Band Fiction: Stranger than Truth
|News Media Commentary
|Band Fiction: Stranger than Truth
|May 31, 2006
|Band Fiction: Stranger than Truth, Archived version
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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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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).
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.