At the end of last month I left the Guided By Voices fan group on Facebook after I realized I’m not really a fan. Oh, I love GBV and still regard them as one of my all-time favorite bands, but I’m not a “fan.” The term “fan” is short for “fanatic,” something I only came to realize on August 24th when I woke up and checked the band’s Facebook group. The night before the group had played a live-streamed concert at New Jersey’s famed Stone Pony club. I haven’t seen the footage, but everyone online was chatting about how incredibly drunk/out-of-control lead singer Robert Pollard got as the night progressed.
Guided By Voices is a phenomenal indie-rock band that rides the bizarre line between power-pop and prog rock. They’re known for short, incredibly catchy hooks. But the band is also just as famous for their incredibly drunken live shows. I’ve seen the band four times; twice the band was so drunk it ruined the show. The first time I saw the band was the best, and that was because they drank only a handful of Miller Lites. In recent years, the band has taken to drinking from bottles of tequila and Crown Royal. It’s mostly a shtick, Pollard take a nip and then passes it to the crowd. When I last saw the band live in June, I was relieved that the band was taking it easy as far as the drinking was concerned.
Then the show in August at the Stone Pony happened. Fans on the Facebook group page were clearly divided the morning after the show: some were horrified by how drunk Pollard had gotten, while everyone else seemed to pile on those concerned people and tell them it was “none of their business.” Pollard’s wife even jumped into the fray, defending her husband’s health and state of mind. I was shocked at how angry the thread became, after all everyone in the group likes GBV’s music. I felt like all the comments of concern were valid and made in a respectful way. And yet, everyone who dared ask if Pollard should drink that much was attacked and vilified. The comments defending Pollard’s drunken behavior came from people with really old looking profile pictures, so I knew these weren’t dunder-headed frat boys. Clearly some (but not all) of these people had substance abuse issues themselves. Perhaps that was why the energy of the Stone Pony thread became so poisonous. I love GBV, but not so much that it degrades my common sense. And that was when it hit me: I’m not a fanatic.
I have worried for some time that Pollard’s drinking was due, in part, because of fan expectation. The joy of going to see a live GBV show has twisted into a sickening mix of music and watching Pollard get lit. Could we all be enabling a guy to essentially kill himself? Worse yet, were we guilty of killing the goose that laid the golden pop song? I don’t know Robert Pollard personally, so my desire for him to go on living is pretty selfish—I just want him to keep making albums. Death by booze is both a rock cliché and a terrible thing for fans to thrust upon an artist. Pollard is an adult, older than myself by several decades, so what he chooses to do to with his mind and body is up to him. I can let Bob “be Bob,” but I discovered I couldn’t take part in the online GBV fan community. I’m not a fan in the truest sense of the word—I’m not a fanatic. I’m still able to think for myself and form my own opinions. I love GBV but I can still view them objectively, both as musicians and as regular people. Robert Pollard is not an infallible pop demigod (Pop Zeus, if you will); he’s flesh and blood. I can’t make Pollard stop drinking, but I can remove my voice from the chorus of people online chanting, “Chug! Chug! Chug!”
The older I get, the less fanatical I am when it comes to musicians and authors. I respect a lot of bands, but I no longer feel the need to (angrily) defend the actions of people I’ve never met simply because I like their albums or books. I’m taking a measure, adult approach to my appreciation of all art. I judge the work by itself and I don’t judge the (wo)man who made it at all. Every online fan group/webpage I’ve frequented seems to hold only two camps: people who hold their idols far too high and people who derive pleasure from antagonizing the first group. I don’t fall into either category. I’m not in anyone’s fan club.