Saturday, July 14, 2012

I'll See Anything (Everything?) He is In

I have well over one thousand Bob Dylan songs on my ipod--everything he has released, with two exceptions, (plus a lot that he has never officially released) over the course of his 50 year career.   The only two released songs I don't own are an alternate version of "I Shall Be Free No. 10" recorded in 1964, and a version of "House of the Rising Sun" that included 1964 overdubs on a 1961 master recording.  These two songs can be found on a CD ROM that was released in 1995 (and now out of print).  I have found the other songs on this same release online, and someday I'll track down a used version just so I can say that I have every Dylan song.

Of course, it's more possible than ever before in the history of fandom to be an obsessive fan.  I would never want to go back to a world without the World Wide Web, but at the same point I'm really glad the Web didn't exist when I was growing up.  I was obsessed with baseball when I was younger.  I read every baseball book I could get my hands on, and I listened to a game nearly every day during the summer months (excepting the two or so days a week that a game was on television).  But there was a limit to how much I could engage with baseball.  I didn't get ESPN, which wasn't what it is today anyway.  I couldn't totally immerse myself with baseball the way I could have had websites been around.  And that forced me to develop other interests and learn about other things.

To be sure, there was such a thing as obsessive fandom prior to the invention of the Web.  There was such a thing as Star Trek Conventions.  Comicon was around.  Beatlemania was a real thing.  Movie studios realized years ago that they could acquire revenue from much more than just movie tickets.  Licensing and merchandising appealed to fans who weren't content to own simply a memory of having seen a motion picture.  Likewise, athletic teams realized that true fans would do more than just watch games--they would buy hats, shirts, and absurdly, replica jerseys.

There was such a thing as a superfan, but the fan was more limited in what he or she could consume.  Supply might not keep up with demand.  Distribution of merchandise was imprecise.  Someone who loved Bob Dylan might have acquired a lot of records, but owning every released song would have been possible only for a very select few (the 1%, if you will).  In one of those one thousand-plus songs, Dylan sings "I was standing in a line to see a movie by Gregory Peck.  I'll see him in anything."  No doubt Gregory Peck has had a lot of devoted fans, but I wonder how many people have seen everything that Gregory Peck was in.  I doubt that even Dylan, who has ample time to watch movies on his tour bus, has seen all 57 that imdb lists.

And yet...I've got to think that it is now more possible than ever before to see all 57 Gregory Peck movies, should one be inclined.  And it may not be too much of a stretch to envision owning all of them digitally.  The key question, though, is how many people are truly devoted enough to Gregory Peck to want to undertake such a collection.  My guess is that the generation of people who would be most drawn to Gregory Peck are conditioned by the time period that has formed them.  In other words, one could be devoted to Gregory Peck, indeed be willing to stand in line to see one of his movies, maybe even vow to see any movie he was in.  But there is a huge distinction between saying you'll see anything an actor is in and saying that you'll see everything an actor is in.  No sane person who grew up in the 20th Century would pursue such singularity in their fandom. There are plenty of good movies that don't star Gregory Peck, thank you very much.

But technology may very well form a generation that doesn't see such a pursuit as insane or even unreasonable.  On-demand technology and the access it has engendered has shifted the boundaries of normalcy--or it soon will.  The ease with which we can now consume an artist's entire canon can only lead to an expectation that this is what fandom will entail.  Now that I've taken my childhood obsession with baseball to the next level and delved into the world of baseball blogs, I already grow impatient talking about baseball with those who watch games occasionally and have never heard of sabermetrics.  I grow impatient talking about Bob Dylan with people who only know his radio hits.  And I suspect others grow impatient with me when I attempt to connect with them by talking about a subject that I have only a casual interest in.  I predict that technology will rear a generation that does not know what casual fandom is.  One will be either "obsessive" (by this present generation's standards) or apathetic.  And while our individual subcultures may form strong bonds within each other, our ability to relate across subcultural lines will weaken.

It's almost enough for someone to want things to revert to how they used to be.  But I don't want to give up all of my Bob Dylan songs.


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