‘You Get What You Need’: Interview on Rolling Stones Fan Culture with Dr. Andrea Baker – Part 1

Dr Andrea ‘andee’ Baker is a Sociology Professor at Ohio University. She specializes in studying the Rolling Stones and its fan base. Her new book You Get What You Need (Miniver Press 2014) is based on interviews with fans that she met through online groups like Rocks Off. The book does valuable work in documenting a specific fan community, thinking about its empirical history and the emergence of a translocal music fan culture. Dr Baker can be reached at: andee9@gmail.com. 

How did this particular project get started? I think I saw that you did a previous article about online relationships. Did your previous academic work inform your investigation of Stones fans?
Yes, I wrote a scholarly book called Double Click: Romance and Commitment Among Online Couples (Hampton Press, 2005) and several articles based on my study of couples that first met online, and had been looking for an online community to study. About a year after I joined an online group about The Rolling Stones, I decided to ask the leader if he would go along with my aims, and he agreed. From there I announced the study there, made up an exploratory questionnaire, and followed that up with interviews with those fans and fans from two other public communities and one private list, reading the boards I had already joined as a fan.  In my work with online couples I found especially interesting the point where they moved from online to offline, seeing how their expectations of their partners were met or not. So I was intrigued with how fans from different geographical areas could get to know each other online and buy tickets from each other and plan events before meeting later on at concerts. 
Also I had done my dissertation on the ideology and structure of a social movement organization, and so all along I viewed the internet as a barometer of social change, influencing how people communicated and interacted.  Internet fandom, or the process of pursuing an interest online with like-minded others seemed not too far from forming a romantic relationship with one other person, in a sense.
After doing a few academic pieces based on the fan data, I wanted to try a book for general audiences. I thought the fans – both those included in the book and the overall fan base of the band – would appreciate it, along with fans of other musicians or even TV shows or sports teams.  How people who are passionate about their leisure time interests go about pursuing them has interested me since I first learned about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivations in psychology and occupational sociology.  How much are people willing to put into something, and why, when doing that doesn’t advance their career interests, or often, their family lives?
In what ways do you think that Stones fans are different from other fan communities? Or are they like other rock and pop music fans, except that they happen to like the Stones?
I think most of the fans are, likely, fonder of the blues than fans of other rock or pop bands.  And, I don’t know for sure but I surmise that they have more than their share of rebellious fans than many other groups, meaning those perhaps more likely to resist conformity in general, to have strong opinions, to not be influenced completely by peer pressure.  I haven’t looked at heavy metal fans, though, to compare.
Given the almost 53 year history of the band to this point, its fans have a greater range of ages, too. Grandchildren of the original fans are involved now, or beginning to become so.
What things did you learn about Stones fandom that you didn’t expect before embarking on the project? 
One thing I didn’t realize is the rivalry between the British and the American hard-core fans. While the band is from the UK, once they cracked open the American market, with their hit singles and their second tour, they seem to love to play in the US – for the money – and possibly the unrestrained atmosphere at their shows.  They’ve recorded many of their classic albums in whole or part in the US, in LA or Chicago.  Some American fans will point to Madison Square Garden as their “home” arena, to accompanying shouts from British fans on the absurdity of the claim, even though three of the four UK-born Stones spent time living in New York City and Keith Richards resides permanently in nearby Connecticut.
British people tend to take the Stones more for granted, whereas they are seen as more exotic to US fans, having travelled all that distance to play the whole country or continent. The band typically charges more for their concerts in the US than elsewhere in Europe (outside of London) or the rest of the world. On the other hand, in Europe the band members, as they come or go from hotels or rehearsals, are more available to their fans. In 2012 they actually invited some fans waiting in a cold rain shower in Paris to come inside and watch. The zeal that causes enthusiastic audiences can result in more instances of stalking behavior, so impressionistically – from reading fan accounts – I see more security precautions taken in the States.
Another thing that surprises me – although it shouldn’t – is how many Rolling Stones fans espouse conservative ideologies.  I had thought it might be different, perhaps, since the band came out of the counterculture, a time when Republicans wouldn’t have engaged in many wild or illegal behaviors.  I even met a fan early in the 21st century who thought the lyrics of  ‘Sway’ were “satanic,” because the person the singer is talking about is under the spell of “that demon life.”  I suggested that maybe he just didn’t care for the band, but he insisted he did.
Can you explain (for the uninitiated) what a Shidoobee is? Are they different from other Stones fans? 
Founder Doug Potash came up with this name for a fan group from the rapid tempo song ‘Shattered.’ The lyrics describe street life in New York City of the late 70s, around the time when three of the Stones lived there.  The song heralds the characters and their clothes, and the Big Apple’s hopes and dreams, and available sex, inserting a nonsense phrase, “Huh, Shidoobee.”  The word is written with alternate spellings, such as “Shadoobie” found in the urban dictionary.  Doug loves the song so much he appropriated a shortened version of the term, first for his license plate in 1979 and then for the group, online since 2000.  It’s now applied to individual members of the group too, as in “She’s a Shidoobee.” The band recognizes members from their T-shirts or the blue rubber bracelets that were around for a while.  Fans also shout out the word at events as a greeting or just as an exclamation.  Shidoobees have more get-togethers than most of the other fan groups, including a once-a-year trek to Wildwood, New Jersey over Labor Day weekend to hear Rolling Stones tribute bands.
What were the least expected ways you found in which people became Stones fans? 
This is not in the book because I heard it after I had worked on that part of it, but I think the least expected path I found, because of age differences, I imagine, was the story of a young woman in her late teens in line with her mom to go into a concert in Las Vegas.  She told me her mother played various records at home and was a fan of several bands, but not a big Rolling Stones fan as such.  The teen had searched various online venues, chatting with others her age about what kind of music they liked.  After listening to many bands, she decided she like The Stones the best.  Her mother bought pit tickets to let both of them stand up front. What’s interesting to me is that today the youth can access every type of music recorded up to now through the internet, an option unavailable to previous generations.  In the past, aside from recommendations of family and friends, people could only browse selections at used record stores and listen to niche radio stations to figure out what they liked.
Photo credit: thanks to Jim Pietryga
I was interested to hear how some fans have shifted their attention between band members during their years following the band. Why do you think they do this?
Seems to me that what they are saying is that who we like and the reasons for those preferences when we are younger may well change as we grow older.  Most of the changes I’ve heard about are away from Mick Jagger, the most obviously charismatic member of the band – the front man – although while some remain doggedly loyal to him.  Fans have turned mainly to Keith or Charlie Watts, appreciating their prodigious instrumental skills, their “cool” demeanor, or their perceived character, for example, as stable marital partners.  A few have come to value Mick more over years, after focusing on one of others at first.
There is discussion in the book about how band members acknowledge some fans after repeated face to face meetings. Why do you think fans want to get close to Mick and Keith? Is it to be known to them, to know more about them, to get bragging rights in the community, or something else?
Fans want a few things, I think: to meet their idols to be able to “get to know them” better, outside of the many words devoted to them in the media.  I think there’s a curiosity about how Mick and Keith’s outside personas may relate to their deeper, more personal sides. The other part – bragging rights – plays a big role for some whether in a crowd or in one-to-one interactions, as in, “Hey, I’m closer to the band than most of you, because I got Keith’s autograph” or “Mick sang right to me.”  These incidents can also allow a fan to feel more intimately connected to the star, feeling an internal satisfaction, because of the special interaction, however brief, or whatever the content.
In answer to a question I asked online, and from other readings in fan communities, I saw that not everyone wanted to meet them. Some wanted to avoid the disillusionment of having reality interfere with their glowing, perhaps inevitably idealistic impressions.
In Elvis fan cultures, certain fans always took it upon themselves to record and archive live events. In the book you mention the way that each performance is unique to the most dedicated Stones fans. Did you find some of them adopting the role of historians and archivists, capturing audio-visual traces of the Stones on stage, even before the online era? 
Some of them do. I once asked a fan that recorded concerts if he did this for preservation or for recognition and appreciation of other fans. He said both. A problem is that people who film entire shows from the stands block the views of patrons wishing to see the band.
I mainly know of online posting phenomena among fans. One guy collects clippings from newspapers and magazines on the Stones and blues artists from years gone by. Today the band’s organization – perhaps knowing of all the bootleg recordings out there over the years, and the proliferation of online videos – has taped the concerts for YouTube. Their videos are, invariably, of higher sound and visual quality than the homemade ones.
Since the Stones have been so active on the live circuit, their fans have potentially been able to avoid tribute bands. Did you find certain attitudes towards tribute artists in the Stones fan community?
Some years back, journalist Steve Kurutz wrote a book on two tribute bands of the Rolling Stones called Like a Rolling Stone (2008), focusing mainly on the lead singers. He covered the history of tribute bands from the 1977 Broadway show Beatlemania onwards.
I think some fans hated the thought of tribute bands, while others liked them, rating such bands either for how close they came to the original or what variations they brought to the act. I started out with a built-in distaste for them, but once I began attending tribute shows, I found that I really enjoyed a couple of them. I did find, however, that shortly after seeing the real thing on tour, seeing their imitators proved anti-climactic. Over the last ten years or so, members of tribute bands have also joined one or two of the online communities, making ties between their bands and the fans that see them very close. I saw a person go from an ordinary fan to lead singer, playing Mick Jagger in a tribute band.
You mention some interesting examples of the way that the Stones’ fan community has policed unruly members. Can you explain what the ethics of the Stones fan community seem to be? Do you think they are different from other music fan communities?
In my experience with online communities, I think the leaders determine the extent and type of moderation.

It’s funny in a way that the two main communities discourage or prohibit the discussion of The Beatles vs. The Stones, or even Mick Taylor vs. Ronnie Wood (guitarists at different stages). Both have “reporting” features in the software, but IORR’s moderator takes those reports of wrongdoings more seriously, and fans know that they can be kicked out temporarily or permanently if they don’t apologize for their rule-violations. At Shidoobee, the leader seems to act more on informal reports of misdoings – fans complaining to him privately – than on official reporting of posts.

When Mick’s SO killed herself, many fans wanted to speculate on why, although how and where were well-documented. The leader of IORR – who had traveled a long distance to Australia to attend an upcoming show – shut the discussion down. After a warning or two, he deleted the thread, in the interest of Mick’s privacy. Anyone who insisted on opening a new topic on the subject or continuing the talk anywhere was thrown out of the group. He also closed a discussion about causes of suicide in general. A few of those fans who lost their access refused to apologize and are still no longer around.  In contrast, after a time of letting fans toss out ideas, the leader of Shidoobee asked that they end the “gossip” and move onto other issues. He let the posts go on for a while, until the interest trailed off on its own outside of a topic in “tribute” to her. One fan migrated to Shidoobee to complain about the IORR policy of no talk. A few fans on both sites hurled insults or were the objects of pejorative comments during these conflicts over how much to say or not.

I’m not sure these groups are much different from other music fan communities. They might have relatively closer ties offline, depending on how often fans from other music communities get together for shows and other events.  In the large social networking sites, Last FM (which caters to a wide range of music listeners and covers all kinds of music) for example, few relationships have emerged among people who had the same musical tastes, although listeners did form friendships with others there (Baym and Ledbetter 2009). To find out more, we would have to compare online communities on factors such as size, leadership, platform features, and types of music or groups they like, along with the demographics and extent of geographical dispersion or clustering of their membership.
Did you see any interesting instances of the Stones fans debating external issues which impinged on their community?
Two of the boards banned politics completely, but the economics of ticket prices come in for drubbings from time to time, the rising prices, and the secondary markets that eat up the best seats. Once for the Hyde Park shows of 2013, the new organizers changed the placement of the highest-level tier – a move (rightly) considered unfair by the ticket-buyers. They campaigned for a resolution and were offered their money back and an apology. By that time, most accepted the spots they had.
Lately, a recurring topic about going to see cover bands has produced opinions for and against on one board. Some posters insist that watching an imitation of the real thing cheapens the feeling the fan has for the band.  Others insist that lacking the actual Stones makes a good cover or tribute band the next best thing, as long as you don’t confuse it with going to a Rolling Stones show.
The book is deliberately light on theory. In your academic work, which theories about fans have been inspiring, for what reasons? To what extent have they helped you approach ‘You Get What You Need’? 
Okay, let me take a stab at this one.  I have found, like many others, the work of Erving Goffman to retain relevance today.  His idea of “presentation of self” (1959) has inspired many researchers to look at how people depict themselves online, whether on dating sites or in virtual worlds or in social media, where you have choices of names and visual images.  In looking at online identity in fan groups I found that by borrowing a term from education, that of “blended” learning, I could make sense of how fans draw from their knowledge of The Rolling Stones in creating their user ID’s.  In picking names that are variations of individual Rolling Stones, Stones songs, or album titles, fans signal their affiliation with the band, sometimes retaining personal aspects of their identity, such as gender, first name, or place of residence.  In an article in Identity in the Information Society, I call that creating a “blended identity” (Baker, 2009). So you have names like “Stonesdoug,” with the band plus the given name, “Some Toronto Girl,” a play on ‘Some Girls’ the song and album titles, and her city, and VoodooAllie for the album Voodoo Lounge.  Drawing more directly on Goffman’s work on “role distance” and its opposite “role embracement,” I have tried to show how the hardcore fan epitomizes the close connection of person and role, the complete identification with a role. 
In my work on the objects collected by fans that are often traded or given away, I have looked at literature on cultural “gifts” and the process within the “gift economy” online. Comparing leadership of online communities and their technologies, I’ve consulted studies of choices of online media or “affordances,” and recruitment and commitment in online communities, some of it quite similar to earlier research on social movements.  Within fandom per se, of course, I have consulted Nancy Baym’s work from the start on interaction within a soap opera fan community online and some of Henry Jenkins’ writings, including his discussion of fan boards and knowledge communities.  More specifically, Matt Hills’ concept of the “fan-scholar” has clarified and validated a current role available to the researcher that is useful to my methodology and writings. Your own discussions of belonging to a “knowing field,” and what “love” means to a fan of someone’s work or performance are helpful in conveying and legitimizing the communal and affective dimensions of fandom, the bonds, in this case, connecting music fans to each other.

Thanks. As a pop fandom scholar, do you ever feel you have to negotiate the issue of “critical distance” from your subject matter?
Yes, as a fan-scholar there is that notion of critical distance. Once I was presenting at a small workshop gathering about online communities and this anthropologist said to me in front of the group that the subject wasn’t me.  At that point I almost took it as a compliment, since I hadn’t mentioned any of my stories and was talking about the styles of leadership of the founders of two groups. I said I agreed it was about the people I was studying, though I was a member of the fan groups.  The old public and maybe even academic attitude was more that any (female) student of a band, or scholar was by definition a “groupie.”  That used to madden me.  I had long dreamed of teaching and doing research about aspects of pop culture but none of that even went over at all years ago.