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Fangirling The Bad Plus

Last night I totally fangirled the best jazz trio in the world at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta.

And it was awesome.

Jazz isn’t a genre that typically has fangirls. I’m not sure, however, that it would be correct to say that jazz has fanboys, either. Maybe fangentlemen.

But for me, admitting that you have no idea who The Bad Plus are is like admitting that you have never heard of Doctor Who. And with very similar consequences, because I will immediately do everything in my power to save you from the abyss of deprivation that surrounds you. And I will do this because I am a fangirl.

Fangirling gets a bad rap. Urban Dictionary defines fangirl/fanboy as having a “compulsive dedication” and gives an example of a fan who can only talk about their fandom. Fangirldom is associated with youth and immaturity, hence fangirl, not fanwoman (and, I must point out, that “fangirl” is a newer term then “fanboy,” which left women out completely when it was coined). Fandom is not something adults do. Fandom isn’t a real appreciation for something, but a blind following of something, usually related to comics or sci-fi or gaming. Being a fangirl, in other words, makes me a less legitimate fan, and that is due, in part, to the associations of “girlishness” with “fan.”

Although I can understand where some of these concerns are coming from, I have to admit that I think  the pejorative connotations associated with fangirls and fanboys are a load of smeg. For me, fandom is about enthusiasm, passion, and, on more than one occasion, feminism. I like the term “fangirl” because I like being a fan, and many of the things I am a fan of have not always been female friendly. I like how “fangirl,” as a term, is a reminder that women can be fans (and even participants! Gasp!) in popular culture.  Jazz, for example, is notoriously male. I once asked a tenor saxophonist (whom I had seen play locally several times) to name his favorite musicians. He sized me up, taking particular note of my femaleness, and said, “Well, you’ve probably never heard of him, but I really like a guy named Sonny Rollins.”

In jazz, this is rather like saying “You’ve probably never heard of him, but I like a guy named Paul McCartney.” While I certainly won’t claim to be an expert on jazz (I have a PhD in books), I  know who Sonny Rollins is. In fact, I know who Vi Burnside is, and I think her tenor sax mastery is delicious and frenetic. And the reason I know who Vi Burnside is because I’m a woman, and I woke up one morning tired of male tenor sax players who thought I didn’t know anything, and I sought out women in jazz. And I wrote about them.

In other words, I  know who Vi Burnside is because I’m a fangirl.

After all, this is what fangirls do. I get giddy over music, just like I get giddy over books. The reason I have a PhD in English is really just because I’m a fangirl of hundreds of writers. I get giddy over great films and television and comics, too. Listening to a great band or reading a great book is like dissolving into the sun. It’s the best way of being set on fire. And being a fangirl is about fanning those flames. Removing the enthusiasm, the passions, the respect, the learning, the sharing from fandom leaves us as plain old girls and boys. Fans are, after all, fanatics. We need more fans, more people that are so excited and passionate about books and music and films that they can’t shut up. That they babble. And squee. And transcend.

And we need fangirls in particular because more women need to be involved in music and books and art; we need more women involved in writing and composing and painting. So much of the canon of great art, great books, great music, great film is male. And that’s the canon we need to join. Not the offshoot canons, not the women’s lit. and the women’s music, but the primary, main canon of GREAT works. Women need to be there, visibly, speaking and writing and painting and playing. Shakespeare courses, Shakespeare studies, the great canon of literature–this was all made by fanboys, because really, is there a Shakespeare scholar that isn’t a fan of Shakespeare? We need to own our fandoms, and women particularly need to own our fangirldom, because Canonical Greatness? It isn’t just for white men anymore.

I want to see the same kinds of fangirldom that is generally associated with sci-fi and comics and gaming within the Canons of Great Works. For me, there is no difference in my fandom for Doctor Who and my fandom for The Bad Plus. I love the devotion and exuberance of the Doctor Who fandom, the Buffy fandom, Whedon fandom, Arrow fandom, Nerf Herder fandom, TMBG fandom, and I bring that to my jazz fandom. I am, at heart, a geek. I geek out. I freak out. I squee with delight. And I am female. White, straight, and fairly cis-gendered. And I belong here, in the Canon, among jazz and classical and rock and geek rock. I belong here with all the other genders and colors and orientations and ways of being. And so do you.

So if you’ve never heard of The Bad Plus, I will remedy that for you here. Go give them a listen.

And squee.

Me and The Bad Plus. SQUEE!!
Me and The Bad Plus. SQUEE!!

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