March 18 2003
Arts and Entertainment
By Lynn Rapoport
THINGS ARE BAD now. We should all be painting the town red with antiwar graffiti, defacing monuments to capitalism, and engaging in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience instead of going to shows. But it still seems worth pointing out that if the world were ruled by obsessed rock fans rather than people who want to kill and maim one another, this would probably be a happier, if not necessarily saner, place. Unless there were Hell's Angels on the stage.
I've been thinking about this since Noise Pop, an event that brings the number-one fans out of the woodwork. They're all around us, the number ones, and they're usually hard to miss. Sometimes they're just wearing the T-shirt, mouthing the words, and recording the show on a cassette player. Other times they're also hanging out at the edge of the stage, gigantically tall, and connecting with the set in a way that no one around them would ever have thought of flashing the sign of the devil during a Smog show, for instance, and vigorously jumping up and down to the slowest song on a set list of fairly downtempo numbers. Or twirling. Or taking their shirt off to display tattooed iconography from the band's first single. Or calling out, "Pretty kitty!" during a Cat Power show while everyone else thinks about how they should have stayed home and listened to The Covers Album.
It's hard to be a fan, let alone a number-one fan, when all around you people are following their baser instincts. And audience members continue to make depressingly bad choices (like the shushers and the retaliatory faux-shushers at a recent Smog show). But fandom has made me happier, if not necessarily saner, recently. There was the moment at the Mountain Goats show when John Darnielle started taking requests, and Bottom of the Hill sounded like a stadium full of WWF attendees compacted into a space the size of my apartment because all Mountain Goats fans are number-one fans. And there was the e-mail from a local Police tribute group called Stung, without whom I might never have known that my favorite band of all time, the band I fell for before I even knew about the FM dial, was going to be inducted March 10 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and would play together that night for the first time in 18 years.
It made me feel old. The Police's Synchronicity tour was the last concert my parents refused to let me attend. After that I was old enough, meaning I've been old enough for 18 years now much good it's done me. The band broke up soon after that tour, possibly reasoning that they'd made their crappest album yet and should quit while they still had stadiums full of screaming fans. I held it against my parents for a long time, but I'm ready to forgive them.
On the other hand, I will never forgive the producers of the Hall of Fame event, which screened on VH1 last Sunday, for allowing Gwen Stefani to do the induction honors for the Police. Gloating, she related how, during that same tour while I was sulking in my bedroom, soaking my pillow over Sting's heartbreaking beauty, staring at the poster of him and Stewart and Andy I'd recently received at my first boy-girl birthday party she was somewhere backstage getting an autograph from the man whose name I'd inked into every pair of jeans, every notebook, since the summer after sixth grade. When Stefani returned to the stage with Steven Tyler during the band's spiritless rendition of "Every Breath You Take," I had to leave the room.
Would a real number-one fan have left? Would a real number-one fan be complaining? Who knows. If I had even a scrap of a clue of what it took to be that person, I would have started my own Police tribute band long ago, or at least launched a fan-club chapter.
They played their stalker hits; Andy Summers said God was at every rock ceremony; it was fun to watch Copeland break a drum skin; and Sting didn't talk about how he can fuck for eight hours straight that's a full workday! which was nice. I could see in retrospect, though, why no one except me, my older brother, and Gwen Stefani seemed to care that any of this was happening. Including Sting.
It's weird to think that the Police are the last band I'll ever devote so much emotional energy to, in that moody, hormonal way that wells up from the very core of adolescence. I'll try not to miss any more Mountain Goats shows, but my days of waking up at 6 a.m. to stand in line for concert tickets are over. I'll never skip school again. I'll never make a scrapbook, or cry over the lead singer of a rock and roll band, unless I interview one someday and we end up dating and she cheats on me with a younger, cuter groupie. Is this what growing up means? Some people would flash the devil sign and say it doesn't have to be that way. The Police could have used them the other night, every last one.
E-mail Lynn Rapoport at firstname.lastname@example.org.