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Dear Bands, Don’t Be Dicks

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By Kelly McClure

Here is a little quiz I’d like for you to take before moving on to read the rest of this thing. Ready? Here we go:

Q: You are engaged in casual conversation with a friend or co-worker and they begin to talk about a musical artist. After listening to them go on about how great this artist’s music is, and how much of an inspiration they are, you reply with which of the following?

a) Totally
b) I’m happy you’re happy
c) I know/have worked with that artist, and they’re a dick

Did you come up with an answer? Are you wondering which one is correct? Well, truth be told that this was a trick question because all answers would be go-to replies, seeing as though on average, almost any artist you would be talking about is in fact a dick, and you would either want to politely keep that fact to yourself, as to not crush the dreams of the person you were talking to, or choose to put the artist “on blast”, as they say, and spread the knowledge far and wide. I usually opt for the blasting, but a few nights ago a friend of mine who lives in England was going on about a band she loves and how she’s seen them a bunch of times and recently bought a pricey, limited edition set of theirs and had it signed at a show. She was in the middle of telling me what one of the members inscribed and I was juuuuuust about to blurt out “I’ve met that band and know people who work with them and they’re literally the meanest cows you could ever come across” when I stopped myself. In the end I concluded that it was more valuable for her to carry around an idea she had crafted about a person, and how they are, then for me to snatch that away from her with the truth.

Being a dick has many layers, and it’s not a black and white thing by any means. Dickish behavior is often allowed, and even welcomed/expected, from creative types because it’s somehow been made the norm that “that’s just how they are”. What may take a little power out of that is the knowledge that acting like a dick is a sign of weakness, I should know, because I’m kind of a dick. Anytime I’ve ever shit all over someone, or had a meltdown, it was because I was hurt, sick, exhausted, or experiencing feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability. Trying to keep this in mind may help you cope with the next time you meet your favorite artist and they treat you like a special-ed student and dismiss you with stink face. Throwing something back at them like “I’m sorry you’re sad” is even better because it will really confuse them, give you something to laugh about later with your friends, and bother the artist so much later, because they’ll know that it’s true.

It’s really the saddest thing about being a fan of music, knowing that if you were to ever meet the person you’ve spent your time, money and thoughts on for years, that the little ember you hold in your chest for them could be snuffed out with just a few words or careless facial expressions. I’ve been hit with this so hard, even recently, that I have made a point on giving up looking forward to meeting certain people who’s work I admire, choosing to protect the “them” I’ve built in mind, rather than risk it on their reality, which most likely, isn’t nearly as fantastic. There are albums that I can’t even THINK of listening to now, after meeting the people who made them. I can’t bear to throw them away, but I also can’t bare to fill my home and my imagination with what amounted to broken promises. Sappy as it sounds, every time an artist makes a beautiful and unique piece of music, they’re making a promise to be special, to be there for us, and with us, to guide us through our breakups, and new loves, and dead cats, and wrecked cars, and bad grades, and broken bones, and lost relatives. Some artists may never care, and may in fact be reading this right now thinking things like: “It’s not my responsibility, you’re too sensitive, I just want to make money/be well known”. Well, perk up to these two examples for why being a dick is just bad for business:

(continues overleaf)

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24 Responses to Dear Bands, Don’t Be Dicks

  1. Princess Stomper September 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Heheh … I was just about to reply with “I must have met a thousand people in bands only a tiny handful of them have ever been dickish”, when you gave your examples.

    I too met Dando (at the Reading Festival), and he was, indeed, a dick. Not met Reznor, but the main side effect of cocaine is that it turns you into a GIANT dick and he had a serious habit on the go at one point.

    Definitely a good point about not alienating your fans, though – or anyone else for that matter. I’ve noticed that the more “successful” people I know – business executives and the like – are unfailingly polite at all times because they pretty much have to be. If you’re having a bad day or a hangover or just really tired you still have to turn on the charm, because if you are in a band and anyone, anywhere is paying you money then being polite is part of your JOB.

    Even when I was a mischievous teenager and used to go up to Graham from Blur in the pub and say, “I’m doing the gossip page on my fanzine … so, seen any famous people lately?” he would always give me a weary smile and nod and be nice until I went away and left him the fuck alone. That is why Blur got to sell millions of records, because they could grit their teeth and be polite and friendly to obnoxious little gits like me.

    When I was 14, I saw The Charlatans on their Some Friendly tour, and a group of us giggling, squawking girls were chanting “TIM! TIM! TIM!” at the lead singer. Eventually, Tim Burgess turned to us and said, “What is it?” and everyone fell silent because we hadn’t thought that far ahead.
    I just piped up, “Alright?”
    He just laughed and said, “Yeah,” and carried on about his business.
    That’s all it took – just a bit of acknowledgement – and it made my whole week.

  2. Princess Stomper September 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    PS – the Dando thing does raise a point: if I met him and thought he was … actually, “dick” is the wrong word; “prat” was more like it … and you thought he was a really lovely guy, then it makes it seem like a really bad idea to go around badmouthing someone based on a one-off impression. I might have just seen him on a bad day. Likewise, say that Trent sobered up and was quite nice these days, it seems a bit mean to endlessly punish him for being a jerk 15 years ago.

  3. Joseph Kyle September 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Oh I loved this post! (Though the way it concluded on page one I was expecting two tales of band dickheadedness.)

    I would like to say, though, for the record–sometimes what is perceived as dick-headedness is, in fact, something not actually related to drugs or to being an asshole in general.

    There is an artist who is known as a notorious prick. He was the first interview I ever did, about fifteen years ago. I can recall the incidents perfectly, and the frustrations I had afterward.

    Thirteen years later, I discover that this guy–through a discussion with a mutual friend, based upon conclusions I had made–has Aspergers Syndrome, a condition I too suffer from.

    I was diagnosed with this issue myself in 2009 and upon learning more about the disorder, it became apparent that the person I had thought was a total dick because he was, well, a prick–that that’s not so much the case. A conversation shortly thereafter with a childhood friend of his revealed that, yes, such is the case. He just–for obvious reasons–doesn’t really want to publicize that fact.

    Plus I think fans build up people, like you said–and, let’s be honest, many stories of a person being a dick oft leave out how said personality was in a setting he or she did not really want to be acknowledged, just wanted to be a normal human being.

    Then again, some people are dickheads, and no matter how hard you try to be diplomatic with them, it can’t be helped. If it’s as a fan this happens to you–well, I do feel for you. Then again, if it’s in the interview setting–well, you really don’t have to put up with that shit, do you?

    A tip, for those who are interviewing someone who is being prick-ish. Call their bluff. Recognize the signs. I once interviewed Travis Morrison, and the first question I asked, it became apparent he did not want to do an interview. “How’s tour going?” “Well,” he huffed and then sighed, looking out the tour van window “It’s fun, but there’s always one night on tour where everything you do makes you hate what you’re doing, from the stage to the audience to having to talk to people and do things you really don’t want to do.”

    Pretty dickhead response.

    “Well, maybe tonight’s that lucky night for you, and I’m glad to be a part of it. I look forward to helping you be miserable!” was my response.

    He turned to look at me, blinked at me once or twice, and his scowl turned to a smile. He was on his way to being a dick to me, he had been called on it, and as a result, he opened up in a really great way.

    It doesn’t always work. Sometimes the artist is going to be hostile. That’s when you hit ’em with bluntness. Or you hang up on them.

  4. mike turner September 16, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    one of my fav collapse board posts so far. back when i first started my old zine the bee’s knees back in 1994 i had a series of dickish band interviews (kmfdm, these animal men, juliana hatfield to name a few), but one band which had no reason to be a dick cause no-one really cared who they were one way or the other was this band kissing book from portland. i interviewed them and the answers and overall attitude was so bad i still can’t go back and enjoy those records and it’s been well over 10 years already, and their debut record lines and color was one of my all time favs until that interview. on the other hand i had an interview with frank black which i had heard some horror stories about with his use of the short answer reply interview style, but within 5 questions he noticed i didn’t have the new album (his label had not sent me a promo yet and this was pre-internet as far as album leaks so i couldn’t get it via a store either). he jotted down my info fedex’d me a cd and called me back the same time the following week and was so nice and easy going and very talkative. to this day i buy all of his solo albums.

  5. Princess Stomper September 16, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Heh- see, again: KMFDM were positively lovely to me, and I knew These Animal Men reasonably well and they were real sweeties.

    Perhaps we should have a database of dickish interviews and then people who have totally opposite experiences can exonerate them!

  6. Everett True September 16, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Interview situations are way different to fan situations, though.

  7. Joseph Kyle September 16, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Depends on the situation, though, Everett. Most ‘zine writers aren’t writing on assignment. They’re talking to bands they happen to like, and are coming at it more from a fan-base point of view.

  8. Joseph Kyle September 16, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    In the case of Dismemberment Plan, I was not only a fan, I was the guy who had booked the show as well.

  9. Gerry September 16, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    What do we want from our artists?

    The emotional connection I have to some records is intense. The people who made those records remain oblivious to my existence.

    Where is the comfortable middle ground?

    I agree, a measure of respect toward the people paying their bills shouldn’t be a big ask, but I don’t buy albums based on the artist’s reputation as a nice person.

    And most of the dicks I’ve met haven’t even released a record I can enjoy inspite of their dick-ness. They’re just plain, old dicks.

  10. Princess Stomper September 17, 2011 at 12:21 am

    I don’t tend to differentiate between interview situations and fan situations – especially since if I liked the band I’d often hang out with them afterwards for as long as they’d keep me around.

    I’d have thought that the comfortable middle ground would just trying to read the cues like you would in any other social situation. Musicians are people, after all. So, if someone looks busy or fed up, it’s probably not a good idea to approach – and if you’re interviewing them and they’re in that mood then keep it brief. You have a right to professional courtesy, but no more than that whether fan or ‘zine, if you’re talking to a stranger.

    Luckily I’ve never actually met anyone I idolised who was enough of a dick to put me off their records – the dicks generally weren’t bands I liked much anyway. I’ve mostly been fortunate enough to discover, instead, that the people whose music I truly love are really, really sweet individuals, and that makes buying their records a pleasure – just like Mike Turner found with Frank Black.

  11. Daniel September 17, 2011 at 1:02 am

    This was a great piece!

    All you can do when meeting fans is be reasonably accommodating. I can relate to meeting musicians and authors I respected, only to feel rejected by their prickly demeanor. It’s much worse when you’re a teenager meeting a dickish musical hero while already getting rejection from every corner of your waking life.

    That’s a good thing to keep in mind if you are on the other side of it, meeting someone who really loves what you do. It can be exhausting to be gracious and gregarious when you’re tired and 90% of the people you meet want something from you, but tough shit. Just like we all have he or she’s a dick stories, we all have those artists that made such a great impression that we’re fans for life.

  12. Kelly McClure September 17, 2011 at 1:24 am

    I also have a flip-side to this. I’ve exchanged messages with Kathleen Hanna a few times (who I’ve adored for nearly my whole life) and she was very warm, and fair. Fair is enough for me. I don’t need an artist to be sticky sweet, that’s gross and fake, but just be fair and, I don’t know, present. I listen to her music now and feel like it fuels me even more because I know that the things she’s singing about are genuine. She walks the walk, and that’s so fantastic. That’s the best you can hope for with anyone, really.

  13. Lucy Cage September 17, 2011 at 2:01 am

    If a band or a musician is dickish to people who are just doing their job but that job is all about making them look good and supporting them in their chosen career (sound people, photographers, caterers, writers etc.) then my views on them are irrevocably coloured. Especially since it’s really only a quirk of the system that a musician might end up earning more that week than the photographer who takes a really good, creative publicity shot of them will ever get in a lifetime.
    I remember a photographer friend taking some particularly gorgeous shots of Jon Spencer & band for our magazine and getting treated like crap by them. I put that spread together on the computer snarling slightly at the situation and feeling like I should really bin it.

  14. Lucy Cage September 17, 2011 at 2:03 am

    As Kelly says re Kathleen Hanna, I’m also going to be loyal/have open ears for people who are genuinely delightful to communicate with – Kristin Hersh being the example that springs immediately to mind. Could make things complicated, but since when was criticism ever objective anyway?

  15. Princess Stomper September 17, 2011 at 3:35 am

    @ Lucy re “delightful” people: absolutely agreed!

    Oh, Him Indoors just reminded me of a hilarious blog post by quite possibly the worst, least important band on Earth:

    http://faderhead.com/blog/?p=720

    It’s not that the “requests” are unreasonable in themselves for the most part, but if you really want to sound like an absolute jerk, here’s a pretty good way to go about it.

  16. Lucy Cage September 17, 2011 at 6:02 am

    “http://faderhead.com/blog/?p=720”

    Oh, that is priceless! Wow. What a twat.

    This whole thing reminds me of the very funny and perceptive piece by Thor Harris, who seems like a pretty sorted kind of Viking/percussionist guy, on how not to be a dick in a band…

    http://www.barbariangroup.com/posts/6854-how_to_tour_in_a_band_or_whateverby_thor_harris_1_don_t

    (He also released an album called ‘Fields of Innards’ which I’d say is a thing worth doing.)

  17. Conan Neutron September 19, 2011 at 7:33 am

    This it totally true, I call it the “Bummerang” effect. Because the bummer that you throw out there will come back to you, even if it is not noticable. Call it karma.

    I’m always astounded when ANYBODY treats somebody else badly in a fan/performer relationship. You seriously have no benefit for doing so, and it causes all kinds of problems, just from a gross lizard brained perspective. To say nothing about just the golden rule.

    My fanbase (such as it is), is some infinitesimal fraction of what either of those two artists are, but i’ve always tried to go above and beyond to be cool, speak with them as human beings, answer any questions* and just generally be a decent person. Some of these fans have ended up turning into good friends, and many of them have later been in a position to do something nice for me and my music. You shouldn’t be doing it for that, but i’m still always shocked when people are just cocks without need or justification.

    A lot of it has to do with the kind of entitlement that comes from too much success or praise.

    (*Except for discussions about music gear, I try to limit those because it’s really not my theme.)

  18. a_grey September 25, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    reminds me of a certain seattle band who stayed at my apt in the early 90’s… i was a big fan, and they were snide assholes. i sold all the records by them i had the next week and i hadn’t listened to them in almost 20 years until a short while ago. wow… they really didn’t hold up that well. they signed to epitath and fell off the end of the earth anyway.

  19. a_grey September 25, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    i will have to say that brian molko was kinda of a dick when i got his autograph after a show, but he was a charming little dwarf… in a curt way.

  20. golightly September 25, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Great piece you’ve written here and so true!

    I was exceptionally lucky when I met Courtney Love (my teenage idol) because a) I was high, b) It was the first chance I’d got to see Hole in all the years I’d been a fan c) She approached me d) It was on the main stage at Glastonbury festival and so conversation was limited by the setting… so I got to feel like I’d met her, I goofily blurted out the words “I love you” (What else was I going to say when time was of the essence to say something to one of the most important people in my world??) And she smiled at me in response, turned around and started blasting out one of my fave songs. Melissa Auf der Maur was incredibly kind and sweet, giving me a bottle of water (I was in a state of blissful shock) and smiling at me asking if I was ok. I have to admit that it would have ruined part of my life if I’d met Courtney Love and we hadn’t got on or she’d ignored me or anything like that. So I got lucky. I still love her. But I still didn’t buy one of her records as I think it’s too pop for my taste…

    When I was a teen, I would do anything to get noticed by the band I’d gone to see or indeed any famous person I came across. I would want to come off as charming, but often the adrenaline involved would make me blurt out all kinds of crap… it wasn’t cool or clever, but I did manage to have some kind of ‘moment’ with those people, which satisfied my desire for them to know I existed, since they were pretty central to my existence at the time. It’s kind of sad really… but it’s a part of human nature. It must be the same as groupie-style thinking… star-fucking or whatever (I never slept with any of them… I wanted to put myself on an equal level, often rebelling against my own internal ‘must worship’/ Wayne’s World style ‘we’re not worthy’ automatic response.)

    So I don’t blame the bands and artists who act like that. They have to deal with people like me (well my teenage equivalent at least) deliberately provoking them in order to feel like they’ve been validated in the relationship.

    Having said that, I don’t like Vivienne Westwood the famous fashion designer after I met her. I was respectful but assertive in trying to meet her just to tell her I loved her designs (I was studying fashion at the time) and was treated with disdain. It has sapped my enthusiasm for her work almost entirely.

    I think some people play the Dick Card in conversations about bands and famous musicians because they want to top trump the person they are having the conversation with. That’s why it does count as being a total dick. They want to impress the fan they’re talking to by suggesting that they know their favourite musicians. Somehow calling them a dickhead (especially when they have a public image of being nice) is like claiming to be close to them and ‘knowing the real them’. It is simply an attempt to feel special during the conversation.

    It’s an opportunity to casually show off… which proves that everyone ‘wants something’ from these famous musicians and that well, they are quite right to be a dickhead about it because a) It gives people good stories to tell and b) They are human and have to do whatever it takes to handle all the bullshit and attention-seeking that happens to them a zillion times a day. There are consequences, but from what I can tell, they are probably doing whatever it takes to get through socially exhausting public lives and keep on putting out records.

  21. Laura September 27, 2011 at 3:24 am

    Excellent. I spent a short time working hospitality at the venue most of the national indie rock elite play here in Detroit. I can honestly say there are bands I was indifferent about that I now really like simply based on how gracious and down to earth they were. It changed the way I heard their music to an extent.

  22. Jack September 27, 2011 at 10:30 am

    *shrugs*

    In my experience, people react in different ways to different people in different circumstances.

    You never really know what’s going on in a person’s head, their personal life or whatever from the snapshot you get from their records or their stage persona.

    It’s like the close friend that is always great to hang out with, but you tried working with them once and they are a terrible workmate.

    Personally speaking, one of the reasons I like extreme metal bands is there seems to be a weird inverse ratio at work when it comes to sound and personality: the nastier the sounds, the nicer they are offstage. Meanwhile I can name five singers off the top of my head who make inoffensive pop music but are notorious for treating people like dirt.

    And it’s always good to ask yourself: is this person likely exhausted, stressed, preoccupied or otherwise not likely to be receptive to your company at this point in time? Are you approaching them as an object on a pedestal rather than a human being? Are you intruding on their space in a way that you wouldn’t normally for any other person in any other situation. How would you feel if the roles were reversed?

    Of course, some people are just dicks.

    But you never can tell.

  23. Everett True September 27, 2011 at 11:41 am

    And it’s always good to ask yourself: is this person likely exhausted, stressed, preoccupied or otherwise not likely to be receptive to your company at this point in time? Are you approaching them as an object on a pedestal rather than a human being? Are you intruding on their space in a way that you wouldn’t normally for any other person in any other situation. How would you feel if the roles were reversed?

    what he says

  24. Joseph Kyle September 27, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Totally agree. I saw TAD in Dallas in the early 1990s. Before the show, Tad was a total prick. During the show, Tad was a total prick, but he used his anger in his set, and the show was intense. After the show–Tad was…totally apologetic. His dickheadedness had zero to do with anything that the fans had done; he was pissed off about something he’d read about the band in the Dallas Morning News (IIRC it was the “Tad Doyle is a grunge god but really is a 300 pound butcher” myth). Had I talked to him beforehand, as some friends of mine had, I probably wouldn’t have given him the benefit of the doubt. Because he was like, “Sorry, dude, if I was rude to you earlier,” I left the show thinking this dude was one of the nicest people I’d ever met.

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