I got judged last summer.
It was a humid mid-July day, and this (fairly) middle-aged writer was waiting for a french-fry order at a Dinosaur Jr. concert food truck. A gentleman older than me, wearing a Motörhead t-shirt, commented on how the “mid-twenties crowd was wearing Beastie Boys t-shirts like they had any right to the music.”
Standing there, in my Beastie Boys t-shirt, I scanned the area for these twenty-somethings. No one was around. Just hungry, sweaty me.(1) Simultaneously amused and angered, this decades-long Beastie Boys fan tried to come to terms with what I had heard.
I got judged for my shirt; but more than that, I was judged for my open musical expression by someone doing the exact same thing with his clothing.
I could only imagine what he thought of me at the actual Dinosaur Jr. concert. I mean, in the grand scheme, I was a freshly-minted underpants-wearing toddling member of society when that band first hit the scene.
The man and I crossed paths at the ketchup dispenser. My mind raced with a clever comeback - anything I could say to show him he’d been heard.
“Excuse me, Lemmy,” I commented, when he blocked the napkins. I grabbed a handful. He looked at me, slightly bewildered, maybe confused, and moved on.(2)
I was a victim of Fandom Claiming.
But, I’m no innocent.
Music. Books. Art.
They’re made for everyone - general public consumption, even with their specified targeted audiences.
Yet, when we find, put the time into, and fall in love with a band, an author or an artist, in some way we lay claim to what or whom we “discovered.” These mediums become ours and ours alone.
My favorite band. My favorite author. My favorite artist.
And, when we find out that someone shares in our interests, isn’t there a part of us that feels compelled to validate that person?
Recently, I saw someone about half my age wearing a Phish shirt. He had the whole Phish “look.”(3) It’s a look that’s cultivated by Grateful Dead fans, and has some crossover with other jam-band fans. While I’m not judging actual cleanliness, it’s not a look that screams, “I sparkle in the germ-free zone.”
I spent most of my early twenties following Phish from venue to venue, learning their music, lyrics and lexicon. I put in my time. As I stared at this shirt-wearing person, oh-so-much-younger-than-me, I wondered, silently (4), did he put in his time? Did he earn his right to the shirt? Then, it hit me: I was massively guilty of Fandom Claiming. It was the same feeling that overcame me when I saw young teens checking out the “cool X-eyes smiley-face t-shirts” at a big-box store. Yeah, kids, it’s Nirvana.** Give it a listen for goodness’ sake.(5)
Could anyone else know our favorites as well as we do? Maybe the bigger, more mature question is: should it matter? The last time I checked, listening, reading, looking and admiring were not exhaustive resources.
We’re possessive over our favorites because we feel they define us and our interests. They are pieces of us that give us some semblance of uniqueness. As artists, we value this trait.
For better, when we really connect with someone, the shared interests are an awesome thing.
“Wait, Captain Beefheart is your favorite singer, too? I’ve literally never met anyone else that loves Captain Beefheart as much as I do. Let’s never stop being best friends.”
But, for worse, if we create unfortunate judgments over another, the commonality can make us feel quite disadvantaged.
“Wait. Captain Beefheart is your favorite singer, too? Sh*t.”
Our favorites didn’t come from a vacuum.
As much as we like to think that maybe we were the first to discover a phenomenal band in a tiny hole-in-the-wall club before said band was even conceived in the womb (6), we, too, were influenced. Maybe it was our parents, our friends, our school, our general environment, the internet, or any number of factors. The beauty of this creative business is: there’s plenty to go around. The more we share, the more we learn, and the more we're inspired. I'm learning that the less I judge, the more I grow. We could even get together for a cup of coffee to discuss our favorites, if you want. You know, grow together.
What kind of coffee do you like best? I like… wait a minute… you tell me yours first.
1. I realize there are worse things they being told you’re 15 years younger than you are. It’s the principle.
3. Bear with me while I judge away.
4. Clearly, I’m a better person than “Lemmy.”
5. RIP Kurt.
6. You fantastic little music-finding hipster, you.
**The Man Who Sold the World is a David Bowie cover. But, I know you knew that ;).