I’ve always maintained that my Prefab Sprout obsession has an ironic basis, in that I originally planned it quite deliberately to try out the idea of total completism. I could stop any time I wanted.
But somewhere along the way, you glance in the rear view mirror and you notice a line you crossed some time ago disappearing into the heat haze of the middle distance, with a lot of curious and rather concerned looking onlookers standing on it and peering at you as if you’ve lost your mind. Looking down, you notice that you have what appear to be three Langley Park to Memphis promotional paper bags stuffed into your belt, and you’re clutching a half filled “Hey Manhattan!” snowglobe. And you ask yourself “how did I get here?”.
I have to admit it’s not an entirely normal way to spend free time. But the thing is, it’s fun. It’s peculiar, but it’s fun.
Thinking back, the incident that nudged me over the edge was the the post you can see in the graphic. It was not my first Sproutnet post, but the first time I actually found something new that hadn’t been seen before, not long after signing up to the site in late December 2009.
From that point, where I realised there was a new world to explore, everything proceeded step by step. A footstep is indeed a small thing, but line them all up together, and you pretty soon find yourself dancing over deserted landscapes without a fellow traveller anywhere in sight. It doesn’t feel strange when you’re doing it – albeit there is often an oddly feverish feeling of excitement as something unexpected turns up – but when you zoom out and look at things in perspective, it’s not exactly normal.
I was musing on this this morning. I have a few days off, and automatically my thoughts turned to what I could do Sproutwise. I always laugh when I see interviews with Paddy saying that he hates touring because it takes his time away from what he wants to do, which is to write songs; well I’m essentially the same, every day not spent doing something to advance the art and practice of Sproutology is a day wasted as far as I’m concerned. I get a bit fidgety when I travel. There’s a sort of tension that builds up, and I have an almost addictive need to soothe it.
You could speculate on the underlying psychology, but I think it’s a form of escapism, it’s disappearing into a secret world where there are things to find, there are little projects and sub-projects everywhere, and you can be the king of your own little hill. When I’m in the zone, anything external that worries or depresses me is locked out. I’ve always done that: I retreat into my own personal space at times of trouble, and I think in some ways what attracts me about Prefab Sprout and Paddy is I sense common cause there.
But it’s not quite a static “collect music” thing. There’s a lot more to it than that.
During the last couple of days I translated a couple of interviews from Spanish, and one from French. It amazes me what is possible these days: you can scan, OCR and translate material to a pretty high standard basically for free. It’s a long way from what music fans in the 1970s and 1980s did to feed their obsessions – making cassette inlays using Letraset – you can create things to a professional standard using really great tools.
And that is at least half of what makes it interesting to me. It’s being able to do things well, and to polish them, and to learn new skills. I want what I do to be high quality, so I spend a lot of time finding out how to do things. Which are the best tools to be using? What techniques work best?
And then having learned a skill you apply it right across the breadth of everything, systematically, and mechanically, and there is an artisanal joy in doing that too. The interview translation process is a case in point – although it can be downright tedious to work through the 20th nearly identical Andromeda Heights pieces, nothing quite focuses you on what is being said as doing a translation, and from time to time fascinating little insights you wouldn’t normally notice pop up. There’s something deeply satisfying about ticking another piece off the list and moving onto the next too. It feels like restoring a bit of order to the universe. Yes, all this must pass, and no, in 20 years or so when I cast off my mortal coil no one will be remotely interested, but for the moment everything is neat and well-ordered.
Then there is the sheer joy of the postman bringing something new – that’s something I’ve loved since I was young and sent off for things from magazines – of course. It’s more and more infrequent, as I have most of what there is to collect, but by creating slightly new categories of interest (most recently magazine articles) you can sustain and extend this particular endorphin source. The bounce of a jiffy bag on the doormat. Nothing like it.
And there’s the website, looking to find interesting new things to post – being constantly surprised by what people think is interesting and what they don’t – keeping an eye on page views, and gradually creeping up the Google rankings. In common with most people who do this sort of thing, the website is as much a way of attracting the attention of other people with goodies to share as anything else, but it’s very rare anything turns up. Maybe two or three times a year, someone will contact you about something they have. It’s good when it happens though. In the meantime, I’m learning a lot about WordPress.
But do I listen to Prefab Sprout a lot? Well no, actually not really. When I’m working on audio, yes, of course, and quite often in the car I’ll have a CD on rotate. Normally though I’m listening to other artists. It’s curious: I’d say Prefab Sprout were my favourite band, but if I were to list my favourite songs, they’d be well down the list. I’d go for things like Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas”, and indeed probably quite a lot of Brel (“La Quete” is one of the great covers, of “Dream an impossible dream”, where poetry is actually gained in translation), he was poet, performer and musician and for me unparalleled and unequalled. I’d go for Cole Porter, “Got You Under My Skin”. Torch songs by Sondheim: “Losing My Mind”. I’m listening a lot to “Black Star” at the moment, I also love John Adams, “On the transmigration of souls”. And so on really. There are, in my opinion, always better songs and music than Paddy’s. “Bewitched, bothered and bewildered” v. “Nightingales”? No contest.
But I see it almost like a marriage – you choose your life partner for a number of reasons, including of course the electroshock thrill of limerence from early in the relationship, but I would guess mostly because you feel comfortable with them where it would be difficult, for example, to be married to a supermodel or a saint, because the standards you’d have to maintain would wear you down. So it goes with favourite bands, our funny valentines.
I’m of the generation that had favourite bands too, I sense that is increasingly unusual as the level of fan commitment dissipates due to ease of access to anything via Spotify etc. And maybe that’s also a reason for the total obsession: I want to be committed, it takes me back to a simpler time, when I didn’t have every single album ever recorded available to me and had to love what I’d bought.
Anyway, enough of this. I discovered an A3 scanner had been delivered yesterday and was sitting in a puddle by the back gate, so I have to get that working and look at processing music paper interviews. The silicon seal on my snowglobe should now have cured, so that has to be checked and stored somewhere. I need to complete work on a quite wonderful “Ultrasonica” interview from 2009, and plan what I might post on the site over the weekend, bit short of page views this month…
And so it goes. Busy busy busy. The world of the superfan. It’s great. But don’t go there.