Friday, December 12, 2008

Why I don't put celebrities on a pedestal...

...Or join fan clubs:

Now, if you're reading this it's probably because you know me, and therefore you also probably know that the highlight of 2008 for me was getting to see Bon Jovi, a band I've loved since I first heard "Livin' on a Prayer" sometime back in the early '90s, perform at Central Park. Matter of fact, that show was exactly five months ago today. Loved every second of it, and the same can be said for most of the songs from their albums. I know they haven't exactly been embraced by the critics over the years, but listening to their songs closely (which critics almost never do, instead basing their reviews on at most a few times through an album) reveals very technically superior musicians who, in my opinion, have managed to produce some of the best popular music of the past quarter century.

But why do so many people seem to think that good music (or movies, paintings, books, athletic performance, etc.) translates to a "nice" personality? I've never understood that. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're decent human beings until proven otherwise, but even the most well-intentioned celeb is as flawed as the rest of us. And of course, quite a few of them are not nearly as nice or decent as we might wish. Why do a lot of people continually find this surprising? And why does our enjoyment of their work so often hinge on our need to believe that their artistic or athletic talents carry over into other aspects of their personalities? In order to enjoy, say, a good meal at a fine restaurant, not many people need to believe that the chef is a wonderful human being, only a wonderful chef. Why do people expect more out of musicians and athletes, and why are they disappointed when the object of their admiration doesn't deliver?

I would never argue that disrespect for fans is okay. When people who have considerably less money than you are willing to spend their hard-earned income on your albums and your sky-high ticket prices, they're entitled to be appreciated and respected. Quite frankly, not having had the opportunity to see Bon Jovi live on any occasion save for last July and never having considered joining their fan club (which, in any case, is much more about just their lead singer, and not the whole band), I don't have any personal experiences on which to judge their relationship to their fans. I've obviously never met any of them, so I don't know what kinds of people they are. I just know I find their music very appealing. Would I love the opportunity to meet any of them someday? Sure, especially if doing so was able to give me any new insight into their songs. But do I expect that being very talented songwriters and performers somehow puts them onto a higher plane than the rest of us? Why should it? And why do any of us allow ourselves to be continually disappointed by any public figure who doesn't live up to the hype?

My own response to the article linked above is #161, so if you're interested in reading it (but don't feel like scrolling all that way down!), here is what I wrote:

I'm struck reading through your comments (yes, I read ALL of them!) that not a single person has chimed in to defend the club. And I agree with everybody else who find it hard to believe none of the bandmembers are aware of what's going on. You can pretend to be a nice guy in interviews even if you're really a douche when the press goes away, but you can't fake smart. Jon is clearly a very intelligent person, so if he truly has no awareness of what's going on he's being very irresponsible. I think it's much more likely that he knows exactly how things are being run and simply doesn't respect the fans enough to address it. I hope that's not the case, and of course I have no idea what gets said between the bandmembers and others they work with. But it strikes me as extremely unlikely that all of this has happened without his knowing consent.

As long as they keep making good albums (and for the record, I LOVED Lost Highway), I'll purchase them, because that decision is about the quality of the songs and not the personalities involved. But I would never consider joining a fan club under such circumstances.

Thanks for an excellent, well-written and thoughtful piece.


Susanna said...

Hi Rachel

Again I relate to all you say. I don't think Jon is this saint a lot of us would like him to be, and yet that just makes me even more curious about him. I've been a fan for 18 years and (especially when you're growing up) you tend to identify more with these guys (or at least that's how it was for me) than to your own parents. Or, at least I tended to be more open to what they had to say in their interviews and songs than the ideas my parents tried to pass on to me.

It's hard not wanting to meet or be close to the people who felt so close to you, one way or another. And this is perhaps where things sometimes go off balance. Perhaps many people wanting and expecting too much from the band and the band knowing very well they cannot spend their lives pleasing everyone. There are too many of us.

That said, nothing excuses, like you point out very well, that there can't be guidelines with the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" of how to treat fans. If you want to charge huge amounts the money, then they need to deliver. If people are not happy, don't carry on opening paying for it. In a way, it's simple.

I am not part of the backstage, nor do I purchase merchandise, golden tickets and all the money making strategies they came up with recently. Therefore people can argue it's nothing to do with me. But it is to do with me when that gives me a glimpse to the mind or character of the people behind the music that's been my inspiration.

So I am going to keep my eyes and ears open.

Rachel Snyder said...


I understand where you're coming from, and no, I don't think there's anything wrong with being curious about the people who write and perform your favorite songs. I know I am! It would be a dream come true for me to be able to meet any member of the band, shake his hand, thank him for all the great songs and ask questions about where those songs come from. But look for example at people who say things like that one poster did about "oh well, I got to touch his feet!" which to me is downright disturbing, creepy even. And it's really not at all complementary, because when you put someone up on that pedestal, you're objectifying them.

While the situation with the fan club is certainly unfortunate, there needs to be some perspective. In a way, I think all this furor is a bit of a backdoor compliment, because if they didn't have a solid track record of respecting their fans not nearly would be expected of them. Can you imagine if the exact same blog was written, only the name "Jon Bon Jovi" were replaced with "Axl Rose"? My guess is the majority response would be a simple, "Yeah, and?" because he has a history of doing far worse things to his fans. I've worked in customer service for several years, and the issues Anthony described with the fan club strike me more as mismanagement than deliberate dishonesty. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, and most of what I've seen of the band members in interviews has given me a positive impression. I don't think they're "bad" people; I think they're normal people in every way except for their tremendous musical talents. Isn't that what we all fell in love with anyway? Curiosity about who they are as people only came about because we love what they're able to do as musicians.

Anyway, it's nice to know that once in a while somebody actually reads this blog! Usually I feel like I'm talking to a wall or something ;) So, thanks again for the comments.

Rachel Snyder said...

Oh yeah, and just so I'm clear about my intention--I completely agree with everything Anthony Kuzminski wrote in his blog. My own post was more of a response to the shock and disillusionment expressed by a lot of people in their comments.