Tuesday, July 26, 2011
A Fan's Perspective: McCartney as Dad
Musician Robert Burke Warren has a thoughtful article over at Paste on his fandom for Paul McCartney. His reflection was prompted by McCartney's recent concert at Yankee Stadium, which he describes as a powerful show for the audience gathered. As he put it, "I was a riot of sensation and notion; chill bumps, laughter, singing with strangers—all messy, uncool spillage from an open heart." Part of that spillage was realizing the extent to which his fandom has, in some way, always been about McCartney as a father figure. "I was struck" he wrote about the finish of the concert, "by the amount of families, some of whom carried sleeping children out of the still-charged stadium. This had been a family event. Of course."
In public discourse, fandom is typically reduced to stalking or silly teenage enthusiasm. (Certainly, the story of Beatlemania was always centered on screaming teenage girls). But, here, Warren shows us that such stereotypes of fandom fail to get at the consequences of individuals' long-term attachments to public performers. Devotedly following a star's career over time--for years or decades--transforms most people's initial attraction, however motivated, into a significant force for meaning in daily life. Songs get attached to personal memories and values, lyrics begin to illuminate diverse circumstances, concerts start to feel less like entertainment events and more like repeated rituals of affirmation.
McCartney as an iconic dad? Sure: for Warren. Fandom is complicated--as complicated as the diverse experiences and life stories of the millions of people who identify as fans. Especially in our complex culture, in which intense fame vies with widespread anonymity, fandom works not only as a framework for consumption but also as a technology of the self. Few have really bothered to articulate the latter, but it is obvious when someone does.