Lately, a lot of people have commented on my tendency to form obsessions with music/rock stars. They are not wrong; in fact, I don’t even have to step out of the bubble to see my behavior for what it is. It’s weird, yeah. But it goes way beyond the superficial assumption that I’m just lonely and have too much time on my hands. The reasons that I can identify are twisted and complex. So…how do I explain them?
It all started with Axl Rose.
Well, actually, I’m sure it really started with joining my mom as she whistled and clapped her hands to the Bee Gees, or my dad blaring Ricky Van Shelton’s “Statue of a Fool” in the car on the ride home, because that’s when I began to recognize a swelling in my heart, a spreading warmth of genuine love for a particular melody that just bubbled over as I played a song on repeat…over….and over again. And this was all before my discovery of beautiful lyrics, although I can credit Barbara Streisand (“Coming In and Out of Your Life”) for helping me recognize the effect of a soaring melody and meaningful words: a song that could stir my soul.
Anyway, I was 14 when Axl Rose walked into my life. It was 1992, and I hadn’t yet reached the true melancholy of adolescence (i.e. joined the grunge movement); I was still reveling in the opulence of hair bands and power ballads. And while I’d also always been a Top-40 kid, at this point, my hormones were in high gear as I became interested in rock stars for a certain level of “hotness” in addition to musical ability. Now before you wince at my suggestion that Axl was indeed “hot,” know that 1) I’ve always liked long hair on men (Steve Perry: yup; young Dan Fogelberg: oh yeah; Sebastian Bach: you’d better believe it) and 2) even bike shorts can be sexy when you’ve got the vocal cords of a banshee. Plus, Axl was a misunderstood, sensitive Aquarian, something I know a little about. G’N’R was big that year; the Use Your Illusion double album brought “You Could Be Mine,” “Don’t Cry,” and…(sigh) “November Rain.” There was nothing finer than that epic, indulgent, 9-minute piece of musical candy….except maybe the equally over-the-top video. Somewhere, there are pictures of me dressed up like Axl Rose, from a day when my friends and I reenacted the November Rain video.
So, from that point forward, music began to make its mark. And while I don’t recall any specific obsession during my high school years (grunge and 90s country: everything was awesome), though I do remember having a bit of a crush on country one-hit wonder Wade Hayes (long hair again). Looking back now, I see that a lot of my favorite songs from that time are tied to specific memories, and boyfriends. Go figure – the lyrical side of music was affecting me at full force by that time.
Freshman year of college, Hanson happened. I was home for the summer and bored out of my mind, and “Mmmbop” was all the rage. Thoughnot usually one for crazy bubblegum pop pieces, I was intrigued by these cute, talented dudes. They were so fun, so wholesome. My sister and I spent that summer dancing by/in the pool to Middle of Nowhere, racing to the magazine section of the supermarket to read three sentences about them in Teen Beat, and playing songs around my dad in an effort to convince him that these guys were just as cool as Elvis Presley. We were obsessed: posters on our walls, t-shirts on our backs, concert tickets in our hands. In a time before the Internet really went crazy, all we had was printed literature, and of course, the music, to get to know this band.
Why would anyone care about “knowing” a band? I don’t think this is something unique to my brain patterns; I think a lot of people in the world feel moved by music and want to know where it comes from. There’s the celebrity factor, too, I suppose. But I’ve always felt that it was hard to express my true feelings on a subject in words alone…and that’s where music comes in. So many of the emotional highs in life – feelings of hope, freedom, joy, peace – are best revealed through an incredible song. When I hear a song that moves me, I immediately want to know more about its origins. Who wrote the lyrics? Who determined the instruments and layered the melodies? If I find that the song has been created in a musical “factory” somewhere in L.A., it’s a big letdown, because I’ve always appreciated musicians who really make their own music, you know? My adult years have led me to an intense appreciation for the independent band, because it’s through their songs that I can get to the human roots.
These days, everything is accessible online, including a favorite band. I’m constantly amazed (and delighted) by the various ways in which I can investigate the human side to my favorite song. Beyond Facebook and YouTube is a world of Twitter updates (where some musicians actually respond personally to fans), musician blogs, and links to magazine article archives. Hanson does charity walks with their fans (yes – without bodyguards – they walk with and talk to fans with an ease that’s incredible). Robert Schwartzman, the lead singer from Rooney, posts regular video blogs for his fans that range from quick updates to extended Q&A sessions. I mean, after listening to the guy answer questions for 90 minutes, it's hard not to feel like you know him on some level. It’s a far cry from the days of hoarding People magazine at the library and secretly ripping out the articles so I could file them in a binder at home; then read and reread the content in an attempt to get inside a musician’s brain. Yes, I did that.
My sister says that I prefer to be misunderstood, which may be true. I think there’s a part of me that enjoys having a connection to a song or a band that is completely unique; a magnetic, electric force that exists between only that particular musician and me. In a weird way, these people feel like friends, which makes sense if you think about it. Sure, I realize that this is a one-sided relationship…but then again, you never know. That reminds me – I’ve got to go check my Twitter account.