“I didn’t get into them until high school,” the girl said, shrinking herself deeper into her faux fur coat so that her eyes were the only visible part of her face, as we reached the exit of Terminal 5.
“Are you kidding me? I didn’t get into them until college. And I’m OLD.” Her male companion, wearing only a suit and thin wool scarf, wrapped his arm around her. “I’m THIRTY,” he said.
All around me, I heard conversations like these, people comparing notes on the first time they heard Sleater-Kinney, the point at which they became fans, how many shows they had seen and what number this one was for them. A man who looked like he hadn’t showered since the 90s told a group of men who looked like different cartoon versions of him that this was the sixth show he’d seen on this tour alone. As I listened to the group share their personal records for numbers of shows attended during past tours, I wondered how it felt to be that big of a fan. I wondered what they would say to me if I told them the particulars of my Sleater-Kinney fandom:
I got into them in college, a few months into their hiatus. Dig Me Out got me through one really rough time and then a few other minor rough times and depending on the day, I’d say it’s in my top five favorite or most important albums. They were the only music I listed in my Facebook interests, back when that was a thing. I get back into at least one of their albums at least once a year. That show we just saw? It was my first.
I’ve always had this sense that I’ve never been a real fan of a lot of the bands I love. If I wasn’t there at the beginning, to experience a band’s greatness during their early years of recording or touring, then what claim do I have on them?
I never felt this more than when I saw Pavement during their 2010 reunion tour. I was twelve when they released their final album in 1999. And while the possibility exists that I had heard “Cut Your Hair” on MTV as a child, I think it’s safe to say that I never really listened to Pavement until I was well into my teenage years. But I became a fan nonetheless, their music partially soundtracking my college years. Eventually, I came to count them among my “all-time favorites.”
But when I saw Pavement live, I felt self-conscious. I felt young. I felt like I was not as big of a fan as many of the other people there. Looking back on it, I was young compared to a lot of the crowd. I was twenty-three. And I wasn’t as big of a fan as many of the other people there. I didn’t know the words to every song. In fact, I think there were a few I didn’t really recognize. But I also had a lot of fun at that show. I knew most of the songs. I sang-screamed along to some of them alongside one of my best friends, who at the time was also a twenty-three-year-old girl. Afterward, I told people that it was one of the best shows I’d ever seen in my life. That was probably the truth.
Last night, I watched Sleater-Kinney perform a lot of songs that I knew well, some that I didn’t, and a few that are so important to me that I smiled the whole time they were happening. More than once I thought back to earlier that day, when I had considered not going to the show at all. I was on my way to a meeting, exhausted and unable to concentrate on the presentation I was to give shortly. I didn’t see how I was going to make it through the morning, let alone the afternoon and evening. I told myself that going didn’t matter, that I really wasn’t that big of a fan, that I wouldn’t be missing anything life changing. But I reasoned that I’d spent fifty bucks on the ticket and that alone was a reason to go. So I went. And it was good. (Even if I had to stand in the back against a wall behind a girl who kept whipping her pigtails my face while performing what seemed to be premeditated dance moves.)
I almost ended with that last paragraph, but I’m not sure I made the point I set out to make when I started writing this or if I even remember what the point is. I think it is: I have sometimes felt that my music fandom or knowledge is insignificant compared to that of other people. I wish I didn’t feel that way. It’s definitely OK to be into something exactly as much as I’m into it. Also, who cares?