our culture, I can’t help but wonder how iTunes is going to change what the next generation considers a “cult following.” Are there underground bands today that are going to find the staying power to be attracting both old and new fans 25 years from now?
I think the only way to truly find out is to watch it unfold. The point, however, is that the discussion of the changes in our culture brought about by the new wave of social media is mirrored in disparate aspects of how we interrelate.