Learning to be a Fan

Welcome to Sliding Constant. This post deserves a bit of a preface. I wrote this little essay in November of 2000… before I ever knew that there was going to be a “Sliding Constant”. I held onto this knowing that it would be the first post of any web log I started. As it turns out, the post ended up partially inspiring the whole concept for the site. I hope you enjoy.

I pride myself on being a reasonable, logical, down-to-earth person. It ends up making me a bit predictable, and I’m sure my friends think I need to loosen up a bit more often. Overall, though, I’m quite happy being what I used to call “the amazing human constant.” However, there are a few subjects about which I can’t seem to help but be completely irrational and sometimes almost downright silly. I’ve been pondering how to write about this for a while, and I think I’ve finally got it nailed down, so hang on for the ride.

Tonight I went to a concert. At the local civic center arena three of my old favorite bands performed: Survivor, Styx, and REO Speedwagon. Anyone that knows me well will realize already that I had to be at this concert. A couple of the bands have gone through some really big lineup changes, legal problems, controversy, etc., and I must admit that I had my doubts about how it would come off. It turns out my doubts were completely unfounded. The bands were awesome. Survivor showed up with a lineup that I wasn’t expecting (Jimi Jamison on lead with original members Frankie Sullivan and Marc Droubay). Kevin Cronin was having some problems with his voice, but he more than made up for it with his incredible sincerity and effort. Styx was their usual over-the-top awesome best, even though they’ve had to adjust to the loss of Dennis DeYoung.

Awesome though the concert was, this isn’t a story about how much I cut loose in the audience (more than usual). It’s about my coming to terms with the fact that I really am just another fan. That sounds like a really simple and obvious thing, but I’ve had a surprisingly difficult time making that particular point stick home. I think all of us have at least one famous person we admire and would like to meet. I’m no different, and these bands are close to the top of my list. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the fact that I would like to meet these guys. What disturbs me is that something in the back of my mind has always believed that if I could make that meeting happen, I would somehow make a personal connection. In my little fantasy world, I would have something so interesting to say that we’d all sit down and have a chat and bond. Normally, I would shrug such wishes off as fun idle fantasy and go on with life. For some reason, though, this particular fiction keeps pushing its way back into the “potential reality” portion of my brain.

I know this is silly. These guys tour the country. At every stop, they have thousands of people lined up to hear them… many of them much more rabid fans than me. Just the fact that their tour was big enough to have a stop here in Huntsville says volumes about how popular they are. Even though I never figured out the logistics to do it myself, I’m sure they have groups of fans at every concert clamoring just to get close enough to get some random item autographed and maybe say 5 words before the next person in line. The bands probably enjoy the attention and spend as much time with the fans as they are able, but when it comes down to it, they only have so much time and energy for such things. Intellectually I know all this, but for some reason unless I keep those facts in the front of my mind, my little fantasy world keeps presenting itself as more than just fantasy. Why is it that my normally well-controlled mind insists on indulging in this silliness? I’ve been pondering that question for a while, and I think tonight I finally figured it out as I was sitting in my truck in the parking lot after the concert, waiting for the crowd to clear.

The easiest way to put it is that these bands wrote the background music to my life. At more than one point tonight, I found myself singing my heart out along with the band and conjuring up memories of some particularly significant event in my life. Music has always been important to me, and for most of my elementary and high school life AOR music like the stuff performed by these bands gave me something emotional and creative to attach to my life.

I can remember sitting in my best friend’s bedroom and listening to Come Sail Away for the first time on his dad’s 70’s era hi-fi setup straight from the The Grand Illusion LP and being amazed that these geezers could have performed something so cool. I purchased a copy of Edge of the Century at about the time I was installing my own stereo in my first car. I can’t hear the title track anymore without having visions of a 1976 Volkswagen Beetle with mag wheels. Styx was also the first band whose history I knew. I loved telling friends about how Tommy Shaw graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, AL. I think the most important connection, though, is the one it helped make with a dear friend of mine that’s about 10 or 15 years older than I am. We would have been friends anyway, but he helped wake me up to Styx’s older music, and I helped introduce him to their newer material. The mutual interest helped kindle a friendship.

REO Speedwagon is one of those groups whose music I knew all along, just not by name. Songs like Take It On the Run and Keep On Loving You were like old friends newly rediscovered when I bought my REO Speedwagon hits cassette as a teen. More than any other of their songs, though, Can’t Fight This Feeling had a profound effect. I grew up as a bit of an outcast (mostly my own fault), so I was quite awkward about the best way to convey my feelings about my latest junior high crush. This song spoke to me. As a consequence, there are at least two women out there who at one point in about 8th grade or so had the dubious pleasure of having me play this song to them as a way to let them know how I felt. The plan failed miserably in both cases, but the song is, nevertheless, just as important to me as those memories are and remains one of my favorites to this day (I was singing along tonight!)

As for Survivor… these guys are probably most of the reason I enjoy the kind of music that I do. One lazy Saturday in 1985, I was using my dad’s boom box to record songs from the radio that I found particularly interesting. The old generic-brand C-60 cassette that I recorded to that day easily became the most-played cassette I’ve ever owned. I actually still have it, and I sometimes go back and play it as a who’s who of mid-80’s pop. In particular, though, there was one song on side one… next to the last one… that I was instantly enamored with. It was my first time ever really hearing what I would later know as a power ballad. While the lyrics really didn’t quite fit the situation, it furiously made me think of the girl that had become my girlfriend on the very last day of school that previous year (4th grade to put this in age context). I can trace my love of melodic rock back to this one event. The “relationship” with the girlfriend didn’t last, but I memorized that song. In years to come, I would sing the lead in two octaves, figure out vocal harmony parts, and pick out the bass line for fun. It wasn’t until something like 3 years later that I finally learned by calling a local radio station that the song was called The Search is Over and was by a band called Survivor. I went nuts. On my next trip to the store, I looked for that name and came home with a copy of Vital Signs. To my utter delight, Survivor had done two other songs I loved: High on You and I Can’t Hold Back. To make a long story a little shorter, I became an instant Survivor fan at just about the point that they stopped performing. I imagined myself a bass player and vocalist in a band playing Didn’t Know it Was Love, and probably one of the single most romantic ideas I’ve ever had was inspired by a little song called Across the Miles.

So, 15 years after I first heard the song that started it all, I sat in my truck in the civic center parking lot pondering whether I should try to sneak around the building and attempt to find the band(s). Even if I found one, what would I have? Probably an autograph and a sincere thank-you for being a long-term fan. It would be a cool souvenir, but it’s not what I really wanted. Deep down, I wanted to share all these experiences I just wrote about and make a connection. That’s what it was. That’s why I kept persisting in the dream. Some part of me wanted to believe that these experiences would be so cool that they would be my “backstage pass” to separate myself from the “other fans.” But what about those other fans? Did it ever occur to me that they probably have similar stories? Was I so silly to believe that I alone owned memories like this? Reality finally sank in completely, and I drove home, bringing me to where I am as I write this… doing it as a way to finally purge this spirit.

So… if by any wild chance someone from one of the bands happens to find this, here’s what I would want them to know: Thank you for writing and performing the music that has become such a part of my life. I won’t claim that any of it changed my life in some major way, but it certainly helped me along the way and gave my memory reference points to cling to. Know for certain that what you’ve done counts for something. I hope you enjoy performing now as much as it looked like you did tonight, and don’t worry. I won’t be chasing you down at any future concerts with freaky wishes. I think tonight I’ve finally completely realized that I really am just another fan… and that it’s not such a terrible thing.

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