On being a proud fangirl of rock-and-roll.
Years of loving rock-and-roll have spoiled me terribly. I will not give a man the time of day unless he wields a 6-stringed battle axe. Guilty as charged.
I couldn’t care less about the Greek god-adjacent frontmen. Jim Morrison and Sir Mick have never interested me. Give me the Keith Richardses, the Pete Townsends, the Rob Tyners with mile-wide tooth gaps. Almost always a Taurus or Sagittarius – I have such a type it’s pitiful. What can I say? Every girl has her favorite!
When rock stars make the music you’ve gone head-over-heels for, and you totally immerse yourself in that world, feelings are bound to get involved. I’m just one step removed of being a groupie – damn living in the middle of nowhere! But I do fall squarely into the realm of fangirl.
I’ve put together some of my thoughts on being a rock-and-roll fangirl for you all this week, in hopes that you might understand.
To Begin With
Something funny happened when I made my foray into YouTube. I did accidentally stumble into the vinyl community (count on me to accidentally join the vinyl community,) but that’s not the funny thing I’m referring to. Before YouTube, my audience on Instagram was about 2/3 female and 1/3 male. Pretty typical for the whole vintage fashion thing. But now, since adding YouTube into the equation, it’s just over 55% men and 44% women. The majority has swapped. And I know this is because of my vinyl content because my audience on YouTube? 97% male! NINETY. SEVEN. PERCENT.
The reason I bring this up is because with this huge influx of new people – new dudes, actually – might not understand being a fangirl. (I go into what makes a groupie extensively on this site; refer to my tribute to Cynthia Plaster Caster.)
Just like groupies, fangirls are necessary to rock-and-roll. Somebody has to be buying the records, right? But time and time again, the formidable fangirls are not taken seriously like their male counterparts are. Maybe it’s the rejection of the professorial approach that the older fans have adopted. Maybe it’s disdain left over from when rock-and-roll was pop music. But like it or not, rock-and-roll would not be what it is without the proud fangirl. It was built on the wallets and the backs of women and girls. I’m proud to love musicians like groupies do.
I don’t ask much, but I do ask for respect as I recount exactly what being a rock-and-roll fangirl means to me.
Visions of Warehouse Eyes
Pictured: Yours truly, holding the album that started quite a bit of this mess.
I didn’t really fall in love until I was 20. My first love was Bob Dylan.
My mother thinks it’s “crazy” that I say that. Who the hell says that? But I’m dead serious! I fell head-over-heels with Bob Dylan’s music in a freezing-cold hotel room somewhere in Virginia. I was listening to Blonde On Blonde all the way through for the first time. I’d been listening to Dylan for a good chunk of the car ride; Bootlegs Volume 4 had mystified me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And at the end of the night, with Blonde On Blonde, all of a sudden I just got it.
That road trip which stopped for a night in Virginia happened to coincide with a time where I needed a lot of nurturing and didn’t get much at all. Dylan’s music was there waiting with outstretched arms when the rug was ripped out from under me. It felt like looking somebody in the eyes and knowing they’re the only person who sees you for who you really are; the little girl lost who takes herself so seriously. That whole road trip, we were kindred spirits commiserating cross-legged on the floor. Bragging of our misery and liking to live dangerously. I was taught the secret language of Gemini snark. I don’t know how your first love went, but my summer fling with the music of Bob Dylan was the stuff of legend. Dare I say it’s a chapter in my origin story.
It really, really hit me at the album’s finale. “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is just a perfect wallop to the heart. No one in the whole world could ever love me like Bob loved his sad-eyed lady, because that love’s already existed. And if you’ve heard Blood on the Tracks or Desire, you’ll know that love is long gone. The version of the man who crafted the song was gone, but the artifact of that love has stayed behind with us. On the night of the first listen, it felt like it stayed behind just for me.
Blonde On Blonde remains my favorite Dylan record and “Sad-Eyed Lady” my favorite Dylan song. You’re probably thinking, really? The one that’s 11 minutes long and about his ex-wife? What can I say, every girl has her favorite. I still get goosebumps every time. Dylan absolutely taught me the ways of being a fangirl. If I didn’t have those songs to open my heart to, I’m not sure how I would’ve turned out.
Over And Over
There’s no feeling quite like discovering a favorite band. Historically, it starts with me not really “getting it” – I’m not always hip with it right away, I’ll admit! But by some gut feeling that I can’t quite verbalize, I dig in anyway and hit treasure. Other people love this group, there must be a reason. Why don’t I? And then…there it is! That one song, that one performance that just sends me head-over-heels. That was absolutely the case with me discovering MC5. I had a couple false starts but now, over a year since first putting Kick Out The Jams on my turntable, I am a known MC5 fangirl. Look up their tags on Instagram and my photos in my homemade shirt are among the first results.
There’s this point in the Tartar Field performance of “Looking At You” that made me scream like a girl at a Beatles concert the first time I saw it. I was in shambles! (Timestamp 9:42, for those interested.) It converted me to fangirl status. Getting to see the group you love command a stage, seeing all the charisma and raw power, it’s electric.
Above: MC5, performing at Wayne State University in July 1970; uploaded to YouTube by Brother Wayne Kramer himself. Highlights include Dennis losing a drum stick not even 5 seconds in.
And finding new groups to obsess over never gets old!
Last week I did a Vinyl Monday episode on Tommy. (Yes, the chaos album about a pinball-playing kid gaslit into believing he’s deaf and blind who then becomes a cult leader.) Before that episode, I’d never really gotten into The Who. Tommy was intimidating as hell. But I got over the hurdle and once again was converted by way of a live performance. As part of the research for Vinyl Monday, I watched Live at Isle of Wight in 1970; hoping I’d “get” Tommy by seeing The Who doing what they did best.
Well...it wasn’t long before I was kicking my feet and giggling. I have no shame! They put on one hell of a show. I was even worse watching the Rock and Roll Circus performance of “A Quick One While He’s Away.”
Above: “A Quick One While He’s Away” by The Who, performed at The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus special (1968.) I don’t find Keith Moon attractive at all, but how could those drum fills not make your heart flutter?
Every time I think I’ve reached the horizons of my love for rock-and-roll bands, I’m proven wrong. Learning every word to my favorite songs, getting to know the live performances front to back, picking up all the records, picking a favorite member, the butterflies I feel for it all will never fade. It’s just fun!
Loving Mr. Cool
There’s fun and games to be had, but oh man. There’s heartache too.
Last week I uploaded a video to my YouTube channel recapping some albums I’ve collected since April. In that video I show my subscribers my copy of Back In the USA and sounded like “a girl in a candy store” while doing so. (Surprise, surprise.) But I got a couple very special comments on that video that I’d like to share with you here.
“My buddy used to run into Rob Tyner at a local party/liquor store before he passed. He lived in a suburb of Detroit until his death. Tyner always dressed in black even on very hot summer days. Always Mr. Cool!”
I could feel my heart swell in my chest. I’d seen comments like this on other people’s videos but never had one on mine! “Always Mr. Cool indeed,” I replied, with a smile on my face. What really got me was the reply I got the next morning.
“He (Rob) lived in Berkley Michigan just four miles from Detroit. Just a regular old neighborhood with houses sitting right next to each other. He wasn’t rich, just a normal guy with a wife and kids…”
Something about “just a normal guy with a wife and kids” decimated me. The tears started streaming down my face. To anyone else, those comments would be so simple. They’re probably simple to the original commenter too. But they mean the whole world to me, and here’s why:
There’s not a lot of media on my favorite band readily available; save for a documentary that got entangled in legal hell and blocked from commercial release. There is even less for me, quite possibly the lone Rob Tyner fangirl. There is a unique pain to feel when you love a band that was relatively obscure in their time with all your heart. There’s not a whole lot of footage, not many interviews. Next to no soundboard recordings of the live shows, just bootlegs made by the lucky sons of bitches who were there. When you love a band like this in the way that I do, a barrier a little larger than usual is built between you and the people who made the music. It’s not like the barrier built by artists who Photoshop their legacies by way of memoirs and highly-curated, thrice-vetted documentaries. (Looking at you, David Crosby!) It’s sadder than that. You get an unspoiled view of the band’s legacy, sad parts and all...but you get so little of it.
Pictured, L-R: Dennis, Rob, Michael, and I'm pretty sure that's Wayne's shoulder, backstage in '68. I've successfully roped Trevin into the hunt for these photos too.
When I compare this experience with being a new fan of The Who and The Stones, both of which have just so much stuff to dive into, my love for the MC5 feels lonely. The way I search for footage and photographs feels like hunting a mythical creature. I feel like the last of a lost civilization.
To get those comments, anecdotes about a frontman I love so much, who lived and died before I was born, just a normal guy with a wife and kids...it made him feel real. There’s few experiences more moving than that.
The moment when they feel real is the most rewarding and most heartbreaking part of it all.
I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s a special kind of love felt by those who are one step shy of being groupies. It’s a first love, a sordid affair, a big fat crush, and unconditional devotion; all in one. Like realizing your best friend is your soulmate. I don’t feel as though my life had really started before I found rock-and-roll. Or maybe rock-and-roll found me. Whichever it is, I’d like to go steady.