By: Jessica Hopper
[Editor's Note: Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.]
Since about a year ago I've been the hypeman for an better-known MC. Not famous, but people know us in our region. He's gay, I'm bi. Neither of us are out really and I didn't know he was til we got on tour together. He's older and farther along getting established, he's got mixtapes. I do stuff on my own but people have been knowing me mostly since I joined with him. I know if we both came out people would think we are together and have "the gay MC" or "______'s gay hypeman" or with my name always overshadowed by him. At the same time, I am not about to be telling him not to. What do I do?
As a straight woman, I can't sit here and be like "Everyone come out! It'll be cool! Don't sweat it!" because I don't know your city, life and scene and don't know what it would mean for you to be out. I really wish this didn't have to be a big deal for either you or your MC friend and I hope you both can soon be in situations or communities where your coming out is supported. I have real hope that Frank Ocean coming out (and Syd the Kid, Lady Sov, Latifah, et. al) presages an era.
Continuing to work with him once he is out is going to invariably put you at the frontline for queer visibility in hip-hop, even as a regional act. His coming out will very likely bring more attention to your and his work. Whatever he might lose in terms of close-minded fans (good riddance), he will quickly make up in gay fan base and those who are interested in supporting an out rapper, and by extension, his hypeman. So there is that.
The music press can be especially reductive about people's identities; not wanting to be labeled or having your sexuality dominate the conversation about your music is what keeps some musicians and MCs (at least the ones I know) in the closet. You may be overshadowed by you friend's news -- at least until you go solo and do something bigger or better.
If your collaborator isn't planning on issuing a press release/posting on Tumblr about it, and is simply planning on living his life in the open, you may not see any impact on your career at all, or it might take a while to see a tangible effect. If you respect him -- which it sounds like you do, otherwise you would have just bolted -- and working with him is helping you foster a career and develop your skills, continue to work with him, regardless of what he chooses. It's an opportunity for you to work and get a name. The circumstances and music community in which you find yourself may change with his coming out, which could proffer different choices and professional opportunities. I would hang tight and see what comes out of it.
Dear Fan Landers,
I'm a 31 year old, balding bearded guy who doesn't drink but I do possess a love for post-hardcore or whatever. In the past year I moved to a new city, and none of my work friends are really interested in the same music as I am. As such, I feel like the old punk at the local shows I go to, always alone, and am somewhat intimidated into not talking to anyone as they always have their own scene or group going on. The thing is, I've been writing and recording some demo songs, and I'd like to play with even just one other person. How does an outsider get into a new scene without a connection? Am I too old for the punk rock game to even keep trying?
Isn't it startling, once you get to the other side of 30, how quickly you see yourself as some sort of decrepit social vampire--viewing yourself through your cruelest 23-year-old eyes? It's only natural, but stop being so down on yourself. It's a waste of time. Who gives a fuck about your hair and where it is or isn't? I think all the inevitable feelings and quandries -- "Am I still cool? I am the oldest person at this hard core matinee by a decade!" -- are magnified by being the friendless stranger on the scene. So run a comb through your beard (or whatever you do to get pretty) because it's time for you to go mingle, Levi.
I don't know where you are living, but the good news is, as many reunion tours attest, the world is filled with aging dudes who love post-hardcore. You gotta roll up to the old people shows, the reunion shows, bands that are touring behind their sixth record--not just the cool new bands. Go to as many shows as you can stand. Forget that you are so elderly! Become a familiar face. Braid your beard! Wear a weird hat! I think looking enigmatic and interesting might help people want to be in a band with you. "Old punk weirdo" is way more attractive, persona-wise than "old creep". You are new in town--re-invent yourself!
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Even though you don't drink, chat up the nice bartender at the club sometime when it's not slammed and tell them you just moved to town and want to put a band together. Tip them extra well. Hit the merch table and talk to the local opener, and in between complementing them, slip in a mention that you are looking for a drummer. Or ask their drummer! Say you are looking to find someone who hits as hard they do for this record you are making.
You are going to have to sell your hirsute self a little. It's fine to be awkward, but don't be shy. If you start to chicken out and be shy, you are going to have to resort to Craigslist for bands mates and it's just gonna be like, a year of trying to make it work with old strung out garage rock dudes with C.C. Deville's hair and 19-year-old dudes playing a Paul Reed Smith through a tiny Mesa Boogie amp. Are those images scary? They should be. That's your alternative. So, get out there already!