Photo by Tom Hilton Deadheads... Sigh.
The root of the word "fan" is fanatic, and that certainly applies to some music lovers, particularly the extreme admirers of certain bands or types of rock music. Some people live for the music they love, and in the case of certain bands, there are enormous fandoms and cultures for the more extreme among their ranks.
To those of us who aren't fans of a particular band or musical style, such extreme fans might seem a little crazy, or even scary. Let's take a look at some of them.
5. Deadheads and Other Jam-Band Fanatics
One of the first and most developed band-specific subcultures to appear is Grateful Dead followers, a.k.a. the "Deadheads." For fans, the Deadhead phenomenon provided a sense of community, but for everyone else, the whole thing could look pretty dumb.
I was never a fan of Jerry Garcia and the boys, but tagged along to a Grateful Dead show at the Summit when the band was supporting the mainstream success of the "Touch of Grey" single. That show still ranks as one of the worst concerts I've ever been to and one of the few times I wanted to leave out of sheer boredom. I would have, too, except I didn't drive to the show. Observing the antics of the pseudo-hippie caravan was enough to make me dislike that subculture forever.
When the Dead finally dissolved after Garcia's death, other jam bands began picking up the slack, offering fans of a loose, solo-heavy musical style and its cultural attachments to continue forward in a haze of pot smoke, patchouli, and body hair.
Pros: Jam-band fanatics are mostly harmless and easily avoidable if you stay away from certain shows.
Cons: They're like hippies, but somehow even more irritating, proving the almost impossible is possible if you drop enough acid. The music is also largely boring.
Danger Level: Probably nonexistent unless you're badly allergic to rambling hippie speak or get slammed into by someone dancing like a fool.
4. The KISS Army
Initially, KISS weren't taken very seriously as a musical group back in the '70s, despite some good early albums of simple hard rock. But their timing was nearly perfect. A younger generation of rock fans was coming of age, and the full face paint and outlandish costumes proved marketable to children much the same way superheroes were. Images of KISS were plastered on everything from toys to garbage pails, and kids loved them.
Fast-forward almost 40 years, skipping through the mostly embarrassing non-makeup era, Gene "Money Vampire" Simmons and partner in crime Paul "Melting Starchild" Stanley continue on in a new era for the band. They're still squeezing as much play out of the band's original image and back catalog as possible even after Ace Frehley and Peter Criss left the band (again) and were replaced by two guys who wear their outfits and makeup onstage. Nothing has slowed the incredibly devoted KISS fanatics, most of whom are well into middle age by now.
KISS shows have always been about spectacle, but there's something inexplicably odd about seeing a 50-year-old accountant slather on an approximation of Ace Frehley's face paint to join his buddies at a KISS concert. They have conventions, and theme cruises. For some, the KISS fandom has become a total lifestyle, including filling their homes with KISS merchandise or deciding to be buried in a "KISS Kasket" when they finally rock and roll over for the last time.
Pros: These people are mostly harmless, middle-class folks who really love KISS.
Cons: These people are mostly harmless, middle-class folks who really love KISS.
Danger Level: Basically nonexistent, except for the irritation that may occur if they accidentally drip makeup all over you.
3. Rush Fans
Canadian rock trio Rush is an oddity that attracts standard rock and metal fans along with lots of nerdier types. Combining virtuoso playing, Dungeons and Dragons-style fantasy, and science fiction, the band has forged one of the strangest and most dedicated fan bases in rock 'n' roll.
In the early '80s, Rush still seemed to have a slight danger about them. Their fans seemed mostly to be the same types of hard-rock dirtbags who sold weed to junior-high kids and drove Camaros around town, but over the years that appeared to change a lot. More recent Rush shows look like half the people in attendance probably own a small software company somewhere, and a lot of them bring their kids.
So why include Rush fans on a list like this? People seem to either love Rush or hate them, with very little middle ground. Explaining the appeal to a non-fan is almost as futile as trying to convince someone that water isn't wet. Rush is often characterized as the world's biggest cult band, and hardcore fans even have their own convention they can attend.
Pros: Fans might be able to help you fix your computer when it crashes.
Cons: They might also launch into a lengthy discussion defending Geddy Lee's voice.
Danger Level: Essentially nonexistent, unless you're threatened by people who play Dungeons and Dragons or work in the IT Department.
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The Juggalos even have a NSFW infomercial.
Insane Clown Posse's hardcore fans get ridiculed a lot these days. A mishmash of burnout culture, lowbrow sexual elements, gangster rap, and evil clowns, the Juggalo way can only be loved or hated. Seeing a group of funky-looking dudes hanging out at the mall in clown makeup is going to look pretty weird to anyone not into that scene.
The fact that Juggalos seem to embrace the dorkier trappings of outsider culture with a certain amount of glee also marks them for ridicule. But I give them a certain amount of respect. It takes conviction to know that the rest of society looks at you as sort of a goofy joke, and to keep doing your thing anyway.
Juggalos definitely have their "own thing," whether it's the barely controlled insanity of their annual "Gathering of the Juggalos" festival, or the preoccupation with Faygo soda. The Juggalo subculture is a complex one with its own rituals and traditions, most of which can seem frightening to anyone looking in from outside.
Pros: They might know where to score drugs, if that's your thing.
Cons: Trying to ask a Juggalo where to buy drugs is probably not a great idea.
Danger Level: Moderate. There can be plenty of warmth and kindness behind the makeup unless you're disrespecting it. Caution is advised.
Photo by Debbie Ramone
Black metal emerged in the late '80s and early '90s as a particularly extreme form of heavy metal. Extremely dark Satanic imagery and lyrical content came along with violence and an antisocial attitude. It initially emerged from Northern European countries like Norway, and made international headlines after some of the more famous individuals from the scene began burning down churches and murdering their rivals.
Quite simply, black metal delivered on all of the fears that people who've railed against heavy metal have always expected would come to pass. The style was characterized by a brutal and usually crudely played form of metal, but over the years went through many transformations, with many of the bands eventually rejecting Satanic subject matter for Nordic pagan material, and much of the music changed along the way as well.
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These days, there is little really left of the scarier, real-world threat that early black metal seemed to pose. No one is burning down ancient churches or murdering anyone anymore, but the style is still around, and looks frightening from the outside. Some of the bands and fans of the style still wear "corpse paint" -- scary black and white makeup designs meant to shock people, and that usually elicits some form of reaction.
Pros: Not sure. A person who doesn't dig this style of music will find little to like about the fans.
Cons: See above.
Danger Level: Unknown. These days, most of the fans of this kind of music are probably just normal people into a particularly extreme style of heavy metal who don't pose a significant threat to anyone. But back in the old days, some of the original fans were serial arsonists and murderers, so it's hard to ignore that part of the subculture's past.