Thursday, February 4, 2016

Can You Have a Personal Connection With Someone You've Never Met?

Media is a funny thing (and by media, I mean print, television, radio, music, movies, etc). It allows us, especially in 2016, to have instant access and communication with people all over the world at the press of a button (or a finger on a touchscreen, as is more common these days). Ironically, along with this increased closeness with strangers around the world comes an increasing sense of isolation amongst those we're closest to in our real lives. However, that overarching theme is not the point of this post and is best left for a different discussion. Where I'm going with this is the strange and true way in which media, regardless of which kind, can allow us to feel a deep and personal connection with people we have never met and who, in most cases, never will meet.

Speaking from personal experience, this is most clearly felt when it comes to my favorite music and musicians. Whether it's stuff from before my time in the 1960s and 1970s or what I grew up listening to in the 1980s, 90s, and beyond, I've definitely felt an almost personal connection with many of the creators of this music. Obviously the majority of this is through their music and the continual enjoyment I derive from it, but much of it also comes through the various media in which I've been able to learn about them. In my younger days, it was through newspaper and magazine interviews, videos, and the radio. In recent years, it's been even easier to have access to those we're fans of through the internet and social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today's technology allows for an instant channel of communication from fans to celebrities, and in many cases back in the opposite direction (of which I've been fortunate to be a part of numerous times). While this has the potential to get ugly since fan hate can now be spewed without thought of consequence at the swipe of a finger, and though the anonymity of the internet has resulted in many ugly episodes, the majority of the time this method of rapid interaction has allowed fans an actual concrete feeling of connection to those they admire.

All of this leads me (finally) to discussing this strange phenomenon, or in the words of the recently departed David Bowie, "strange fascination," with having a connection beyond that of being just a fan, and whether or not it results in anything worthwhile. Personally, while I am a huge sports fan, I don't cheer for or pay attention to athletes unless they play for one of my beloved Boston teams; I suspect this is typical of most sports fans. However, when it comes to music, which is the biggest passion in my life after my family, it's a different story. Let me get it out of the way now that I don't blindly hero worship anyone and I realize that everyone, whether famous or not, is human and as such nowhere near perfect. Regardless of your station in life, we all have our faults and problems. I also wholeheartedly subscribe to the bromide that you should never meet your heroes (although I've been lucky in that the few times I have actually met some of mine, they turned out to be genuinely nice people). When I speak of a "connection," I mean that there's something there beyond simply being a fan, although what exactly this something is can be quite difficult to articulate. For me, the musicians who fall into this category would be the ones I have the highest degree of fandom for such as the Beatles, Blur, the Who, the Kinks, and several more which I won't mention for fear of this list getting too long. Through everything I've absorbed and studied about them, it almost feels as I though I know them, not in a literal sense but certainly in terms of what I know about them. Obviously, I'm not so delusional that I feel as though I truly do know them, but it definitely feels as though I have a fair understanding of what they're all about. This sense of connection can get scary, though, when people end up convincing themselves they're actually friends with those they admire, often having tragic consequences (see the murders of Selena and John Lennon, or Charles Manson's murder spree as but three examples). Even when it doesn't lead to such tragic endgames, many stalkers are born from thinking they are friends with their favorites, exacerbated these days with social media's instant access (I'm reminded in particular of the unhinged fangirls Blur guitarist Graham Coxon seems to unfortunately attract through no fault of his own).

When I stop to think about it from my own perspective, I probably know more about Paul McCartney or Damon Albarn or Pete Townshend or Ray Davies than I do some of my oldest and closest friends, simply by virtue of the fact that nearly every thought and detail of their lives has been made public for the entirety of their adult lives. While us "normal" people (are any of us truly normal?) can still keep things private such that only those closest to us know them, famous figures have every bit of their past and present combed over and written about, so it's inevitable we'd know more about people we've never met than people we see on a regular basis. In many ways, this feeling of connection has helped me (and others, I'm sure) in tough times...knowing that someone else, no matter how remote they are, has gone through something similar and seeing how they channeled that into their work (which, in most cases in my life, is music) can be a great source of comfort and strength to draw upon. While I certainly rely first and foremost on family and friends for the support I need, the extra bit that can come from someone you feel connected to from afar can make all the difference. Additionally, there are some of these people whose deaths have affected me almost as much as though they were someone I knew and was close to personally (most notably, John Lennon, George Harrison, and most recently David Bowie). I mourn them not because they were beloved friends, but because I know so much about their lives and their music has deeply touched mine...a feeling shared by their countless fans around the world as well.

I think I'm going to stop here because I'm finding it increasingly difficult to articulate exactly what I mean in a way that I feel makes it crystal clear, and I know from personal experience that there's nothing worse than having someone beat you over the head with something they've written as they start to go around in circles because they just can't find the right words to fully convey their idea. For those of you who do understand what I'm trying to say, what do you think? Is it possible to have a connection with someone you've never met, regardless on what level? To what extent? And if so, who is it for you and how has it affected you, either positively or negatively?

8 comments:

  1. As I've aged there aren't a lot of acts or musicians I'd still want to go see, however, if I could get a chance to see King Crimson or Van Morrison, I would try to go.

    There are a lot other acts I might enjoy seeing if it wasn't too much trouble like: The Decemberist, Allan Holdsworth, Pat Metheny, and probably a lot of progressive acts that tour ever so often that I'd enjoy hearing if it wasn't too big a hassle: Thinking Plague (they recently played Dallas, Austin), Claudia Quintet, Steve Hackett, Ozric Tentacles, Bill Frisell, Deerhoof, and probably a lot of other bands or performers I can't recall. Sometimes it doesn't matter too much if I enjoy the genre (I can't watch much pure country).

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    1. But how many of them, if any, do you feel as though you've got some kind of connection with? And would you want to ever meet any of them or keep that barrier between artist and fan? I'm genuinely curious!

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    2. Actually I screwed up and that should have gone in the upper post about concerts, Billy Joel, etc. How that happened, I dunno. :) But to answer your question, I probably don't feel too much of a connection with the musician themselves, it's more their music or creation (if it's visual or some other media).

      I haven't met very many famous people and then, it has been very casual, sort of after their performance, or signing a book, and nothing very heavy is disclosed or exchanged.

      I'm finicky. But yeah, I wouldn't mind meeting some of those bands and musicians if for no other reason just to pick their brain or maybe gain some kind of insight from say Hackett, Frisell, or Metheny for playing the guitar, (however minimal) it might be. Even then though since they've been playing practically all of their life, it might totally be wasted on my understanding. :)

      But in general I wouldn't mind meeting other musicians and artist. (I tend to think like they think--if that makes any sense.) There have been some where their vices, smoking for instance, might have to be limited. I have allergies and smoking really aggravates that. But if it was someone I really respected like Frank Zappa or Joni Mitchell, I'd even put that to the side just to speak with them for a bit.

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    3. I'm the same as you, if I met any of them it'd be to talk shop...songwriting, guitars/instruments, recording gear/techniques, etc. None of that hero-worship bullshit, because I don't go for that at all.

      I had the chance to meet the band Ride at an afterparty when I saw them back in October, but I decided to just sit and have some drinks and chat with my friend I was with and just observe. They seemed like *really* nice and friendly guys but there were SO MANY hero-worshippers there gushing over them and asking for autographs and photos that I got uncomfortable just watching it. I felt bad for the guys in the band! I let them know my appreciation for the great concert on twitter and the responded to me there, so that was cool at least.

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  2. There are so many aspects of your post that I want to respond to that I'm going to have to be careful not to rival the length of the original.

    The one that I believe is at the core, though, is that you are either a person who sees other people or you are not. The tendency to villainize, hero worship, fit people into boxes or see them only in relation to yourself prevents one from knowing another person regardless of whether that person is on stage or sitting next to you.

    Honest observation and response tells us something about other people regardless, too. Of course, with a celebrity, that observation can't be based wholly on news reports or "facts" we've read; those are virtually always spun in one direction or another, to evoke a particular response, and tell us little about the actual person.

    I think that with your clear understanding that humans are human regardless of what they've achieved, there's no danger in meeting your heroes. The danger comes in when you need them to be an idealized something that you've largely made up, or perhaps been sold by a PR machine. If you go in willing to know and understand and accept that human person as he is, there's no downside. The negative experience many people have is, I believe, simply the dissipation of a fantasy.

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    1. Excellent comment, and well said. Especially your final paragraph...it seems as though the people who can't see their heroes as real flesh-and-blood, imperfect people, and who idealize them to such a degree that they could never possibly live up to expectations...they must be absolutely crushed when they either meet them and are disappointed, or if they learn something unflattering or more "real" that goes against the narrative (for instance, Mark David Chapman supposedly snapped when he read an article about how rich John Lennon was, thinking it hypocritical of the man who wrote and sang the song "Imagine" and pleaded for a world with "no possessions").

      I suppose there are varying degrees of a "connection" one can have from afar with someone they admire. For me, it's more a communication via the universal language of music and learning about them, warts and all. But, and not to toot my own horn, just speaking honestly...for those who aren't as clear-minded, secure in themselves, and living in reality as I and countless others are, I can see how they could snap. Whether that "snap" manifests itself as saddening them or provoking them into some unspeakable crime against the object of their dissociation depends on the individual.

      Sorry for my long-winded response...this is an interesting discussion (if I do say so myself) and your thoughtful comment got the wheels in my head spinning!

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  3. I think that having that type of connection isn't a bad thing because you identify with them the more you learn about their lives. It's when you leave behind your reality to follow that one sided connection, or show up at their door calling yourself their spouse that problems arise. I feel myself as understanding and being of the same mindset as my favorite musician Colin Hay. His music speaks to me and as I've learned more about him, his life choices are familiar in some ways. It gives me a deeper appreciation for his music and his sound. I can separate that from my reality and won't be running off any time soon expecting him to answer his door and embrace me. That knowledge of his life, his music, makes me feel like we could be friends were we to meet, it adds a tiny bit to the pleasure his music brings me. It helps his music speak to me.

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    1. Perfectly said. I'm the same way with my most favorites. It's when you cross that line from reality to fantasy/delusion, as you mentioned, that you get into seriously scary territory like the stalkers and, in some cases, murderers of famous people that have sprung up over the years.

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