Fandom, Elvis Costello and Goodbye Cruel World
Not so recently, while moving, I disbursed about half of my record collection to friends and used CD outlets. Although I eschewed many records that I never cared for, such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, I also let a few cool gems slip from my possession. For instance, my copy of Elvis Costello’s Goodbye Cruel World. Even though the album is barely listenable, I knew that by giving it away I was sacrificing a crucial claim to fandom – Elvis’s worst record ever.
If a music fan is identified by a deep love of an artist’s work, why do I feel that by abandoning a horrible album I lose my identity as a fan? Ideally, the music that establishes my root claims to fandom is immaterial; it exists apart from the album and can be likewise appreciated. In this scenario, the simple enjoyment of an artist’s work is an adequate condition of fandom. Realistically however, there is an odd hierarchy that is established via the supporting and community minded activities of a fan base’s members. A tier one fan may have collected several of Elvis’s albums, whereas a tier two fan has collected these albums and refuses to sing any other artist’s song at Thursday karaoke. Tier three fans clearly uphold both of the above conditions but also maintain fan shrines on Geocities (remember that?), where countless links too odd paraphernalia are set to an ongoing loop of “Pump it Up.”
A proclamation of love is inadequate for establishing fandom, instead it matters how you prove love. This is usually an economic quality. When I sold Goodbye Cruel World, I forfeited a share of my investment in Elvis, I became less of a fan than everyone else who owns it. Why is appreciation quantified economic terms? I originally sought out Elvis because of hip tunes like “Radio, Radio,” and maintain that “The Only Flame in Town,” (The 12” single from Goodbye Cruel World, which I still own) is complete garbage. Is it the case that a *real* fan needs to love an artist’s garbage alongside their best work?
There is a fruitful distinction to be made here, the differentiation between an artist and their output. While the artist would prefer (usually) an absolute synchronicity between output, fan and self, where each thing feeds off of the other, the fan that fits this mould is rare indeed. Generally fans adhere to one of the above archetypes: A fan of the music, or a fan of the figure. The genuine music fan is devaluated in this hierarchy, because their feedback hinges more on an abstract claim: “I love this song!” is frequently countered with, “But do you have the album?” For me, this means that other Elvis fans will have to take me at my word. More distinctly, I will stress a bit more when I move and really wonder the implications of – “Do I really need this record.”