THE BLOG
06/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Being a Fan Today Just Ain't What It Used To Be

2010-04-05-enge.jpgThe word "fan," as applied to a person who is an admirer of an entertainer, sports team, author or anyone in the public eye, came into use in 19th century America. Of course, the term is an abbreviation of the word "fanatic" and since it is related to that word, often has a negative connotation.

My life path has led me to meet many fans. I've written about fans before here. Certainly, like all of you, I've met sports fans -- rabid sports fans. I've seen lines out the door at book signings and conventions for fans of comic books, sci-fi in general and Star Trek in particular. And, of course, the fans waiting at the stage door are a common sight wherever there's entertainment.

Here -- because of material I've read and a nice moment I had last month -- we're concerned specifically about the fans of musicians and about the interactions they have with their fans. And, times have indeed changed.

In the last few years I've become acquainted with fans of U2, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Jones (OK, I will acknowledge right now that I moderate a Tom Jones fansite, and Engelbert Humperdinck (photo right). I know that Bono is apt to greet fans on the way to the car after a show or stop his car, get out and spend time with fans before a show. I am aware that Bono, Springsteen, Jones and Enge (that's what I'll call E. Humperdinck from now on as it saves lots of typing) are very cordial when they meet fans.

I'd guess they are cordial because, while they may be naturally friendly, they are also have to be keenly aware that their without fans they'd be their without careers. And it used to be that many entertainers would welcome fans backstage for a brief chat, an autograph and a grip-and-grin photo.

But today, any person with even the smallest mote of celebrity cannot be blamed for being leery of fans. The fact that fans can be difficult has been given a certain academic legitimacy by some UK and US psychologists.

In 2003, journalist James Chapman wrote an article in the Daily Mail outlining Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS) and, even, offering a self-test for readers to take to determine if they are so afflicted.

The studies conclude that people with CWS fit into one of three categories. The most benign is the "entertainment-social" person. This fan admires the entertainment value of the celebrity and, often, finds other friends with the same admiration.

Next in the hierarchy is the "intense-personal" form of CWS. This fan has intense and compulsive feelings for the celebrity. They feel very close to the individual and share emotionally in the highs and lows of the celebrity's personal life.

The most extreme form of CWS is "borderline-pathological." In short, these are the ones who bear watching. These people, according to the literature, exhibit "uncontrollable behaviors and fantasies" about the celebrity.

Whether or not these categorical theories have legitimacy -- and other academics dispute them -- they help explain why free, unlimited access is today a rare occurrence. Some months ago I was privy to a demonstration of why celebs might -- and should -- be wary of fans.

To see their favorite entertainer fans from, quite literally, around the world came to Las Vegas. Most went to the shows and, after, gathered together to have fun. Except for one.

This woman, who traveled 3,000 miles from her east coast home, never actually attended a show. But she would intrude on the celebrity when he was socializing with friends or accost him when he was walking in the hotel, planting herself in front of him, demanding attention. Her facebook and myspace pages are filled with tales of their alleged relationship and, given the opportunity, she'll tell others about their "intimate" relationship. He, of course, has not a clue who she is. People who have seen this are convinced she is dangerous in a Fatal Attraction kind of way.

She is one example of untold thousands who are the reason celebrities have bodyguards. You cannot blame them. And, having seen her in action, I am surprised so many famous people still move around with any sense of freedom and security.

Anyway, of these mentioned above the most accessible to fans is Enge. His fans, who skew older than other groups, are plentiful in the showroom. Seemingly on cue, about three songs from the end of the show, they rise and move forward as one to stand stageside at his feet singing and swaying along with the last few numbers. Before he exits, he shakes hands with several of them and tosses souvenir red scarves into the crowd.

But, it is what happens after his show that struck me as lovely and memorable.

You see, after his shows the backstage area is a gathering place for his family, friends and business associates. And some of his fans are there.

I was invited backstage last year and after a show last month. One imagines that there is security somewhere in the crowd simply as a matter of course. But you'd never know it to look around. The people who gather in his dressing room and wait in the group outside in the hall, talk quietly among themselves. When he enters, there is a shift in the crowd as people subtly watch him to see who he's talking to.

Enge greets those gathered there quietly and cordially. He takes a bit of time to listen and respond and then moves on to the next person standing nearby. It could be a gathering in anyone's living room. It could have been just a group of friends schmoozing about inconsequential stuff.

But it wasn't. This was a gathering where fans were included and one that they would remember and speak about for years to come. It seemed old-fashioned, like something that may have taken place in an earlier, more innocent time. It was quaint, kind of sweet and said a great deal about this performer and his understanding of fans.

It was really nice to see and share in that small moment that, sadly, is today so rare as to render it pretty big.