Category Archives: The Smiths

Media Representations of Fandom–How Soon Is Ever (Part 2)

Last Sunday, I dived into the book, How Soon Is Never? by Marc Spitz.  This book followed Joe, a huge fan of The Smiths, as he discovered the band as a teen growing up in Long Island to his adulthood where, as a music journalist, he developed a plan with his co-worker to get them to reunite.  Last week, I focused on the first half of the book when Joe discovered the band and became a huge fan.  In my opinion, the book expressed what fandom feels like and the emotional investment that happens for those hard-core fans.  Thus, the book was realistic in how it portrayed fans.  The question, now, is whether that same realism would continue as we follow Joe’s plan in reuniting his favorite band of all time.  Will the adult fan be shown without the stereotypes?  The typical stereotypes for adult fans include not having a life or being stuck in perpetual immaturity.  Will this be how Joe is represented?

After The Smiths break up, the book skims past the rest of Joe’s high school experience.  College is also skimmed over.  We do learn that Joe spent his college years writing and taking a lot of drugs.  After college, he got a job in a book store where his colleague, Don, got him back into music.  Don, in fact, had been interning at a local music magazine and asked if Joe would be interested in writing some reviews.  (How lucky is that?!  Can I get paid to blog?!)  Soon enough, Joe discovered that having people read your writing is awesome.  In fact, he stated that it was addictive.  (Hmm…can’t relate to that.  Nope.  Not at all.)  Meanwhile, he got a letter from his ex-girlfriend from high school who gave him his first album from The Smiths.  This led him to open his box of vinyl, including Smiths albums.  The next day, he wore his original Smiths shirt to work where his new colleague, Miki, complimented him on it.  This led Joe to get interested in her immediately and the couple began hanging out together.  During their first time hanging out, they talked about the band and how everything would be better if they got back together.  (How many Duranies out there thought that before the Fab 5 reunited?!)  They decided that their mission must be to reunite them!!!  Their method would be to approach each individual band member.  At this point, they actually had a feeling that this could work!!!

Of course, they had some hope because they were feeding off of each other!  They viewed this as a cause!  Now, I have to admit that this feels very, very familiar to me.  Isn’t that what fandom is, at least when it comes to feeding off of other fans?  I never feel more like a Duranie than when I am with other Duranies!  Isn’t that what happens when fans even communicate online?  I think it does.  In terms of a cause, I know many Duranies who do things to try and get Duran commercial success, for example.  What about the fans who have the cause that sound like this, “This tour, I’m going to get front row.”  (We would never say that.  Nope.)  Again, this totally feels like a realistic portrayal of fandom without making the characters just fan stereotypes.

Now, that they have their cause as fans, as journalists, they began researching online.  Many quotes from band members seemed to fit the idea that they would be open to reuniting, or was that just how it seemed to their fan minds?  Of course, I think many fans do read into what is said to match what they want.  Let’s admit this.  When you are a fan, you aren’t always objective.  From there, they decide to post on every website related to The Smiths.  They felt that they needed to win the support of the fans and to have them join in on their cause.  Again, I can think of examples in our fandom.  What about the petition to get Duran into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame?  Isn’t this the same kind of idea?  Finally, after a week when they contacted managers, they heard back from the drummer’s manager and were able to schedule an interview. 

Of course, both Joe and Mike were very nervous about meeting a band member despite being rock music journalists.  It isn’t the same, if you are fans.  During the interview, they talked about being an 80s band.  The drummer, Mike, responded that 80s bands were Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran.  (Am I the only one who gets really excited at the mention of Duran in any book?!  One of the chapter titles of this book is a Duran lyric, too!)  They asked him what it would feel like to play again with the rest of the band and he agreed that it would be “magic”.  Clearly, then, he would be interested in reuniting!  From there, they moved to get the bass player, Andy.  For this, they traveled to Manchester, the band’s hometown.  How did Joe and Miki respond to being there?  They wanted to walk the streets to see where the “magic” happened.  Perhaps, they would get a new understanding.  Again, I found myself relating as this is how I felt the first time I walked around Birmingham.  The realism continued.  The interview with the bass player was also productive as he said he could see reuniting for the right amount of money.  Before they left Manchester, they were also able to meet with the guitarist, Johnny Marr.  Johnny indicated that he felt most reunions were about showbiz and that the only way he would do that was if it was away from the spotlight.  Thus, 3 members would reunite if the right circumstance existed!

From there, they moved to the last member, the singer, Morrissey who was living in LA.  For this band member, they didn’t have an interview set up.  They were going to just show up, which led Joe to complain that they were stalkers despite having journalist credentials.  Of course, they weren’t just fans either because they wrote about them.  They were in a strange sort of limbo.  Another Duran reference occurred as Joe began singing Is There Something I Should Know while waiting for Morrissey to answer the door.  He didn’t answer.  At this point, Joe decided that he was done.  He needed to move on and that nothing would really change if the band reunited.  Yet, at the end of the book, Joe concluded that the music still made him happy and that as long as he had that he would never be lost. 

Now, of course, there was way more to the book than what I discussed here.  Like the last book, I focused solely on how fans or fandom were shown.  I found the representation of fans, including their feelings and experiences surrounding fandom to be completely realistic.  It showed how fans become fans and how those strong feelings can and do last well into adulthood.  I find it interesting that both books that I discussed as part of this series seemed to have an accurate representation.  Yet, the movies and tv shows didn’t, really.  Is this an example of the limits of movies and tv shows over books?  Can books show more because they are lengthy?  Some food for thought.  Next week, I’ll continue with the series but I will be looking at Duran songs that discuss fans.  How do they represent us in their music?

-A

Spitz, Marc.  How Soon Is Never?  New York:  Three Rivers Press, 2003.

Media Representations of Fandom–How Soon Is Never?

It’s Sunday!  Well, it will be when you read this.  I’m actually writing this on Saturday from a local coffee shop.  I have to write it earlier because I’ll be traveling to the Chicago area tomorrow for a family function.  I am continuing in my series on media representations of fans and fandom.  This week, I’m going to discuss the first half of the book, “How Soon Is Never?” by Marc Spitz.  This book tells the story of Joe Green, a rock journalist who grew up in Long Island, New York in 1980s where he experienced life as a misfit until he discovered a band that changed his world, the Smiths.  He fell in love with the band who went on to break his heart when they broke up.  Now, his adult life is a complete mess but thinks that maybe, just maybe, things will be all right again if he can just get the Smiths back together.  Obviously, this book is something that I think most Duranies will be able to relate to.  Many of us fell in love with Duran Duran when we were kids and were devastated when the Fab Five ceased to exist.  Likewise, we experienced extreme joy when they reunited in the early 2000s.  On a personal level, I can’t imagine writing a daily blog or a book on fandom if they had not gotten back together.  While I was still a fan, my fandom wasn’t nearly the same in the 90s.  Thus, this book could be one that I could relate to, at least on paper.  Will that actually be true?  How will the author present the main character’s fandom?  Will it be true to life or filled with horrible stereotypes?

This book begins with a quote by Oscar Wilde that I immediately connected with, “To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.”  Truly.  Writing about fandom doesn’t equal exercise, doesn’t require an early start to my day and definitely doesn’t/hasn’t brought any respect.  😀  Right away in the book, we meet the main character, Joe Green, who is a rock journalist who struggles with alcohol and drug addiction.  In the first half of the book, we learn about how he fell in love with rock music, more specifically, the band that changed his life, The Smiths.  He described his love for the band in this way on page 19, “Just picture your mother or father or your husband or your wife or your child.  Think about how you love them.  My love for this band is as strong.  It’s the only real love I’ve ever know.”  That’s how we feel for Duran Duran.  I’m sure that many of you feel this way as well.  From there, the book takes us back in time to Joe’s youth to show when/why/how he became a fan.

Joe grew up with divorced parents in Long Island.  His dad moved out of the house and Joe would go visit him in the summer where his dad shared an apartment with his friend, Nick, who played Joe his first rock albums, including a legendary album from the Clash.  From there, Joe discovered a local record shop and developed a crush on the clerk, Jane.  The two of them began to hang out, use drugs and drink.  During this process, Joe began to change his look to a straight up punk look with spiked hair, holes in clothes and more.  His mother and stepfather were less than thrilled when he returned back home for the school year.  In fact, they then enrolled Joe into a private school where Joe meets other misfits like himself who introduces him to local alternative radio and other new bands like R.E.M.  Joe and his new best friend, John, would go to record stores together.  During one shopping trip, they spot a t-shirt for the Smiths and decide that they must have it even though they hadn’t actually heard the band.  From there, he and his friends were glued to the radio in the hopes of being the first to actually hear the Smiths.  The idea here is that the first to hear it and record it would be the hero of the group of friends.  The same thing happens in our fandom today.  The first person to hear and post a new snippet, song, video, whatever definitely gains some status within the fandom.

Joe meets a new girl, Jennifer, who told him that she had heard the Smiths and would record it for him.  It was love at first sight for him.  Of course, it was also love of first sight for the band as well as the girl.  Joe decided then that he must look like Morrissey and be like him, too.  In fact, on page 129, the character said, “Morrissey just seemed perfect.  I wasn’t attracted to him physically.  I wanted to be him.”  How many male Duranies did the same thing?  Heck, I love that story that Mark Ronson tells about how he brought a picture of John Taylor with him to the hairdresser as a kid.  Unfortunately, for Mark, he ended up looking more like Nick Rhodes than John Taylor!  LOL!   Of course, Joe loved the music as well as the look.  To him, it felt like that first album had been “timeless” and that it fit the soundtrack of his life.  Again, I have to say that I could completely relate to this.  To me, that is what musical fandom feels like!  Joe, the main character, summed it up well on page 137, “I had been forever changed.”  Yep, fandom does that.  Once you discover the object of the fandom, you aren’t the same.

From there, Joe decided that he was going to investigate everything that Morrissey liked.  He started reading Oscar Wilde and became a vegetarian just like Morrissey.  I had to laugh at this.  I think I saw James Bond movies for the first time because I knew that John Taylor liked James Bond.  Joe also started writing letters to Morrissey that he never sent and joined the unofficial fan club.  Any and all information on the band was welcomed and every fact possible was memorized, including how the band formed, their birthdays, etc.  All of this seems very, very, very familiar to me!!  Finally, the little group of friends had the chance to see the band live.  On the way to the show, they spot other fans who told them that they had already seen the band the previous night and on previous tours.  Joe’s friend, John, reacted with anger as he thought this other fans wanted to seem cool.  Again, this makes sense to me as status, attempts at status or concern with status is alive and well in fandom.  Yet, this annoyance was forgotten as the group had the “wired anticipation” of seeing the band in person.  As the show began, they found themselves “overwhelmed with emotion”.  Joe described seeing them like this on page 154, “The Smiths were the most perfect idea I’d ever heard.  Or seen.”  He continued to say, “…like everyone else in the audience, I allowed myself to indulge guiltlessly in that delusion that Morrissey was singing to me alone.”  I could have written all of this myself.  I, too, feel that “wired anticipation” before a show.  I think we all feel during a show that the band is performing just for us.

Of course, Joe’s life continued and he experienced some normal teen angst, including with the girl he had fallen for.  For Joe, it forced him to conclude that the Smiths were the only thing that he could count on and that he could relate to the songs.  In fact, he stated on page 180, “These songs understood me.  I understood them.”  *sigh*  I get this.  I bet we all do.  For the next tour, he got tickets again.  This time, though, the shows got canceled as the band broke up.  Joe was devastated.  Absolutely devastated.  The fact that he was so upset also added to his upset as he said on page 188 that he was “…ashamed that a band had this much power over my emotions, how, like a drug, they could make me happy or sad on a whim.  They had more influence than a best friend.” Oh boy.  Reading this, I was instantly transported back to London in May of 2011 when I had traveled over to the UK for shows that didn’t happen.  I can admit now that I felt certain that they would never play again.  Thankfully, and obviously, I was wrong but I could certainly remember how horrible that was.  I felt just like this character did.  For Joe, this led to him to never listen to them again until adulthood, which is where I will pick up the book next week.

So, how do I take this book so far, in terms of how they represent fans?  I think it is completely realistic.  Joe could be me and the Smiths could be Duran Duran.  I found myself nodding to so much of it.  It probably helped that I, too, grew up in the 80s and felt as alienated as this character did.  Am I the only one who could relate to this?  Will the realism continue as Joe moves into adulthood?  Will this portrayal continue to be accurate?  Will fandom be presented just as a teen thing or an acceptable teen thing but a ridiculous thing as an adult?  I will discuss all of this and more next week!

-A

Spitz, Marc.  How Soon Is Never?  New York:  Three Rivers Press, 2003.