Recently I had the pleasure of reading Allison Pearson’s hilarious novel ‘I think I love you’. In it, a woman whose teen years were spent in aching adulation of David Cassidy befriends a chap who was once a rookie journalist on a Cassidy fan mag. The journalist’s job was to fabricate passionate letters to fans and the essential facts that every young devotee wanted to know. What was David’s favourite food? Favourite colour? And the all important quiz – Could you be the future Mrs Cassidy? My teen years flashed before my eyes as Pearson deftly described the heady, obsessive collection of celebrity data that can be a part of this time of life – and the charming naivety of believing it all to be true.
These days there is no shortage of utterly fictitious celebrity writing; indeed it may be more prevalent than ever. But it runs parallel to the curious world of social media where celebrities have the opportunity to speak directly to fans, unmediated by editors and publicists. I had my own Cassidy-esque experience in the 1980s with Duran Duran. More specifically, with bass player John Taylor, the colour of whose undies according to Smash Hits magazine sticks in my mind to this day (red, for those who are taking notes). Imagine the horror had my 13 year old self realised that this life-changing fact was merely a moment of fun, or worse, a moment of work-a-day drudgery for some badly paid would-be music critic? But here I am in my thirties and, to my absolute delight, John Taylor tweets.
As a terribly grown up and important professional woman, I flip through a range of messages each morning, prioritising this and that, busily organising my day. In amongst this flurry of communications, I have the guilty pleasure of hearing what JT is up to on the other side of the world. “About to wrap up a 3 city day. Wake in Philly, gig in Cleveland, bed in Chicago. ZZZZZ…” he tells me, as the band makes their way through their American tour. What’s more, this week it appears I can be of assistance to his health kick: “Now, regarding that cigarette I came SO CLOSE to smoking last night.. If it hadn’t been for Twitter” he writes. “You are strong, you can overcome anything” replies one fan. “We have your back” says another. Such camaraderie and heartfelt emotion! A one-to-one relationship between fan and idol – or, at least, a damn good impression of one.
Tweeting, Facebooking and the like are, in many cases, carefully orchestrated marketing devices. People are employed to tweet on behalf of politicians, for example; to manage that perfect mix of being down-with-the-kids whilst responsibly staying ‘on message’. In the John Taylor case though, the tweets are mostly quite personal and immediate (of the “man, I need to eat something” variety) or replies to fan questions (“honestly, I’m happy for anyone to cover our songs RT @Crimsworth: How do you feel about William Shatner covering Planet Earth?”) Seriously, would you pay someone to do it? Or is this really JT taking it to the people? Perhaps, in the words of another majestically coiffed poster boy, you’ve simply gotta have faith?
Joining the Duran Duran fan club in the ‘80s meant convincing my very understanding parents to get a money order in GBP and send it off to a far away land, waiting weeks for a response. It now takes a few finger swipes across a phone to send your hero a message. And you may even get a reply! No wonder Gen X’ers have so readily embraced a phenomenon that was originally thought the domain of younger players. After all, if your music memories include winding a cassette tape with a chewed HB, you are going to appreciate your mp3 player just that little bit more!
Music fans much older than me may be less inclined to follow social media, whilst many of those much younger than me have never lived without it. This makes those of us in the middle the best placed to appreciate the immediacy of these new electronic ‘relationships’. Plus, in a classic ‘80s switcheroo plotline, social media lets me have a little taste of being 13 again, but with the hard-won wisdom of the years between adding a valuable pinch of salt to the experience.