Wednesday, November 19, 2003

A small cult blog.

A small cult following -- now that’s the thing to have. Small enough that the odds of one of them being a dangerous loony are fairly low, but large enough for a modicum of adulation sometimes. Small enough so that you can wander around unrecognized just about anywhere, but large enough so that at certain times and places, people cheer for you.

As far as I can tell, Al Stewart has achieved this. His worldwide fan base may not be any larger numerically than a popular TV weatherman in a second-tier American market, but his fans come out for his shows. According to Schuba's Web site, demand was strong enough to justify two Stewart shows in Chicago, the one that Yuriko and I attended, and one the next night.

The audience was a homogenous-looking group. They looked... something like Stewart: unremarkably middle aged, casually dressed, solidly white bourgeoisie. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that almost everyone in that room was over 35, with the majority between 40 and 60. (The few younger women might have been dates. "You want to see Al who?" she might have asked her divorced-father-of-two boyfriend.) Chronologically, this audience demographic makes perfect sense -- the height of Stewart's popularity was from about 1976 to ’78.

At this point, though it should be clear by now, I might as acknowledge that I'm an enthusiast myself, and certainly I belonged in that crowd. But there are degrees of enthusiasm, and I'm not in the top rank of fans, since my interest in Stewart's music has waxed and waned over the years, and I haven't bothered to buy (or copy) very many of his albums -- none since 1989, in fact.

So calling the crowd "they" is merely a style convention. It was really a "we." The crowd, already friendly, laughed at Stewart’s jests, cheered when he started a familiar song, and really grew vocal when he said, "I'll take requests. I may not play them, but I'll take them." A man directly behind me really, really wanted to hear "The End of the Day." Other requests rang out around the room, and not merely for the better-known of his '70s output. I put in a word myself for "Roads to Moscow," an eight-minute ballad about a doomed Russian foot soldier in the Great Patriotic War. (I think I startled Yuriko. He didn’t sing it.)

At times, Stewart was coy. He would call an upcoming song "obscure" -- an apt description in the wider world, but not in that room. Before he sang "The Coldest Winter in Memory," he said: "This is a long historical song, about Russia. But it’s not the one you think." Introducing "Year of the Cat," he noted, "Now I want to play something that has some chance of being recognized," as if nearly every soul in that room hadn't heard his most famous song numerous times -- even Yuriko had heard it growing up in Japan.


Post a Comment

<< Home