I remember working as a clerical temp for a small company called California Digital in the California South Bay (near Torrance). I’d just gotten married, so it was 1995. Computers were around, they were certainly used – but most of the time they were mainframe-type systems, nothing like what we have today. My boss at the time, a gravely man named Terry, liked to tell me all about how the web was going to change everything.
You’ve Got Mail!
Around the late 1990s, AOL slowly evolved away from having message boards for groups like Cruise Critic and New Moms within AOL. Instead those groups created actual websites for themselves, owning actual internet real estate.
It wasn’t long after AOL downsized that I discovered duranduran.com. After a rather lengthy concert hiatus (1993-2001), I went to see Duran Duran at the House of Blues in Anaheim. That following day, I searched for their website. Then I found other fan-managed websites and message boards, until those seemed to migrate to Facebook and Twitter back in the mid-2000s. In between all of that, there have been blogs and Facebook groups and now, at least 23 years have passed since I first discovered social media.
Feed the beast!
What I’ve noticed along the way, is that there seems to be a cycle for fandom. Now, the very fact that I’ve been around long enough to see this full cycle happen, again and again now, is puzzling. (to me, anyway) It explains why bands must continuously feed the beast (as I like to call it) by creating and touring, and it also tells plenty about why fans seem to be in a constant contest of loyalty. AKA “Who is the biggest and best fan?”
I wouldn’t dare attempt to characterize all of the different points in this cycle, because as soon as I do, someone will argue that I’ve missed one. That said, below is my very broad, very general version.
Cycle of Fandom
This is when you go to that concert, find the band online, discover a twitter group, or have some sort of “Beginning”, even if it’s by meeting a band member in person. It sparks your interest, even if you already had one prior. This fully ignites it. If you consider it in the tone of a romance, it is that first stage of attraction.
Your attention becomes engrossed. Maybe you chat with friends online, perhaps you seek out more information, maybe you post on band member pages. The point here is that there’s excitement, and eagerness. You’re doing more than just flirting, you’re getting involved.
This is when you buy all the tickets, go to all the shows, do all the things…above and beyond. I’ve seen a good many fans go fully in debt at this point because they were insistent on being in the front row for every show on a tour, for example. It *can* be a point where the relationship becomes unhealthy because it is at least semi-obsessive. This doesn’t mean that every single fan that ever has an obsessive phase should be considered unhealthy, it means that sometimes, some people do go overboard. I would call this the crossroads or the apex of fandom. Before you reach the top it is that wholehearted “I want to spend every single second with you” time during the relationship. Once you’re over the top, it becomes more like the honeymoon has ended and you have to get along in the day-to-day.
Eventually, reality does set in. Whether because you finally got that bank statement to prove the damage done on the last presale day, or because you’ve burned yourself out like a candle – it happens. You start seeing that no, this band isn’t really perfect. Maybe it is that you couldn’t get tickets to a gig you wanted. Perhaps you were friends with a group of people and something happened at a show and it all went badly. It could even be something as simple as meeting a band member and they didn’t live up to your expectations. Any of that causes reality to sink in. This is like that moment when you look at your significant other and you can’t immediately remember why it is you liked them. (hey, it can happen!!)
There are fans out there who will gleefully remind you that the band doesn’t change up the set much. Maybe they find fault with a new album, or perhaps have better memories of other line ups or personnel within the band. In a lot of ways, they remind me of the elder statesmen (statespeople!) in the fan community. They’ve been around for quite awhile, they don’t get nearly as excited when the band makes announcements, but they still manage to show up at gigs and have good seats. They complain, but yet they still buy. Yes, this is probably where I come in. They know the band’s faults, but they also realize they’re still better than anything else out there. 😀 This is like the 25-year old marriage. (trust me on this)
The Exit, in Two Parts
burn bright, turn out like a light
Over my years of being in this fandom, I’ve seen MANY people come and go. Some fans all of the sudden show up everywhere, and are at every single event, and they’ve made friends with the entire community – burning bright like a emergency flare – until all of the sudden, they’re gone. They vanish just as quickly.
I don’t know how or why that happens. I believe there is something to the saying “slow and steady wins the race” here. At the same time, I also think there are plenty of fans out there who would find fault with my saying that. From past experience, I’ve seen many of the most notorious (pun intended) and well-known fans, of those I’ve run into over the past twenty-some years, the ones who went to every show on a tour, or were at one point EVERYWHERE all the time, are no longer involved in the community for the most part. In fact, most I once knew, and could count on seeing many times over the course of a tour, no longer go to shows at all. They’ve moved on.
Others tend to go like blazes until they make a major faux pas, and then are eschewed by the fan community. I really saw this a lot during the tour after Astronaut. I’m not going to give examples, or explain why this happens, only that I’ve seen it.
fade to black
Then there are the people that do the slow fade. They’ve been around for decades, slowly doing less and less until one day I think of them and say “Wow, I haven’t seen ____ for years now. Where’d they go?” It is a graceful, but deliberate exit. Sometimes it is related to health, other times it is because they got tired of the fan rat race, or it is another reason entirely. The speed with which someone enters and exits the fandom isn’t really a pattern. I notice it with each album and touring cycle, but that has far more to do with just running into people at concerts than it probably does anything else. This is like the divorce that has been building for decades, maybe waiting until the kids leave the nest.
Nothing is easy
There are a couple of things about this cycle that make it difficult to pin down. One is that every fan is on their own unique time-schedule. Some people go through the entire cycle over the course of a tour. Others take forty years or more, and maybe never quite leave it. To make it all even more complicated, one fan could be already through the obsession and headed towards that slow decline, while someone else is brand new, eager and overly obsessive. I see (and experience) that a lot these days!
The fact that we’re not all on the same wavelength explains a lot of the discourse in the fan community. There are people fully obsessed with being front row at every single concert, while there are others who want the front, but have been around for decades and feel like they deserve it purely for reasons of longevity. Some people weren’t even alive during the 80s, they prefer newer music in the band’s catalog, and yet they love the band every bit as much as someone who loved “Rio”.
For years now, I’ve heard complaints from younger fans that the older fans have very little respect for them. I can see that, and to a certain extent – I’m sure I’ve said or done something to play into that attitude. I tend to forget that it wasn’t just the hits of the 80s that attracted fans. (imagine that!) I can’t speak for everyone, but in my case it has far more to do with just ignorance about Duran Duran in the 90s and beyond than it is outright disrespect or dismissiveness. For me personally, the 90’s didn’t hit me in the same way earlier times did. I have a hard time remembering that some people fell into the fandom because of Ordinary World and Come Undone. Others see it differently, as they should!
Change is good
There are also the constant reminders I make to myself that it’s okay other fans are still overly eager about this band. I’ve had my time to do that, and now others are leading that charge. In some ways, this is unsettling because at times (like now), I feel kind of out of it. I don’t necessarily have the same group I once did. But, it is the way it all works. I don’t even have the energy to be that upbeat all of the time now!
This is exactly why the band keeps creating, touring, and feeding the beast! Yes, some fans stay forever (I seem to be on that path), but many, many others come and go just as quickly. The touring and album cycles help to replenish the interest, and this is why with each tour we run into people who are fairly new. Some of them have been fans forever and are just to a point in their lives where they can get involved. Others may have never gone to a concert before now. Still others saw or heard something online they loved. There is always someone new, and I think many of us are wondering where in the heck they’ve been all this time, but we’re also feeling the unease of having new people around us that have far more energy to throw into being fans than we might. Are we being outdone??
These eager fans might not even mind the rigmarole of everything from concert announcement to presale to set list and so on. While I, on the other hand, have to talk myself into going through it all. Yet if I didn’t, wouldn’t I have FOMO? (Fear Of Missing Out)
There are all sorts of things that can be pointed out by studying the fan community for over twenty years. I am continually fascinated by what I learn about the human condition just by studying this singular group of people who have come together due to the career of one band. I’m nowhere near an expert in the field, but I still thoroughly enjoy the observations!
I’m also tired of the BS, sick of these “new” fans who show up out of nowhere, convinced that they are the one fan the band absolutely should or already does love most. I hate presales, I think the set list needs a major overhaul at times, and I wish the band would go back to doing smaller intimate gigs. With seats!!
I might be turning into a curmudgeon.