ILLUSTRATION BY MIKE WOHLBERG, TFK!
Here’s some facts of life that don’t involve moist and/or gooey parts: bands break up, bands get big, bands change their sound, bands don’t change their sound, band lineups change. Why am I giving you the speech your parents didn’t care enough to give? Because these are all actions that cause reactions, internal and external. Seems reasonable enough, right? To most normal people it does but to the special portion of our population these things are travesties on par with losing a parent or someone shoving you in a locker. Sometimes people have incredibly strong reactions to these things, which is natural if you have emotional investment in something. But internal distress is where this should end.
I’m here to speak to the portion of the population who treat musicians the same way a loan shark would — like they are owed something. You often see this in more subcultural music, since subcultures appeal to people who are more emotional invested in art and music than, say, someone whose record collection is made up of four greatest hits compilations and a soundtrack. It’s more of a lifestyle, something that we’re more involved in than casual pop fans. And sometimes the divide of artist and listener seems easily blurred. When a band does something that doesn’t fall in line with what you want, you feel betrayed, right? You know that’s absolutely backwards thinking, right?
What prompted me to write this was some of the reaction to the Nails hiatus I’ve seen. People are grabbing their pitchforks and demanding answers. Why would Nails do this to their fans? And it’s not just Nails, but almost any time a band announces a breakup. For as much as some folks claim to love a band, they sure don’t give a sugar-coated shit if members of the band no longer want to be in the same room with other members or whatever they reason for a breakup may be.
A similar response occurs when bands decide to experiment with their sound. Whether or not this is successful (Drudkh, Handful of Stars) or an abortion (My Dying Bride, 34.788% Complete) generally doesn’t seem to temper the response. Fans come out of the woodwork to decry anything that doesn’t fit in their (limited) view of what the band should be doing and make sure, especially in this wonderful era of both the internet and Donald Trump’s America, to let the band know without ever stopping for a second to realize that maybe, just maybe, the band wrote it for themselves and their own personal reasons and not because they were concerned with what you want from them. We sit and criticize pop music for churning out the same mindless bullshit over and over again for being vapid and without thought or emotional content but we shit on those who we listen to when they try something different instead of just simply saying “wow this record fucking sucks, guess I won’t buy the next one unless it is not such a festering shitpile” like a rational person would do. But instead this society is so wired to feeling entitled to what they want when they want in that this kind of reaction seems archaic to many, like a touch tone phone or a condom.
And what if a band you fostered appreciation for since their early days all of a sudden catches on? Well fuck them then! But wait a second, what about how much their music meant to you five minutes ago? That suddenly goes out the window because they caught on with others? People take this as an affront to their intellect, like they’re being invaded , like something is no longer “theirs” which is preposterous. Just because someone else likes something means that any emotional value you got out of it is an invalid experience? What does that say about you, your tastes and your convictions? We bitch about “hipsters” enough and yet we’re pulling the same bullshit “I liked them before anyone else did” card that, honestly, no one gives a fuck about. “I only like the early stuff” is a fine thought as long as you don’t look down on someone for liking the entire catalogue, that kind of thing is so fucking simple and small minded that it should render the person saying it unfuckable.
Look, it’s a shame that Metallica don’t sound like Master of Puppets anymore but they’ve had this “new” sound for about as many years as they had the old one. Expecting another Reign in Blood or Ride the Lightning from these bands makes as much sense as waiting by the chimney for Santa Claus or for that rash to go away on its own. At the same time you have people who constantly bemoan Motörhead, AC/DC, the Ramones, etc. for basically releasing the same record forty times with slight variations. Who’s on the right side out of these two? Neither. Why? Because they’re not the ones writing and recording the music. As I’ve said in the past, if this kind of thing bothers you, then stop buying their merch and vote with your dollar. Then you can see if they forge ahead because fuck you or if they go back to their more popular sounds. It’s a good indicator of what the motivations of the musicians are, but that’s more nonsense for another day.
You do not own the bands you listen to. You aren’t shareholders. This sense of entitlement has gotten out of control over the last ten years where fans feel that musicians (or writers, artists, etc.) are beholden to them to be accountable for every and all changes and actions a band makes. Like there needs to be a fucking ballot sent out to everyone on the mailing list to have a vote on what move the band should make next. Musicians don’t owe you shit, especially not with the way so many people just download their music anyway or buy from bootlegers instead of from the bands themselves. The only thing I think a band should be obligated to do is be polite to their fans, don’t treat them like plebs or whatever it is you kids call morons these days. But there is a divide that shouldn’t be crossed. As a fan, you hold no ownership over a group you like and if they do something you dislike then there’s (unfortunately) 40,000 more bands out there.