Band Fiction: Stranger than Truth
Added: (Wed May 31 2006)
Pressbox (Press Release) -
Asheville, NC, June 1, 2006 -- Ever imagined what life might be like for a rock star? These female music fans take it...a little farther.
“Way back in the beginning of time I wrote about The Beatles. Called them ‘my stories’. Whenever I wanted a ‘bad’ guy, I added Mick Jagger to the mix.” – Joolz, Eastern PA, who today writes stories featuring the guys in Metallica.
What she does is called ‘band fiction’, and its roots go back (with her!) to the sixties when female Beatles fans shared stories they’d written about their idols with their friends. The popularity and accessibility of the Internet, however, has brought band fiction out into the open.
“The genre has gotten more and more mainstream. Before, the idea of [real person fiction] was completely derided and taboo,” says a UK woman who started two online band fiction communities, the first in 1998.
Band fiction is penned--and read--mostly by women. Fans range in age from 13 to eligible for AARP membership. They also represent a range of sexual orientations, education levels, marital statuses, religions, career choices and locations. The common denominator is that they enjoy reading and, often, writing stories based upon the public personas of their favorite musicians.
The appeal of band fiction is that “it’s written by fans,” explains Juliana, a 23-year-old writer from Wisconsin, “not objective third parties who are out for an analytical angle or whatnot.”
Moose, in the UK, adds, “I read bandfic because I already have some sort of fangirlish attachment to the people in whichever band, and I love seeing how other people interpret different facets of their relationships.”
Just how big is the band fiction community? It's difficult to say for sure, but it's probably larger than you'd think. Nearly 3,000 people signed up for the rock-and-metal-focused Rockfic.com in its first two years. Easily that many people--or more--have joined the boy band fiction communities, pop fiction communities and sites for rock bands that Rockfic.com doesn’t cover, like the hugely popular My Chemical Romance fandom.
Here’s a glimpse at the scope of band fiction: 4,500 stories have been posted to multi-fandom fiction archive fandomination.net in the “Good Charlotte” category alone. At the time of this writing, nearly 19,000 band or musician stories are archived there altogether.
The Internet makes it look like a new craze, but band fiction has been here all along. After the Beatles stories in the ‘60s came fiction based on Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in the early ‘80s. They were distributed in fanzines and known as ‘Tris & Alex’ stories, because Plant and Page’s names were changed to Tris and Alex--but everyone knew who they were supposed to be. Starting around 1983, Cometbus published fiction featuring punk bands. The ‘90s brought Duran Duran fiction to press in a fanzine called UMF. The UMF stories were “mostly het and gen, with some suggestively-slashy stuff but nothing explicit,” says Philadelphia-based sidewinder, who writes fiction about The Police and the Foo Fighters.
Fanzines were expensive, though, and if you didn’t have your ear to the ground, you wouldn’t even know they existed. But then came an Internet accessible to the general public. Band fiction has jumped online and thrived: in newsgroups, mailing lists, personal sites, online journals and journal communities and archive sites. Exposure, however, brings controversy.
While some fans found their way to band fiction through media-based fiction fandoms--“Started in Yu Yu Hakusho. Went to Weiss Kreuz. Dabbled in Arislan, Trigun and Highlander before flipping back to Weiss. Discovered Rockfic, haven't strayed since,” says Dragonspell, a hair band fan from Michigan--many media-based fandom fans (people who wrote stories based on their favorite TV shows, books, comics and movies) turned their noses up at celebrity-based fiction, viewing it as both an invasion of privacy and a behavior that bordered on stalkerish. Band fiction authors, however, see a clear and solid line between reality and the stories they read and write--and they want the rest of the world to, too. “The characters in my head are absolutely fantasy, and so far removed from reality that--when faced with a living, breathing rockstar--it never even occurs to me that it's them I've described rolling around on the floor of the tourbus with a bandmate!” says Mad Andy, 35, from the UK. Disclaimers stating that the stories are fiction and should not be taken for the truth are de rigueur on band fiction sites.
The average band fiction fan also has no interest in invading the privacy of her favorite musicians. Nic, 30, from Wisconsin, says, “We know three percent of their lives and make up the rest, which is one of many reasons I don't get the ‘band slash is an invasion of their privacy!’ argument.” The musician’s public personas are simply archetypes upon which stories--stories that often reveal far more about the writer than about their subject--are built. “I don't consider the characters in the story as the real life people,” explains Dragonspell. “The copy image is divorced from reality. To me, in the band fiction, the musicians are just characters based after a real person, not the actual person themselves.” As with any other form of fiction, band fiction simply tries to come to a greater understanding about some part of the author or the world around the author--or at the very least, it tries to entertain its readers for a few minutes of their day.
“One of the big reasons I write Metallica band fic is because the relationship between James and Lars over the years.... As a people watcher, the relationship between these two men is just SO fuckin’ intriguing. And hell, I just like to write, so I write about what interests me,” explains Evaine, a 49-year-old Canadian.
A fair number of band fiction fans were making up stories about musicians before--sometimes long before--they discovered band fiction on the Internet. “I started having fantasies about rockstars since I was 11 or so,” reveals Highway Joe, a 27-year-old librarian from Puerto Rico who writes mainly about Def Leppard and Henry Rollins. “At first it was mostly me and Gene Simmons, but then I started fantasizing about Gene and Paul. One of my first fanfics was a tour diary kept by Gene.” For these people, finding band fiction online was an experience of “Wow, there are other people into this stuff, too!”
Other band fiction fans discovered band fiction while searching the web for photos and interviews about their favorite bands. Some were initially disturbed by it but came back after thinking it over; others found themselves immediately drawn to it.
What--you have to be asking by now--actually goes on in these “band fiction” stories? What are these people saying about your favorite bands?
In large part, it’s almost an exploration of the humanity beneath the rockstar persona. Most stories deal with some aspect of the quest for and side-effects of fame: drugs, rehab, the irritation of living in the same bus with the same five guys for months at a time, groupies, loneliness, insecurity.... While the musicians may be real people, their personas are mere caricatures. Band fiction authors attempt to turn the caricatures back into something more human again.
Like any other literary art form, band fiction is not limited to one ‘type’ of story. You will, however, commonly hear stories referred to as ‘het’ or ‘slash’, terms borrowed from the world of media-based fan fiction. In het stories, the rock star falls in love with (or just has lusty sex with) an original female character--or his real-life wife or girlfriend. The term ‘slash’ applies to stories where a canonically straight character is paired off with a member of the same sex--homoerotic stories, in other words, or at least stories with homoerotic tensions running through them.
While band fiction can (and often does) include strong sexual content, the percentage of down-and-dirty, nothing-but-sex-from-paragraph-two-on, porn-type stories is surprisingly small. “I’m not asking for something deep and meaningful or overly complicated but I would like something to have happened between the start and the end beyond the characters going about their daily lives and having exceptional amounts of sex,” says U.K. Guns N’ Roses fiction author danikat. Often, the stories are as much about the characters and their relationships as they are about the sex--and sometimes the stories aren’t about intimate relationships of any sort at all. These last are referred to as ‘gen’ stories.
“Most band fic seems to be slash.” says Mad Andy. “Now, personally? I feel that a really good gen is the hardest to write, followed by a good het (the difficulty of creating a decent original character), followed by slash. And I would certainly like to see more het and gen.”
As to why most band fiction is slash, it may be that the readers and writers simply prefer stories where the main characters--the band members--take center stage, rather than invented female characters.
Band fiction stories also vary in scope. One might be about a night on a tour bus, another might encompass a whole tour. Yet another might transplant the musicians to another galaxy, via spaceship—or to ancient Rome, via what’s called ‘AU’, or ‘alternate universe’. One story might explore how surviving members deal with the death (actual or fictional) of a band member; another may put the band in a haunted house for a night. The stories told are as varied as the stories told in any area of literature. They are, in fact, as varied as the people who write them.
And varied in quality, too. Not all of the 19,000 stories posted to the ‘Musicians’ category on fandomination.net are great reading. “You’ll have one or two good stories on a site that look promising, and they get buried under the shit,” says 37-year-old Def Leppard fiction author and West Virginia native Bella Cheval. Massive, multi-fandom archives like fandomination.net often have little to no quality controls in place--or, if they do, the staff is too inundated with incoming stories to be able to look each one over. Smaller, fandom-specific archives and LiveJournal communities sometimes--though not always--have more stringent posting requirements and more knowledgeable people available to help newer authors improve their work.
Canon materials in band fiction, which include the band’s albums, videos, concert footage, photographs, interviews, etc--basically everything that the band has put forth about itself as ‘true’--add to the veracity, the authenticity of the story. As one author explains, “the point in writing about real people is the fun of exploring what that person would do in that situation.” This holds true even if the story situation is that the members of Bon Jovi are gentlemen highway robbers in seventeenth-century England. Canon helps a careful author keep the members of the band ‘in character’, even when they’re brandishing pistols instead of Les Pauls.
“If the character bears no resemblance to their real-life counterpart beyond name and a loose physical description,” one author says, “you may as well be writing original fic,” which isn’t what band fiction fans are looking for.
But what about the rock stars who appear in these stories--stories written entirely without their involvement, permission or, in most cases, knowledge? And who else do band fiction fans consider fair game--spouses, kids, managers, roadies? In the Duran Duran stories that appeared in UMF, “there really wasn’t any ‘taboo’ in these stories against using the band member’s family (including children) in the stories,” explains sidewinder, who goes on to say that that’s “a bit interesting considering how off-limits that’s considered in most RPF (real person fiction) circles today.” Some web sites or mailing lists, like Tallific, one of the Metallica slash fiction groups on Yahoo, expressly forbid stories that include wives. “In our worlds, the guys we are slashing are not married,” explains a one of the group’s members. This rule caused a splinter group to break off in 2000 and form the Metslash Yahoo Group, where characters that include real-life wives and girlfriends are welcome and encouraged.
A few bands, such as Franz Ferdinand and My Chemical Romance, have acknowledged the existence of band fiction and expressed either encouragement, as Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos did in a November 2004 ChartAttack.com article, indifference, or, sometimes, discomfort. My Chemical Romance called it “creepy” in a backstage interview with two women who run a community for My Chemical Romance fans, but they have no problem with it being written.
Some bands, once they discover slash fiction is being written by their fans, appear to further encourage the attention by playing up, on stage and at public events, the ‘gay’ part. Finnish band Apocalyptica is among this group as are some J-Rockers (members of Japanese rock bands).
Most of the people involved in band fiction believe that most bands are generally aware that these stories are out there and have simply chosen not to acknowledge it. Nonetheless, it’s generally considered taboo to present a band with your fiction, partly because the community fears that the musician will take it the wrong way (thinking that you--and by association, other band fiction fans--may be dangerous and ‘stalkerish’) and partly out of concern that bringing it to their attention could have legal repercussions. Although most band fiction writers and archivists feel that what they’re doing would be protected under the First Amendment in the U.S., few (if any) have the resources to defend their form of expression in a lawsuit.
And legal issues are far from the only problems facing band fiction fans. When the band they’re writing about has a macho image, some frightening and hate-filled comments--and even death threats--can come from some of the band’s more rabid male (and, sometimes, female) fans. An email one Guns N’ Roses author received, sent via the site she archived her stories on, read in part, “I'm coming to getcha! with a few other guys to...We gonna strap you to the back of our bikes and pull your legs of then drag you down the road till you fall apart!”
Many of these people think that band fiction authors are ‘dissing’ or mistreating the bands, but heavvymetalqueen, a 22-year-old from Torino Italy, would tell them that “There is no way to do what we do without respect for them.” She specializes in fiction about power metal bands like Helloween, Gamma Ray, and Iron Maiden. “It’s the first rule, love, care for and respect what you write about. Without respect it’s just a bland story with cardboard figures with known names scribbled on them. It’s a weird kind of respect, but still.”
If it’s slash fiction that’s found by people who are unfamiliar with band fiction, it is nearly always assumed that the author is a homosexual male, despite the fact that slash fiction authors are far more likely to be women. That some women enjoy ‘gay male fiction’ is a fact that our culture is only just becoming aware of, thanks to shows like Showtime’s “Queer As Folk” and the film BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, where, in both cases, women showed up as a surprising percentage of the audience.
Because band fiction is little known and understood in the mainstream, many of its fans prefer to stay ‘under the radar’ about their involvement. Some may let their close friends and family know what they’re doing; others live in fear that anyone offline will stumble upon their hobby. “That closet door between me and the world is firmly closed. Some people know that I'm writing, but I don't encourage them to ask exactly what I am writing,” says Fiara Ranger, 36, from Germany.
The fans who will use their real names or their everyday screen names for their band fiction work, post about their band fiction activities in unprotected blog entries and tell just about anyone they meet what they do are rare but becoming more common. “I'll tell just about anyone and not be worried about it,” says Evaine. “However, folks like my 85 year-old auntie really don't need the particulars, you know?”
“A lot of times I'll mention ‘I spent way too much time today writing’ in my MySpace blog or something, but no one ever asks what I was writing,” says Hector_Rashbaum, a college student from Rhode Island. “If they did, I'd tell them. And they'd probably say something like, ‘oh Jesus, you and your Bon Jovi thing’.”
While band fiction started out as ‘drawerfic’--stories that had no outlet in which to be published and thus were simply passed from one person to another--and found its way into fanzines by the ‘80s and online in the ‘90s, it is in this century that it is starting to find some acceptance as a legitimate endeavor.
In 2000, Poppy Z. Brite, known for her early horror novels and more recently her series of novels set in the New Orleans restaurant world, released one of the best-known band fiction works by a professional writer, a chapbook called PLASTIC JESUS. The main characters--Seth Grealy and Peyton Masters--are heavily and obviously based on Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney. sidewinder notes that the Beatles “have a fair amount of professionally published fiction out there featuring them” and postulates that “they’ve become such modern legends... they seem to be considered fair game for fiction more so than other bands.”
In 2001, Alyson Books published STARF*CKER, an anthology of erotica stories about fantasy encounters with celebrities, including Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith and all of Motley Crue. The anthology was an offshoot of Shar Rednour’s “Starphkr”, a ‘zine “devoted to the strange fantasies of starstruck writers.”
This year, Rockfic Press (www.rockficpress.com) started offering band fiction in trade paperback format, giving fans the chance to enjoy their favorite band fiction the same way they’d enjoy any other good book. One title, ROAD HAZARDS, collects stories about bands on tour. Another is dedicated entirely to Metallica’s drummer.
If you think you might have some band fiction stories bursting to be told, Hector_Rashbaum wants you to know that “You don’t have to write sex scenes and you don’t have to write slash. Write what you like, write what you’re comfortable with.” Mad Andy agrees, and adds, “Nobody’s first fic is perfect, nobody’s!” If you’re nervous about the quality of your story, take another author’s advice: “Find someone to proof-read your work, or submit it to a writers group for constructive criticism. It really is the best way to learn.”
Even Franz Ferdinand singer Alex Kapranos had some insight to offer in the ChartAttack.com article: “It’s what we do with songs,” he said. “I mean, we take characters who are around us and write stories, write songs about events that have happened in their lives. Of course, when you tell any story, you make it dramatic, you use the tools of drama to make an exciting story. All they’re doing is an extreme example of what we do.”
But be careful--you may get hooked. As Mad Andy points out, “I think a lot of people who discover band fic stay with it.”
Just ask Joolz.
Find links to band fiction sites in the ‘useful links’ section on the International Band Fiction Writers Association website: www.ibfwa.org.