How Deep Is Your Love: The Levels of Music Fandom

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Steve Wiley is Up on the Sun's resident Record Store Geek. Biweekly, he shares stories of great music and wacky characters from his continuing 27 years in Valley record stores and the always-zany music biz.

I was hanging out at Revolver Records the other day, and Andy (friend, former hoodlum, and store manager) and I struck up a conversation with this kid.

The kid told us he was a fan of The Cars.

"Cool," we said. "It's always cool to see vintage music carry on to the next group of music lovers."

I asked him which album was his favorite. He said he didn't know any of the albums.

Uh, kid, I love your attitude, but think I need to set you straight. You can't really call yourself a fan of a band if you don't even know any of the albums.

But I've Got Four of Their Songs on My Phone!

In case you weren't aware, the word "fan" is short for "fanatic."

You know, someone who is over-the-top. Really into a band.

I'd use sports as an example, but as a lover of both forms of entertainment, it's hard to compare the two. Music fans are cooler. They party equally hard, but they don't go to the same extremes as sports fans.

In other words, to be a fan of a band, you don't need to paint your face and go on the road, but you at least need to be deeper than a couple of songs.

Let's take a closer look at the levels of band fandom, shall we?

Wow, I Really Like That Song

Songs are beautiful.

I like a good song as much as the next cat.

Many, many musicians have made a career out of just one.

I'm all for dialing up a good playlist for driving or working out or countless other situations.

Songs are music.

But that's where you start. You hear that song, and it's so damn good that you need to know more about this artist.

Cars Example: Most people first hear the radio tunes, like "Just What I Needed" (that's the one that hooked me), "Drive," or "My Best Friend's Girl."

Hmmm, Maybe I Need a Visual.

Back in the day, this was nearly impossible. Unless your favorite band was on The Midnight Special or Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, you probably weren't getting any visuals at all.

Then along came MTV, and things changed. Not entirely for the better (as I opined here), but absolutely forever. We finally got a visual to go with the sound.

Fast forward. Bring on the Internet, and the mighty YouTube.

Fuckin' YouTube. Sometimes when I'm searching out videos to attach to this blog, I just sit back and marvel at its sheer ability to blow me away with killer footage that I have never seen. Those of us who are old enough to know how it used to be appreciate how lucky we all are to have such a field of musical entertainment these days.

So, these days for sure, getting a good dose of video is level two.

You get on YouTube and quench your curiosity. You see how well your band plays your song live. Maybe you follow the recommendations and listen to another song, maybe two.

What do you know -- you're almost a fan.

Cars Example: Hopefully you'll find a deeper album cut, like "Bye Bye Love" off The Cars, or perhaps a great live performance, like "All Mixed Up."

Hey, Kid, Have You Ever Heard of an Album?

If I have a future-of-music fear, it's that the album will fade away.

Because as I've said before, and I'll say again -- the album is the best way to truly judge and appreciate the art form, and the artist.

Albums separate the women from the little girls.

While many, many artists may have made a living off of one song, only a tiny fraction of those artists have made even one good album, let alone multiples.

So if you are going to call yourself a fan of a band or artist -- you damn well better have a good handle on at least one of their albums.

Cars Example: After discovering three great songs off of The Cars (their debut album), you listen to the whole thing in order. You discover that the album is genius, and that side two is essentially four songs strung together without a break.

Which Album is Best?

Now you're starting to feel it. Now you're starting to be a real fan. Of the band, and of the art.

Now you want to know more. You want to be able to expand and really break down your band's body of work.

Well, this Record Store Geek recommends a sweet little website called allmusic.com.

Find that artist and go from there. Read a little of the bio, and then click on that little "discography" button. Each album will have a review, which will give you a great idea of where to go next with your album search.

You can also listen to a trusted source, like yours geekly, or whichever one of your pals knows their shit.

Now fire up Spotify (if you don't have Spotify, you need to get off your ass and get with it), and explore that discography. Find out if you agree with the consensus. Find out what "stage" of the band's career you like best. Find out if the band deserves your lifelong loyalty.

Now when I ask about your band, you can talk with some authority.

Now you are a real fan.

Cars Example: You discover, as Andy and I told the kid, that while nothing is as good as The Cars, Candy-O is damn close, and Side Two of Panorama is also good. Beyond that, it's a mixed bag (which still makes for a classic band, in my opinion).

Is There a Higher Level, Geek?

So you really do love this band. Songs. Albums. Videos. All bring you pleasure.

It's time for the final step of knowledge and geek fandom: The documentary.

This only works for certain bands. They have to be big enough, interesting enough, controversial enough to have a film made about them.

But if you can find a documentary, and it's a halfway decent one, then you'll learn a lot more than you thought you already knew, and you'll appreciate the band even more.

Cars Example: I'm not sure. After hearing my first Cars song more than 30 years ago, I'm just getting to this stage. Off the top of my head, I don't know of a Cars documentary, but I'm going to take advantage of this golden age of music technology and find out soon.

Haven't You Forgotten About Seeing Them Live?

Of course not. There's nothing like seeing a band perform live.

However, this "level" isn't so much a level as it is a step. A step that you can take at any point during the process of becoming a true fan.

Maybe you just happened to catch a band for the first time live, and the musicianship flabbergasted you, and made a fan out of you. Perhaps just the one song you heard was enough to make you go out catch the show. Or perhaps you just went to hang with a friend, or a date.

Either way, seeing a band live -- provided they don't suck -- is always a fan booster. At any stage of the game.

Cars Example: Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to see them before bassist and (best) lead singer Benjamin Orr died. One of the few shows my wife has to hold over me. Luckily, these days we've got YouTube.

One More Key Thing . . . Remember to Support Your Favorite Band

That's one other great thing about seeing them live: You'll be supporting the band.

However, the same can't be said about the other "levels" of fandom these days.

You can listen and watch until your heart's content, and you really don't have to pay the band for any of it. Do they get a cut from Spotify? Sure, but it's a pittance.

So may I suggest -- and at this point I'd like to remind you that I no longer pimp and peddle CDs and LPs -- that if you are a fan, a true fan, that you find a way to support your favorite outfits.

Buy a hard copy. Buy a digital copy. See a show. Buy a shirt.

Show your love and loyalty to all the brothers and sisters that pour out their hearts to warm yours and mine. The magnificent music makers.

That way we can assure they all keep making music.

Thanks for reading.

(P.S. Cars Support Example: I bought the first five albums on LP. Then I bought four out of five on CD. Then I bought the first three albums on LP again.)

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