Television and rock and roll became increasingly popular in the 1950s, and both were used to great effect for the other. Many TV shows, including Dick Clark's American Bandstand and Saturday Night Beechnut Show, not only gave artists national exposure per the medium for the first time, but also spotlighted their impassioned fans. It created a unique culture and tapped into a reinforcing sociology that was beneficial for everyone: the networks, record companies, musicians and their admirers.
The combined efforts of popular national shows and regional shows created a kind of fan presence that we can scarcely imagine today. It was a thriving community. We knew faces and we knew names. Fans stood in line for hours and danced together to the latest music. Others lived it vicariously through their televisions. With more than one unflattering clip of a teenager chewing Beechnut gum, there was something endearing in the raw vulnerability from those early days of live TV. It brought fans closer to each other and to the music.
Relationships were built and sustained over years. The shared experience, whether in person or via broadcast, was validating and empowering. The celebrity of American Bandstand's regular dancers nearly matched those of the stars themselves. For the first time, the public who sustained the music business through their patronage were visible. They enjoyed national representation and a bit of that show business limelight. The state of fandom was more qualitative and social.
The end of the American Bandstand era represented a change in our relationship and attitude towards music fans. Developments in business and technology over decades have led to a disconnect in our collective musical experience, shifting away from music's social origins and from the advocacy of its consumers. Today, unlike the heyday of yesteryear, the music fan is a faceless quantity, one-dimensional and anonymous. The audiences we see on TV and social media are vast oceans of the nondescript. We don't know faces or names. We know each other primarily as record sales, ticket sales and social media analytics. Preoccupied with personal devices and music on demand, we now experience music more individually today than we ever have before. Although American Bandstand was a product of its time, its philosophy is timeless. We have much to learn and gain from its mid-century modality.
As a Music Heritage Preservationist, the indelible role of the human experience is my primary focus. From artist biographies to fan profiles, I'm interested in exploring the relationship between artists, musical art and audiences. Anthropology, social psychology, reception studies. Through my work, I leverage the passion of music fans to facilitate preservation activities. What's revealed though their experiences, emotional attachments and feelings of nostalgia is a better understanding of our shared connection to music. And this month (aka "Rocktober"), I'm more than happy to be exhibiting a fan-oriented project!
On October 15th, I'll be in Arnolds Park, Iowa for the Buddy 80 exhibit opening and event hosted by the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association in honor of Buddy Holly's 80th birthday. The research project my twin sister Sheryl and I created together, The Surf Speaks: Voices of a Living History, will be a part of this new milestone exhibit. It was designed as a crowd-sourcing approach to document the 2016 Winter Dance Party, an annual event at the Surf Ballroom commemorating Holly's final concert at the venue where he performed a short time before his tragic death. Rock and roll fans from all over the world have been attending the event since its beginnings in 1979. The Surf Speaks offers a collective snapshot and historical record of the event from the unique perspective of its fans.
In addition to the Buddy 80 exhibit, birthday reception and concert event, there's another reason why Rocktober really rocks! On October 16th and 17th, I'll be traveling to Shenandoah, Iowa with my sister to visit The Everly Brothers Childhood Home and to meet Bill Hillman, local restaurateur and preservationist extraordinaire who not only saved the home, but also led the organization of Don and Phil's historic homecoming in 1986. Sheryl and I have been fans of The Everly Brothers since our love of rock and roll began, so we're excited to visit the town where the brothers spent their formative years and got their start on local radio as child performers in the 1940s!
I believe in the role of music to enrich, enlighten and unify. The success of music heritage preservation depends on the success of our relationships with the music and each other. Through the use of storytelling narrative to engage fans, I use an autobiographical approach that looks to set an example in hopes of bringing out their own experiences and biographical attachments to the music. This is imperative to our efforts because not only does it restore the qualitative dignity of music fans, but it also helps connect fans across generations.
A quote by Roseanne Ambrose-Brown (with a twist!) comes to mind when putting into perspective the value of music fans: "We know an age more vividly through its music (fans!) than its historians."
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