This is the final piece of the Black Witch series “Fandom and the Fan”. Normal postings resume next week.
Just about everyone wants to know someone who’s famous. To walk around and say, “I know so-and-so! [Doesn’t that make me cool?],” is a dream many people have, to be friends with those that they admire. To be so close to all that glitz and glamour and hey, some of that shine may even rub off. That’s something which would be perfect for those trying to break in the business.
Man, if only it were really that unilateral. What often gets forgotten is the human side behind the fame caused by all the smoke and mirrors of flawlessness and grandeur. Also what gets forgotten is even if you were friends with the famous, it’s not an easy terrain to maintain a friendship on. Anyone noteworthy has their time very pockmarked with the demands of their career and little for the more personal enjoyments that everyone else usually has, such as spending quality time, fostering a friendship from the ground up, developing trust and a good sense of each other. People generally want to be friends with the famous because the persona (or life) that famous person has is captivating but the fan still doesn’t know what the famous person is like beyond that.
Take me, Black Witch, for example. Read my column or even note my twitter and you’ll know I really like Janelle Monae. I’m a complete and total fan – her music is captivating, such a relief for the state of Black music and entertainment which has become rather minstrel, self-deprecating and coon-like when seen at mainstream value, and she’s really amazing. I honestly really do appreciate her music, passion and ideas. If you also read my column (or at least “Mental Mentality” or the end of “‘Tis the Holidays!”), you’ll know that I’m friends with her guitarist Kellindo and photographer Nastassia. They’re both lovely and wonderful but even with two friends in Wondaland, guess how many times I met Janelle Monae? Once and it wasn’t really with their aid (Kellindo did try to help me out but Janelle Monae was nowhere to be seen. No problem, it just meant more time spent with him, which I greatly appreciate and cherish). I didn’t nag Kellindo or Nastassia about Janelle Monae because A) What about them? And B) I saw what could come of that a long time ago from another friend of mine.
Y’see, I’m happy to be friends with them but one of the biggest fears I had (and still kind of have, I’ll admit) is what was the friendship for. Was I friends with them because they are really nice people that I want to get to know or was it because of who they know? These questions still linger in my mind because back when I was on a P.O.D. forum called The Southtown some years ago, there was a friend of mine who I’ll name Den. Den was a well known regular member and posted consistently. He was a rabid baseball fan (I think his favorite team was either the Cubs or the Red Sox), avid Halo gamer and a longtime Warrior (a P.O.D. fan). Everyone knew him but everyone wanted to know him more that one fateful day he announced that he knew someone in the band. P.O.D. had an in-band conflict that cause a change in guitarist from the band’s co-founder Marcos Curiel to Living Sacrifice guitarist Jason Truby. It turned out that Truby was a long time family friend of Den and Den had the pictures and stories to prove it. They were close enough that Den proudly called Truby his cousin and everyone was much esteemed of him and their luck. All of a sudden, everyone grew interested in Den’s interests, life and most importantly, his cousin.
Everyone wanted to be Den’s friend, even those who barely had an interest in him beforehand. I can’t say I didn’t find this all exciting myself but I already knew him prior. I remember once calling him just to talk. I asked him how he was doing and how Truby was doing (he’s family so it makes sense to check up, I do the same for significant others) and what stood out to me most in the memory was the excitement I had when Den told me Truby just left right before I called. I was ecstatic and dropped my jaw, I became giddy – I was thiiiiiiiiis close to talking to the guitarist of one of my most favorite bands! Omigosh! I was about to ask a barrel of questions but then a thought got me, What would I do then afterwards? Just hang up on Den? Truby’s gone but Den’s still here and I did call him to talk, why should it be about Truby? Instead of asking a barrel of questions about Truby like I wanted to, I figured I should ask Den how he’s faring amongst all this mini-fame he got. I always knew that Den could be honest and straightforward and he was exactly that. He told me not to get too wrapped up in Truby, there were things happening that Den wasn’t allowed to talk about but definitely going on. He was happy about the new bump in popularity it got him, which he barely noticed because he was already an outstanding member of The Southtown, but he didn’t feel like talking about Truby and I thought that was fair. Den was still completely stoked but there were now rules he had to follow that didn’t exist before, such as what he could talk about and to whom. Before the rules, Den was a gushing river of proud information but slowly that started to become dry with a constant “I can’t really talk about that” to anyone who asked, including me. Respecting Den, we talked about what was happening in his life because that’s what he wanted to chat about most.
As time went on, I believe the popularity was starting to irritate him, everyone was asking about Truby always or just questions upon questions about P.O.D. that Den couldn’t answer for one reason or another. There were questions about tours, tour dates, albums, band gossip, you name it, he heard it. Den became The Southtown’s door to everything P.O.D., our personal and trusted insider, and he wasn’t liking it much anymore. I would chat with him online and try to see how he was doing but those times weren’t often and soon we started to fall out of touch. When Marcos came back and Truby left P.O.D., everyone had questions and they were going to Den but someone had also made a thread asking about the matter. Den took that opportunity to tell everyone that they shouldn’t be so swayed by what they saw from the magazines and personal interviews, Truby definitely wasn’t perfect. Some Warriors were a bit upset by that because any sort of bad mouthing of the band was very looked down upon but from some of what Den could tell me or said in confidante, he was right and he also was tired of being Truby’s secretary.
I didn’t get a chance to speak to Den for a long time after that but when I did, I asked him how he was doing as always. By this time, Marcos came back and Truby left the band so I didn’t know how Den was doing. It turns out Den went back to being a normal, regular poster on The Southtown, no one was really buzzing around him anymore like before. Because he lacked the inside scoop, not many people wanted to be around him besides the ones who were actually friends with him. He was happy to have the cling-on people gone but a little depressed that they came and left so suddenly. It made me very cautious and to check myself when I would be in a friendship with those who knew someone famous because that person gets used as the stepstool friend – just befriended for who they know rather than who they are – and it really sucks to see the attention they get and how misguided it is. The people who really buzzed around Den weren’t very concerned about him, it was Truby that they were after. The goal was to get in with Truby and perhaps even leave Den in the dust or use him as the messenger. Not cool.
I’ve seen the role of the stepstool friend play out multiple times as I grew to like other bands such as Linkin Park and Fort Minor but it became a different world once I got pulled into the role myself.
I really dig P.O.D, they’re one of my favorites but my other favorite is Linkin Park. Through Linkin Park and being an active member of the Linkin Park Underground, I was introduced to Fort Minor, Mike Shinoda’s hip hop side project. Long story rather short, I grew to get to know the moderators – best known as mods – of the site. It was fun, hearing their crazy stories of concerts and modding the message boards, band chats and even interacting with the bands. They were the ones who took me down from seeing being a mod and close worker to the musical talent as something glorified to something that was normal – intriguing but normal. I loved the stories and the talk but I also began to learn that not everything should be shouted from rooftops. The mods would tell me the rules they have to abide by enable to keep modding and how to steer interactions and questions about the band. They joked with me and told me their stories but I couldn’t share them with others, a notion which saved my derriere multiple times when there were info leaks and all the mods would be under a microscope. Because I never opened my mouth, the mods I were friends with didn’t get in trouble but they would check with me when these leaks happened and remind me that if a leak were to get traced back to me and hence to them, we would all be in nasty trouble.
Due to my position, I’ve had the chance to meet really cool people within the Fort Minor/Linkin Park circle but with that came people I rather not meet again. One kid was the “upcoming rapper” – no one knew who he was but he had dreams of being the next Jay-Z. I met him by simply chatting in either the Linkin Park or Fort Minor-based chatrooms (perhaps the Fort Minor Militia, the FM version of the LPU) and there was a discussion of the music industry. I had mention I knew people who could manage and produce because I dwelled in Baltimore’s massive poetry underground and I believe that’s what caught his ear. I didn’t know it at first because I never had been approached about it before. Just because I saw it happen to Den doesn’t mean I could tell when it was happening to me, just like Den. I thought that the guy was nice and, hey, I don’t mind making a friend but when he started sending me music samples and asking me who I knew and things of that sort, I wised up quick. I didn’t care about dishing info about producers and managers and he only pretended to care about whatever I said. This guy was only being nice to me because he wanted to know who I had in my inner circle – that’s a pretty quick way to piss me off, I don’t appreciate being used. I didn’t tell Mr. Pseudo Emcee (his raps were not that good and his beats were much alike his words, unoriginal) to lay off but instead I would divert him until he went away, frustrated that he couldn’t somehow get a manager or producer out of all the time he spent on me. That experience, among others that aren’t going to be delved into for the column, kind of made me clam up on boards and chatrooms because I learned firsthand what it was like to have people only like you for who you knew rather than who you are. Granted, I have made some amazing friends who could share my background and experience such as Lindsey but usually I don’t discuss it much unless around those I can be certain won’t try to get something out of it for themselves.
This leads me back to Wondaland, particularly Kellindo and Nastassia. Seeing what happened to Den, what the mods had to go through and how that rapper kid made me feel, I became pretty worried constantly. On and off I would think, I really like Janelle Monae, what if I wind up attempting to use them as a way to get to her? What if once I meet her, I’ll ditch them? What if I don’t care about them like I thought? Do these things sneak up on you or are they ulterior motives? How do I not screw up? What if they don’t trust me? What if I mistakenly talk to gossip folk without knowing it? How do I show I really want to be friends with them and not for who they know or are? Even now I worry about it from time to time because I know that in such an industry with lots of snakes in the grass, a true friend is pretty hard to come by and it’s very easy to create insular friend groups where people can leave but not many can come in. Add that with not being able to always stay in touch because of touring and traveling and demands and you’ve got a pretty fretful Black Witch. It’s concerns like these that actually are part of the reason why even if I’m a big Janelle Monae fan, I’m not part of any Janelle Monae sites such as her official site, Neon Valley St. or any other sites. Even if I wanted to participate, it would probably only be a matter of time before I would become Den so it would be best to keep everything separate.
I think I’ve only asked Kellindo to see Janelle Monae once or twice but when those fell through, I never lamented because at least I still had a cool friend to spend time with and I would always remind myself that I’m not friends with him because of her but I’m friends with him because he’s really sweet and kind. Even when I did meet Janelle Monae, I wanted to find Kellindo right after so I could hang out with him still because while it was awesome meeting Janelle Monae and being nervous and having my petticoats pick the most opportune time to plot against me (at least they were black and white, thankfully), it doesn’t quite beat spending time with a friend you haven’t seen for a while. As for Nastassia, I don’t think I really chat much, if at all, about Janelle Monae to her because I’m already stunned by her work to the point I’m a fan of that as well and it’s a tricky balance being a friend and not fangirling at the same time. It is a little weird getting used to all this but worth it – Wait, I think the one time I completely forgot was when I met Lupe Fiasco in NYC and found out that he’s a reader of mine. There I totally fangirled to Kellindo and Nastassia afterwards because I was so excited about the whole ordeal.
Being a fan and wanting to connect to your favorites, it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s not all invitations to parties, free concert tickets or backstage passes and the license to flaunt your relations to anyone who may or may not care but more than that (You may not even get the parties, tickets or chance to flaunt). When talking to fans and hearing how they want to be close to their desired performers so bad, it can be a bit disheartening because what you hear is incredible focus on the glamourous side and you wonder if they would be around for the non-glamourous side, the human side which is filled with quirks, worries, insecurities, issues and even fissures that any friendship goes through. Would those people still be there after the starshine is gone and why are they there in the first place? To mirror off the fame or to use that person as a foot in the door? Like I said in the first Fandom and the Fan piece, if the famous person was just a normal Joe on the go, would you still want to know ‘em?
This is the final post of Fandom and the Fan. I would like to thank my good friend Lindsey for participating, the contestants of the Travelin’ Light: Lasers Giveaway for making it so successful and for the readers for sticking through the very first Black Witch series. Normal posting resumes next week and any Ask Black Witch question asked this month will be answered in April’s ABW.
As always, you can find Black Witch on Twitter, Facebook or even submit your own question for Ask Black Witch using the submission form on the side.