In December of 2015, I’d just finished my 1-year teaching contract in Japan. Hungry for adventure, I set off on a one-month sojourn along the eastern Australian coastline with a Scotswoman, a Frenchman and a Canberra-native in a Britz campervan. (No, this isn’t the start of a joke). There were all the usual road-trip high-jinks – forgetting to latch the kitchen drawers before hitting the highway, being delayed when our window was shattered by a ride-on mower at a rest stop, dodging the occasional kangaroo crossing the road, jamming the back door when we accidentally shut a sweater in it, battling plague-like proportions of flies and never ending sand, having our drying towels pooped on by a wombat. You know – the usual things. #justaustraliathings
When we were tired of staying in the close quarters of the camper and stuck without a place to stay for the night, I messaged an old friend of mine. Which was how we came to be eating a home-made dinner in a town outside Melbourne with my gracious friend, Amy and her lovely husband, Dave. It was one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever had and the company was great.
“So how do you know each other?” my friend, Tom, asked, as we got into eating.
Amy and I shared a look.
“Would you believe…Hanson?” We laughed. It seemed like some kind of codeword for something else. But no – really – it was the band Hanson.
I was fifteen in 1997 when Mmmbop came out (please stop calculating my age; you don’t have enough fingers and toes) and it was instant love. In May of that year, weeks before my 15th birthday, my mom drove me to their first-ever appearance at the Paramus Park Mall the day after their debut album Middle of Nowhere was released. The mall was mobbed with teaming masses of preteen and teen girls. Between the dodgy acoustics and the high-pitched screaming, I could barely hear Hanson – let alone see them around the six-thousand other people in attendance – but I knew I wanted more.
Thus began a ten year period of me following the band around the country. (In terms of devotion, Hanson has a Phish-like fanbase). I bought their music and merch, obsessively recorded all of their TV appearances on VHS, filled a binder with magazine clippings from Bop and TigerBeat, saw them perform live more than twenty-five times, drove twenty hours to Tulsa for Hanson Day and saw them perform aboard a cruise-ship in international waters. And while I did it all because I liked Hanson‘s music and their androgynous, non-threatening good looks – what I got out of loving them was so much more.
I made good friends with a couple (Dusty and Danyalle) from Pennsylvania who went a road trip with me to see Hanson in Tulsa. I made a good friend from Minneapolis, Cailin, who I went sky-diving with in Rhode Island and attended a midnight release party of the last Harry Potter book. (We literally sat in my house and read without talking to each other for two days – the best kind of friendship). I met Lily and Whitney and Allison and Jenny and Laura and Kate and Kim and Alma (and so many more). And I met Amy – who came from Australia to stay with me and do the tourist circuit of New York City. Many years later – now married and a mom – Amy would return the favor.
Very quickly loving Hanson became about, well, not them, but the unlikely tribe of incredible, talented cool people I met through them. Every concert was like a networking event. My livejournal comments were abuzz with activity. I even became a writer in part because of Hanson – writing fan-fiction and sharing it online, cowriting with other writers, commenting on other people’s work. It was where I gained confidence in my abilities, where I began distilling my voice.
I did a lot of things in High School – I was in Rock Band and choir, I wrote for Scribe (our literary journal), I was on the swim team and soccer team, I attended regular meetings for Insight Group (a group for kids whose parents were divorced or had passed away) – but there was no existing community for people who loved Hanson. In fact, I kind of got a lot of shit for it. Contrary to popular belief, “they look like girls” is not and will never be a clever, original insult. Nor – as it suggests – is there anything wrong with being or looking or throwing or doing anything “like” a girl. Girls are awesome!
The age of the internet allowed me to meet a whole bunch of girls (and boys) who loved the things I loved. AOL online launched in 1991, but using dialup and having an AIM account were just starting to become popular when I started high school in 1996 (again, put away your calculators please). In the early days of the web, Hanson fan pages were hosted by Angelfire and were graphic atrocities – a mess of eye-catching banners and glitter stickers.
The Internet evolved, Hanson all went on to get married and now boast ten children between them and their fans – including me – grew up too. I never got a Hanson tattoo, unlike many of my friends, and I don’t regularly follow Hanson’s music anymore, but I do have a community, a tribe of friends from all over the country and world and for that, I will forever be grateful to Hanson.
What have your own experiences with fandom been like? And what were your earliest fandoms?