Being a fan requires a kind of religious devotion which, being a fundamentally irreligious person, I’ve been always uncomfortable with. It’s in the etymology of the word: fan being an abbreviation of the original ‘fanatic’. Fans tend to be worshipful of their icons. It’s almost like once god was pronounced dead, human beings needed someone to fill in the existential void. Enter the celebrity, a mortal who is thrust into the role of god. Artists themselves can be uncomfortable doing this. Kurt Cobain hated it. Through the nineties, indie/grunge acts on both sides of the Atlantic tried to get away from the trappings of fame, often putting their discomfort with celebrity into their song lyrics. This could always fetch you the criticism of having bad manners. Most people would die to have fans, why are you complaining?
I’ve done some fan stuff. I’ve gone to festivals to watch my favourite bands, Pulp especially. But at no point did I own all the Pulp albums, or know the entire discography by heart. Once I accidentally met Thom Yorke in a bar in Oxford, while I was a student there. It was 1999. I walked in, walked up to Yorke, and rattled off something about how I’d first watched Radiohead’s videos on my parents’ black and white Bush TV in Allahabad. He said, looking around for a napkin, ‘Do you want an autograph or something?’
In the nineties, just like the bands were anti-fame, the fans also felt the cooler thing to do was to play it down with your heroes and heroines. They were also ordinary people, who needed their privacy. They also had a right to lead normal lives. I shouldn’t have walked in to the bar in the first place. Thom was having a quiet beer, with two friends in his hometown. I told Yorke, ‘Screw the autograph, keep doing what you do’ and walked out into the cold winter’s night. Fans usually say the same things. It’s become a cliché to say that this film/ song changed my life. I’m not sure if a song really changes or saves anybody’s life, but it’s what most fans say. That, or that in my sad moments, I always go to this particular song. Crazy fans have become a staple of pop culture. Eminem’s song ‘Stan’, is about a nutcase fan, the word having now passed into the English language as standing for any extreme fan of a popular figure. Shahrukh Khan’s Fan again walked the trajectory of the deranged fan. Fans write letters in blood; fans build temples to worship their stars. The fan is an entity verging on the abnormal, and yet there’s this pressure on one to be a fan of someone or the other, otherwise you are not normal.
If one has diverse tastes in music, art, cinema and books, it’s difficult to be a loyal fan. One keeps coming across new names, in different fields and genres, and it’s simply not possible to keep up with everything a musician or filmmaker has done or is doing. It becomes even more difficult if you’re a trilingual Indian. If you’re a trilingual Indian who loves films for instance, you have to keep up with what’s happening in Bengali or Telugu, in Bollywood as well as Hollywood.
Occasionally, fans can get on the nerves of their idol. During a recent performance of Springsteen on Broadway, Bruce snapped at the audience to stop singing ‘Dancing in the Dark’ with him: ‘I can take this one myself.’ But Bruce, it is said, came out of retirement in the wake of 9/11, in response to a fan’s note which said: ‘Bruce, we need you.’
And Eminem in October laid into Trump in a freestyle cipher that went viral. He also laid into his fans who are also Trump supporters, asking them to choose: ‘And any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his / I’m drawing in the sand a line: you’re either for or against / And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split / On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this / F— you!’
Oh well, it’s never easy being a fan.