This may be our most epic chat ever. Lauren and Jen discuss their histories as fangirls: Jen was a Phunky Bitch and a Phish fan, and Lauren was a diehard “Rustie” or Neil Young fan: these were online fandom communities during the early internet era.
We were both active fans around the same time: the late 90s and early ’00s (though Jen continues to see Phish live and Lauren can’t scrape up the dough to see Neil on his new tour). We include links to tons of fantastic songs and or videos and suggest you listen to each one full-length and use puppets to pretend Jen and Lauren are actually talking to each other. And lots of air guitar, obvsly.
We discuss our respective fandom experiences and communities, the reasons we got into the music and bands we did, how our fandom impacted our relationships, and Jen has a revelation about graduate school. Then, we briefly discuss our children’s budding music fandom (for the Fresh Beat Band). You don’t want to miss this! And if you’re a Rustie or a Phunky Bitch, please comment!! We miss you!
Lauren: Hi! Thoughts on a topic?
Jennifer: Ummmmmmm….. Jam bands? Being fan girls in a hippie scene?
How quickly I go through a loaf of bread when D wants to eat cheese sandwiches for every meal?
Lauren: Fan girls would be so fun.
AND YES to the bread!!!
Let’s talk music!
Jennifer: You were a Widespread Panic fan, yes?
Lauren: I dabbled in WP
They were one of the peripheral bands
I did heavy tape trading in Neil Young and a few other bands and I always got a couple WP shows as add ons.
Jennifer: NEIL YOUNG. That is hard core.
I was a RUSTIE.
Jennifer: I traded Phish tapes and then CDs.
Tyler traded much more intensely and in a much wider variety of bands.
Lauren: I was also involved during the transition from tapes to CD.
I actually got AA batteries for Christmas several years in a row
I kept packs of them in my backpack for my WALKMAN.
Which I wore all the time, as today’s youth wear their iPods.
Jennifer: My walkman and bootleg Ani tapes went all over Europe with me.
I had a great Ani tape that got me through a serious heartbreak. (Providence)
My tape trading was so white boy oriented. I wasn’t into many cool women singers other than Dar Williams. And even that was a flirtation with fandom, not really hardcore.
Jennifer: Tyler traded some Ani. In terms of active fan stuff, I was mostly involved with Phish (and the women’s community Phunky Bitches).
Lauren: That’s so cool. Was it an internet thing? Were you on a list?
Jennifer: I listened to a much bigger range of music– I just never hung out in the fan sites and what have you.
Phunky Bitches started out as an email listserve, and eventually also had discussion forums online.
My dissertation was supposed to be about the PBs!
Lauren: Right, me too — my entire show collection was Neil Young, iterations of his bands, and then some random stuff (Ass Ponies, Wilco, Lou Reed, etc etc).
I was a Rustie, which is the Neil Young fan list. It was all email, all the time (it’s a yahoo group now).
Jennifer: I’m guessing the Rusties were mostly guys?
Lauren: There were a ton of women actually
Lauren: Just a lot of people much older than me
I was a real anomaly as a young (as in, 17-21 yrs old) female fan.
I met my first two serious relationship guys on the Rust List.
So did my roommate/BFF.
Jennifer: So, my experience in hippie scenes was that there were always women on the fringes, twirling, selling goo balls, btu they were not usually taken seriously as fans.
Lauren: Rusties weren’t really hippies — lots of ex-hippies — and women were integral. Although I will say that my feminist consciousness was not really awake yet, so there may have been some sexist stuff that I did not recognize.
Jennifer: That’s really cool.
(the women being integral)
Lauren: I just remember so many women — Cinnamon Girl, Cowgirl in the Sand, New Mama
They were mainstays of the community at the time I was involved.
I don’t know why Neil attracted that kind of fanbase. I know, e.g., that the Led Zeppelin fanbase is very male and kinda into discussing technical shit, whereas Rusties were all about the songs (and tours and shows).
I actually ran a feature for the list called Rustie of the Month.
And in November 1999, I listened to only Neil Young for the entire month.
Jennifer: I helped organize the Secret Bitch Christmas gift exchange one year.
Did you guys have handles?
Jennifer: I always just went by Jen!. But lots of people had more creative names.
That last tour, I traveled with Dirtgirl, Ivy, Galaxy Girl..
Lauren: On Rust, everyone had a handle based on Neil music or lore. There is a registry so no one else can use the same handle as you.
(Grogman would be a great name.)
Jennifer: WOW. No, this was more generic hippie naming.
Lauren: That makes sense: Rust was a pretty closed community, not a total identity.
My 1st boyfriend went through a Phish phase and we listened to Billy Breathes and Junta a lot.
Jennifer: Tyler was a fan for years before I ever really listened to them.
A friend of mine took me to a show my senior year at K, and then I started building my own collection of tapes via the PBs.
T had probably been to 20 shows (maybe more) before we ever went to a show together.
Lauren: That’s great
I wish concert-going had been more a part of my fandom, because concerts are so fun.
I only saw Neil once, and it was in a seated auditorium. (Totally unlike, say, the awesome Black Crowes show I saw in ’99).
Jennifer: I would LOVE to see Black Crowes.
Student loans totally financed my shows during grad school.
I don’t regret a penny of it.
Jennifer: Maine, Miami, Vegas…
Lauren: I wish I had done something that smart with my loan money
We should have had more fun. Ah well. I think Brian and I will have some old age renaissance when our kids are grown up and do a ton of crazy stuff.
So what was it about Phish that hooked you?
Jennifer: The goo balls.
Jennifer: The intensity.
The way the music could build and swallow you up and then you came out the other side opened, somehow.
Lauren: I can see how that kind of show would be a true experience, with everyone connecting in a way.
Jennifer: Right. I didn’t get it at all until I saw them live, and then the tapes were just a way to sort of project myself into a concert fantasy.
LIVE MUSIC IS BETTER
We used to say that on Rust all the time.
LMIB! I had a bumper sticker of it.
And the PBs were amazing in that it was a completely newbie friendly space.
You could ask stupid questions.
Lauren: I remember from your writing that it seems like Phish did a great job connecting with their audience and you felt like they were friendly to you.
That’s neat — newbies were very welcome in Rust, too, which I now understand is unusual.
No one flamed me for offering to copy my albums for anyone who wanted one, e.g. — they all explained kindly why we don’t do that.
I don’t know about Phish, but Rusties were also really nice to just dub you shows if you sent them tapes, no exchange necessary (e.g. you didn’t have to have a show they wanted, you could just send them your Maxell 100s and they’d copy and send them back).
Jennifer: Yes. PBs taught me to trade, the etiquette, the language, even the basics of what tapes (then CDs) and mailers and how to do the postage.
Lauren: I remember mailing packages to Belgium, Israel, Montana, California — it was amazing!
Jennifer: B&P! Blanks and postage!
Good old B&P. I remember my first tapes! I joined up just after a HORDE festival and people offered B&Ps for all Neil’s shows.
Jennifer: And people would send fun stuff back in your mailer- stickers, glitter, chai tea bags.
Lauren: Those were my first tapes.
Jennifer: I did a B&P offer of the show Tyler and I got engaged at
Lauren: I got postcards and Lou Reed bootlegs. Rusties weren’t much into glitter.
Oh, someone once sent me a copy of Berryman’s Dream Songs
And I got free tapes from people’s own bands.
Jennifer: I am actually tearing up right now thinking about this. Those memories are so intense for me.
Aww, that’s awesome!
My Rustie life was pre-Brian.
Jennifer: It was such an incredible feeling of joy and connection. I was terrified I wouldn’t feel that way again after I had kids. I was so nervous to go to my first Phish show post babies.
Jennifer: It was awesome. We rushed past a security guard to get close to the stage.
(MAMA NERVOSA DOES NOT ADVOCATE THOSE ACTIONS!)
Cool. Do Phish mostly do outdoor shows?
When I picture them, I always see them in some kind of festival scenario.
Jennifer: The festivals are always the highlight of summer tour. But I saw them indoor lots of places.
Miami, Grand Rapids, Vegas
Lauren: Venue makes such a difference.
Jennifer: And Hampton, which is the sweetest little venue.
Lauren: Neil never came near me when I was an active fan
We drove 9 hours to see him play in Austin in ’99.
(It was a great show — solo acoustic, and his set went on and on, record-breaking at the time for him!)
NY & Crazy Horse are playing in Tulsa in October
But tickets are $$$ and we can’t get down there. BOO TO THAT.
Jennifer: Boo indeed!
So Brian wasn’t a rustie- what fan love do you guys share?
Lauren: Zeppelin. Guided by Voices. Black Keys.
We get into bands together now.
We got to see GBV together last year, and it was fantastic.
Jennifer: I dont know them at all!
Lauren: * spits diet caffeine free coke all over the screen *
Well, I will send you some. Because you will LOVE them.
Jennifer: Will you put glitter in my package?
Lauren: Lisa Frank stickers.
Lauren: GBV is all short, catchy, melodic genius.
(I sent you a long song, but I think you’ll like it.)
Jennifer: Listening right now.
Lauren: So, were there other fan groups that Phish fans were like, ew, THOSE guys? Like, Rusties were kinda snotty to Steve Stills fans (who belonged to the list Manassas), even though Stills and Young still often collaborate.
Jennifer: not that I saw or felt. Grateful Dead fans were cranky tho.
Jennifer: But then, PBs were intentionally, awesomely accepting.
NO ONE WILL EVER BE AS AWESOME AS JERRY.
Lauren: Of course…
I’m sure there was some kind of first movers/proprietary beliefs about having been the first jam band fans, etc.
Lauren: Interesting, I wonder if there was more generational rifting between jam band fans than in the Rust community
Of course, I joined up right after Neil did his album with Pearl Jam
there was a bit of bridging between the hippie/rock era fans and the grunge kids (me)
Jennifer: And there was definitely more snobbery among the guys I knew, like Tylers roommates.
Their fandom was more intense and judgy.
Like, you don’t like the RIGHT albums
Your preference for their top hits shows your mainstream inferior fandom
Jennifer: Right. Only amplified by the minutia of live shows.
Lauren: Of course!
Jennifer: How can you possibly like that version of Fluffhead from 1997?
Lauren: B of X song on X night of X festival in Y year is the BEST VERSION EVAR
Jennifer: The 96 NYE Memphis Fluffhead is totally superior.
Lauren: If you don’t believe that Danny Whitten era Crazy Horse is preferable to post-Danny CH than you are DUMB.
I think the worst fans are the contrarians
Who insist that the worst songs on the worst albums are actually the best.
Jennifer: Did you see that Nicki Minaj quote thats been making the rounds?
Lauren: Even though, come on. I love Neil, but Landing on Water is really bad.
No — please do share.
Jennifer: So there’s this DJ who was talking trash about her song Starships for being too mainstream- chick pop, not real hip hop.
“When you disrespect Nicki Minaj — and I don’t care if it was in front of 2,000 people, which can equate to 2 million people when it’s streaming live — you’re disrespecting my fans. See, I don’t have a problem with anyone saying what they have to say to me. But don’t make those 3 million people that downloaded ‘Starships’ or whatever they downloaded, don’t make them feel like they’re inferior in any way for their personal taste in music.”
12:35 PM Lauren: Cool!
That kind of thinking is so inherent in fandom.
Jennifer: Because so often, it’s like, “Oh, girls like this? then it’s crap.”
Lauren: Oh, you like the new album by Black Keys, but they’ve sold out! They’re popular now!
Have you read any Nick Hornby books?
Jennifer: Right. Oh, you like Phish post-2000? YOU ARE NOT A TRUE FAN.
He wrote High Fidelity, right?
Jennifer: (I haven’t read it.)
Lauren: He’s written many other books. High Fidelity is awesome, as is Juliet Naked
They both pinpoint music fan culture so perfectly.
You really should check them out because you would totally get them (even if the characters are a bit forgettable).
In Juliet Naked, a guy who runs a fan site for an obscure musician decides that this newly released recording of demos for a very popular album — really rough, crappy demos — is the BEST ALBUM EVAR by this guy.
(Contrarian fan, see above.)
It’s interesting to see where it goes.
Jennifer: I will totally have to check it out.
(I LOVE GBV, btw, and I am psyched to tell T about them because he ALWAYS is the one to bring new music to me.)
Lauren: (YAY!!! It’s addictive. Brian was into it first. And if they play near you, you have to go — it’s an awesome show.)
I’m thinking that grad school is a lot like music fandom
I mean, grad school is mostly about thinking your taste is better than everyone else’s right?
Or your take on X text is the best?
It’s not that different. No surprise that grad students are total hipster snobs when it comes to music (myself included, at times).
Jennifer: Except that there’s no collective experience of ecstasy comparable to a live show.
It’s all just the bitchy infighting on the email list serves.
But played out in person, in seminar rooms.
All the worst stuff, without all the BEST stuff.
High stakes fandom.
Jennifer: Annnnnnddddd thats why we quit.
Grad school even ruined fandom for me:
Lauren: Note to grad school: be more like a jam band.
Jennifer: once I quit the diss I never went back to the PB message boards or list serve.
That’s really sad, Jen!
You need to finish that essay you started.
We all need to read that story.
Jennifer: I literally never talked to those women again.
Lauren: That is so sad.
Jennifer: I’m just now realizing how screwed up that is.
Lauren: Yes, that is really interesting/tragic.
(Mama Nervosa: cheaper than therapy.)
Jennifer: (And your kids can watch My Little Pony in the other room!)
Lauren: It’s interesting because, having read your writing about quitting school, it seemed like fandom led you away from it in a really organic way
Like you moved towards the music and away from the crappy school stuff in a way that felt really inherently right for you…
So to have it end with your fandom ending is really intriguing to me.
Why haven’t our fan websites changed??
Jennifer: Yes– the ending of grad school was totally organic insofar as it connects to my internal journey.
Lauren: They both look so early ’00s and GIFy and goofy!!
Jennifer: I don’t know why I made that break.
It’s not even like I had interviewed them all and would have had to say I wasn’t doing the diss. Nobody knew about the diss, because I didn’t do anything with it.
MAYBE I NEED THERAPY FOR REAL.
Lauren: You should think about this and write about it
This is a great story
You just have to work out why it ended the way it did.
Jennifer: He loved that piece I was writing for the workshop, though I think it also made him really sad/nostalgic.
Lauren: Pick it back up. The readers of MN demand it.
Jennifer: Right after I stop my children from killing each other in the living room.
Are you still a Rustie?
I left when I started playing rugby and dating real boys in my real town.
That was around 2001. I was an active fan for several years and still maintain a few of those old connections.
Jennifer: It’s been funny for me to see D developing a fan identity with the Fresh Beats.
MY GIRLS ARE OBSESSED WITH FRESH BEATS
Jennifer: She practices the lyrics, and makes up dances, and draws pictures of them.
Lauren: Holly: “I Barina! You Kiki!!”
Lauren: “I lost my drums! Shout, you break my drums!”
Jennifer: Sometimes she pretends the Polly Pockets are Fresh Beats,
Lauren: How much did your tix cost because we may have to see them when they play Davenport.
Jennifer: Tix for the GR show are $40. More on stubhub if you want good seats.
Lauren: I’ll have to talk to Brian about it.
We’re amused by their fixation but those songs are like brain poison.
I have them in my head constantly.
Jennifer: I actually, embarrassingly, kind of like them.
It’s so cheery and inspirational!
And when my morning, my every morning, starts with dirty dishes, hearing those chipper voices helps me fake it till I can make it.
Lauren: Oh, I LIKE them
I just wish their songs would leave me alone at 3 am.
I think Twist is adorable.
I LOVE TWIST.
Lauren: I think a lot about what it must be like to be a Fresh Beat Band member.
Lauren: Jen, if you need lyrics sheets, you’re not a real fan. (ETA: Omitting long discussion detailing which eps we have or haven’t seen and if our kids noticed old Marina vs new Marina…)
Well, we should probably wrap up. I should probably do some actual, paid writing.
Jennifer: WE AREN’T GETTING PAID FOR THIS?!
Lauren: Not yet
I will be billing Neil Young, Phish, and the Fresh Beat Band.
Lauren: (JK NEIL I LOVE YOU)
Jennifer: Do you want to find pics of all the above and post this?
Lauren: I can do that.
Jennifer: Otherwise I can do it but not till after bedtime tonight.
Lauren: I won’t have time until tonight, either, so it’s up to you
I can take it or leave it!
Jennifer: Go for it!
Lauren: OK, cool
What’s your fave Phish song?
Lauren: I’ll find a good video to post, if possible.
Of course. OK!
(And here’s a beautiful video of the fantastic “Slip Away” by Neil Young, one of Lauren’s favorites.)