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The Sad Song Co: Blog

Nigel Powell: Attack the Blog!

It's been a long long time

Friday 25th April, 2014

Hello everyone. Sorry, this blog has been long neglected. My next thing to post was the next chapter of Puritan, but I was waiting until I could get some relevant audio tracks into the computer world, which involved borrowing a DAT machine and finding time between tours to record it and blah blah that's my excuse. But I've done it now, so I'll get to it soon. But to warm this blog back up, I'm going to give it over today to a guest spot. A lady called Analisa wrote an email to Frank and the Sleeping Souls, and I thought it was an interesting bit of writing so asked if she would mind me posting it here (since she didn't have a blog of her own). She didn't, so here it is!

17 April 2014

The Fandom Double-Standard

Evidence of avid sports fandom is all around us. Every winter, masses of college football fans whose team has made it to the Rose Bowl descend on Santa Monica and Venice Beach, easily identifiable by their team colors, clearly enjoying the mild Southern California weather during New Year's week. They are welcomed cheerfully by banners and chalked messages on signboards outside businesses around town. The very first day I ever spent in Europe, I emerged from an Amsterdam metro station to see the streets, restaurants, and hotel balconies crowded with the red-shirted fans of the Dutch Ajax football team and the green-shirted fans of Glasgow's Celtic Football Club, many loudly chanting as they passed through the city in anticipation of a UEFA Champions League qualifying match. At the time, I had no idea who these teams were, but the passion of their supporters certainly grabbed my attention. Friends of mine often spend entire days tailgating outside of college football games—sometimes never even going into the stadium—because they find fun and a sense of community in the ritual. Likewise, I know people who make annual "guys' weekends" out of going to Arizona to watch baseball spring training before the real season begins.

How many films have been made and consumed by the masses that celebrate the loyalty of sports fans through thick and thin? And how many people sign up for a waiting list years in advance so that they can get season tickets to see "their" team play as many times as possible, and follow their exploits daily via news and social media outlets? On game days, spectators wear body paint and wacky headwear, the crowd chants in unison, fans jump out of their seats when their side scores, and it's not uncommon to see grown men hugging each other joyfully when their team wins, or consoling each other after losses. This loyalty, on the whole, is admired by many cultures around the world—after all, the Olympics are never wanting for international visitors. Our society seems to celebrate this sense of devotion to one's team—whether national, collegiate, or professional—much more commonly than it deems it curious or excessive.

And there's nothing wrong with that. None of this is written to denigrate sports fans in any way, but to ask why this understanding of fandom ("fanaticism" has a negative connotation I prefer to avoid) doesn't always extend to the sphere of music fans—or more specifically, to those of us who choose to attend multiple consecutive shows by our favorite musical artists. It seems to me that, when a person past their teen years shows a similar level of enthusiasm for a certain performer as a serious sports fan shows for their team—that is, traveling long distances to see that artist perform repeatedly—the reaction is more often one of surprise, and sometimes even derision. Just a sampling: "She's, like, obsessed with them" or "You're going to Arizona to see Frank Turner? Are you a groupie?" I mean, when was the last time you heard a super-fan of Manchester United or the Green Bay Packers called a groupie or a stalker for going to multiple games of their favorite team? I'd be willing to bet that most diehard fans of professional sports teams have never met a single member of their favorite team in person, and probably never will. On the other hand, now that I've hit my thirties, the bands that I pay to go see repeatedly are generally ones in which at least one member is an acquaintance or friend of mine.

Having been on the receiving end of a few of these negatively tinged comments, I can't help but wonder if there is a gender element at play here. Do male fans get the same reaction when they follow all-male bands from gig to gig? Or is it just because Frank Turner is male, generally regarded as attractive, and I'm a single female? It's especially frustrating to be lumped in with the delusional "Frank, have my babies" Instagram commenters when I have zero desire to sleep with Frank Turner or any of the members of his band. I'm sorry to defy your Almost Famous imaginings, but I'm not a (wink wink) "band aide."

So why the negative judgments? While spending five nights out of town in pursuit of live music is admittedly a first-world luxury, which I don't take for granted, I'm not endangering my own finances by doing this. We stay in cheap motels and I've never missed more than one day of work as a result. (It's spring break at the moment, so that helps of course.) I'm not neglecting any husband or children, and I'm not drinking or drugging myself into a stupor every night. So who's to say that this is a "crazier" way of spending my leisure time than those diehard sports fans (including some of my own friends and family) that choose to travel long distances to witness "their" team play in the World Cup or the Super Bowl?

But this still leaves the question that I know some of you have: "So why does Frank Turner mean so much to you?" Where to start? Well, first of all, it's not just Frank—Ben, Nigel, Matt, and Tarrant are key parts of the equation here, and should be given their due as well. I love their songs (words and music), their welcoming attitudes, the passion they put into their playing, and even their onstage banter. As of tomorrow, I will have seen Frank play solo, or with the Sleeping Souls, 17 times in four years. Every time, these shows are among the highlights of my year—they always have great, handpicked opening acts, they play their hearts out, they make us laugh, and without fail, audience participation is through the roof. (Side note: I'm willing to admit that there may be a bit of subconscious bias here, too, because, they collectively represent London and Oxford, two of my very favorite places in the world.) When I am up front singing along during one of their shows, I feel a comparable sense of communion with those around me that I imagine devout sports fans feel when they're packed into a stadium watching a game as one. For me, few things in life beat those moments in "Four Simple Words" when Nigel's rapid-fire drum tattoo leads into Frank and the rest of the band joining in for, "Hi ho hi ho hi ho, we're heading out to the punk rock show!" Almost magically, the building potential energy converts the pit into an absolute explosion of human kinetic energy and, for the moment, nothing else matters. I'm not exaggerating when I say that a Frank Turner show is one of the few places where I can forget for a while about all the disquieting thoughts buzzing around inside my head and just get lost in the music and momentum.

However, there is still more to my answer to the question "Why them?" In addition to the amazing live performances, what I appreciate just as much about Frank and the Sleeping Souls is that they have always struck me as humble guys who treat their fans like equals. Frank has repeatedly stated from onstage that they don't want their shows to be about belonging to some secret club for the "cool people". In his own words, "We didn't just come here tonight to shout at each other and then just go home again… We're…individuals with different ideas and hopes and dreams and fears, and we all came here with our different baggage, but we left that baggage and those differences at the fucking door. And tonight…for just a few hours, we are friends and we are equals, and we have no barrier and no stage and, together, we are more than the sum of our parts." Case in point: He and the band members make a point to chat with people, sign autographs, and pose for countless photos after shows. Frank regularly responds to questions posed to him through his website, and personally replies to people who have emailed him through the address he shares publicly. I know that all this may eventually become impossible as their popularity grows—informal meet-and-greets are already a tricky undertaking in their native UK, and Frank spends hours weekly responding to fans' emails—but, for as long as it lasts, I appreciate the chance for a hug and a hello after gigs here. It's nice to be remembered.

As for the friends I call my "FT Family", they are an incredibly welcoming bunch of music lovers who have made me even more intent on seeing Frank perform as often as I can. Last fall, having never met me in person, they invited me to stay with them when I wanted to go to Frank and the Sleeping Souls' Las Vegas show, but didn't have anyone willing to travel with me from LA. The core members of this merry crew regularly travel from Salt Lake City to various other cities, making new friends everywhere they go. Without fail, my cheeks end up hurting from laughter whenever I'm with them—they can make anything from weeknight karaoke at a bowling alley to awkward encounters with the dinner "entertainment" at a Palm Springs steakhouse into absolutely cherished memories. I can say without a doubt that I would not have spent the time and money I did to try to get a last-minute ticket to this year's Coachella Festival if they were not going to be here to experience it with me. I'm not going to Coachella just to go to Coachella (as more people than ever seem to be doing these days), and I'm not even going to Coachella just to see Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. I made this effort so that I can see Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls (and some other bands) with these friends—because they get it.

Perhaps if I had been born in a different time and place, and had the means to do so, I would have followed around the Beatles, The Clash, or Nirvana. As it is, I had the unexpected good luck of seeing Frank Turner perform solo in 2010, and feel fortunate to be alive at the right time to continue to see him and his band perform live for what I hope turns out to be a long time. This man's words speak to me more than most of the famous poets I studied through four years of an English degree, and most of the writers I've read since then. There is a reason I have Frank's lyrics "I still believe in the need for guitars and drums and desperate poetry" tattooed on my skin.

This is my team. These are my people.

"…We're headed out to the punk rock show/Colleagues and friends condescend with a smile/But this is my culture, man/This is my home."


Thanks Analisa! As for me, I promise that I'll try and be back with another blog of my own soon. Bye!

Analisa, Sat 3rd May 2014, 07:13:57 AM
I'm a bit late in acknowledging your replies, but know that I appreciate them all. I've always known I wasn't the only one who feels this way, but it's great to see your comments and put some names to my music-loving sisters here and across the pond! Cheers.
Analisa, Sat 3rd May 2014, 07:13:56 AM
I'm a bit late in acknowledging your replies, but know that I appreciate them all. I've always known I wasn't the only one who feels this way, but it's great to see your comments and put some names to my music-loving sisters here and across the pond! Cheers.
Wendy, Sat 26th April 2014, 06:24:11 PM
Analisa, lots of points well made here. As coinky-dink would have it, I was in the middle of some tour planning when I took a break to read this. I was seriously considering dumping the Boston Calling tickets because the 8 hour drive the day before from a Pittsburgh show for another guy I follow is going to make me seriously tired. Sometimes there’s a safety factor to consider. But don’t worry folks, I worked it all out so I can do both and not kill myself. And it’s definitely about more than just seeing the band. Some of the longer trips I’ve made have been fueled by the promise of queue fun with people who get it. I once waited in line 13 hours for a storm-delayed show to start and would have still called it a satisfying day even if the show ended up being cancelled after all that. Where else can you go and obsessively talk about a band you love with people who feel the same way? Everyone else in my life just rolls their eyes at this point.

And Nigel, I’ll look forward to reading your next contribution. It’s your blog, so write as often as you like, about whatever you like. Although perhaps you should keep in mind that there’s no law that says they all have to be a “massively long pseudo-intellectual discourse.” Overthinking it can lead to the death of a blog.
Kate, Sat 26th April 2014, 03:15:00 PM
Very well put. I'm glad I seriously got back into live music (and discovered Frank Turner and many other fine musicians) at age 50, because it seems to take the "groupie" thing off the table. Still, there are people who don't get what I do and never will. I do think part of the double standard has to do with sexism. As you stated, male sports fans are never questioned but female ones often are, and male music fans don't seem to get the same scrutiny. All we can do is explain ourselves clearly and refuse to accept labels that are inaccurate, hurtful, or sexist.
Darlene, Sat 26th April 2014, 02:15:46 PM
Analisa, this is perfectly stated. My story is your story down to 2010 being the beginning! And yes, I totally feel gender is at issue as to how people respond. I think I may print this out, and just hand it to people when the comments come. I better get ready, because I have plans May 30-June 2. Knoxville, Georgia, South Carolina twice (coming from Florida). Here we come! Yes we. Because, like you, I am traveling with the best folks I know!
Bea, Sat 26th April 2014, 07:52:48 AM
Analisa, I completely agree with you, when I started to travel around for gigs, my parents (and some friends) were always asking me "why? are you a groupie?" as if that would be the only explanation.. well the groupie question came more from friends than family, but my parents never got it. luckily were ok with it soon.. they still dont really understand, but they didnt object.. But it always struck me, why they didnt understand my "obsession" when at the same time my brother time travelled all across europe to see his favourite football team!
but double standards exist everywhere and i just dont care what others think.. I made so many amazing friends and memories on the road that i wouldnt wanna miss!

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