Slow news day: diesel sniffers and gospel groupies

It’s been a slow week or two at avfl hq (which means a really busy real world). You know what that means. Yup. Emails about diesel sniffers. Take it away, Thorn.

May I broach the subject of obsessive fans? Having been around the industry for many years, both as a vocalist and as a promoter, I have witnessed some borderline disturbing actions by some fans. I know of several instances where fans will actually follow the artist’s buses around from town to town – without the artist’s invitation. Some artists call these people “diesel sniffers.” I call them stalkers. There are times when SG artists are reluctant to ask a person to stop following them around for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or fear of acting in an “unchristian” way. For all the artists out there who have “diesel sniffers” – allow me to say it for you. Hey, “diesel sniffers” enough already! Quit stalking these people and give them some space. Here is the reality about stalkers from the artists perspective: These people try to monopolize the artist time by selfishly engaging in conversation without regard for what the artist (group) needs to accomplish prior to performing. When a group arrives at a venue to set up their equipment and product tables they don’t need someone following them around taking pictures and trying to carry on meaningless conversation. There is a sound check to be done and the artist does not want you up there on the microphone trying to sing along. There are product tables to set up and your “help” is probably not needed nor desired. Don’t unload all your personal problems on the singers. Don’t monopolize their time by standing and bending their ear for 10 minutes with your endless yacking. And PLEASE don’t go on the bus unless you are invited. One thing that makes the SG concert/singing experience different from some other genres of music is the opportunity to interact with the artist after the performance. The chance to shake their hand and tell them how much you enjoyed the singing or to give them a word of encouragement by sharing how you were blessed by a particular song is one of the joys of attending a SG singing. As fans/supporters of this music we should all be considerate of the artists and each other by not monopolizing the artist’s time and attention but giving everybody and opportunity to talk with them. May I also add, it is disappointing to the local church when the artist’s “entourage” arrives and dominates the conversation to the point that the people of the host church cannot meet the singers. (record label people can be bad about this, too!) So, to all the “diesel sniffers” out there – get a life. To the rest of us, remember these singers are people just like you who need their rest and their privacy.

There’s a bit of wanting to have it both ways here – you can’t NOT expect diesel sniffers in a genre of music that’s mortgaged so heavily to retail interactions with fans. Hard to say when one fan’s genuine need or sincerity of feeling ends and another’s stalking begins. But in general, Thorn has a point. Hang around sg long enough and you can see in artists’ faces the look of captivity when they’ve been cornered by a stalker, diesel sniffer, or that person missing the social gene that tells him or her when time’s up and Ernie Haase or Libbi Perry just really doesn’t need to hear about your appendectomy or how you have a little group of your own that … well, we’re no Signature Sound, but round these here parts we don’t do too bad … even opened for the Cathedrals back in the 80s (and doesn’t it seem like every small time group has opened for the Cathedrals back in the 80s? many of these groups also were told by George and/or Glen that they really had a future).

Anyway, to the anatomy of stalkerdom, let me add two subcategories: The gospel groupie and the unleaded sniffer. The unleaded sniffer is a country cousin to the diesel sniffer. These are the people who stalk the avocational groups and parttimers in their econline vans and secondhand RVs. I’ll never forget the guy who came up to me one Sunday after our regional group put on a stand. This guy buttonholes me to recite a not-so-brief history of his gospel music resume, which mainly consisted of filling in for the church pianist during the summer vacation months and picking up a few funerals at the local mortuary. After telling me his name, he said, “if you ever need somebody to fill in for you, just look me up. I’m in the book.” Aside from what this says about my abilities at the keyboard, here we have a fine example of the unleaded sniffers.

And then there’s the gospel groupie. This is the kind of not-so-secret secret of gospel music that everyone in the bidness pretends doesn’t exist in order to protect (among other things) the fragile illusions of the naïve and sheltered. But even if you didn’t know what you were looking at (or maybe even indulged in, however unintentionally or unknowingly, yourself), you’ve almost certainly encountered the gospel groupie. These are the people who form standard issue crushes on entertainers, seek some form of intimacy with their favorite performers, and in some cases, make themselves … uhm, available in one way or another. The Christian context in which gospel music unfolds complicates all this because of course convention and propriety and Christian morality forbid the kind of expressions of desire – bridled or not – that attend secular groupiedom. Which is why gospel groupies will often use excessive displays of piety and Christian concern - let’s pray together with my arms all around or I just want to hug your neck (read, full body bear hug) for the dear blessing you are to me etc - to mask their less-than-pious feelings – both from themselves and others. That doesn’t mean every hug or kiss is some displaced desire of a less-than-innocent nature. But it’s inevitable that in some cases, when emotions get whipped up in the intensity of gospel music performance, a few errant strands of feeling and affection will get into the mix. And, alas, sometimes piety is an ex-post-facto compensation used to obscure the reality of some crush that went beyond sinning in the heart. Just ask Jimmy Swaggert.

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Comments

  1. anonymous wrote:

    Allow me, if I may, to present the other side of this. Yes, there are some of us who have bonded with the artists and some of the people they work with. Being a fan, when it’s done right, can be a very worthwhile experience for both sides. The key to success here is to put the main focus on the music and clearly communicate that as your point of encouragement. Also, as has been stated, don’t try to walk through doors that aren’t opened to you. Be alert to and take your cues from the artists. This also works both ways. Artists need to be aware of their own personal actions and make sure they aren’t encouraging more interaction than they are comfortable with.

    The other bonus to doing all this right is the other like-minded fan folks you meet along the way and form lasting friendships with. That’s something you can’t put a price on.

  2. Trent wrote:

    The flip side of what you’re saying, Avery, is that there are many artists who are paranoid. They make themselves unapproachable in many cases because of their perceived vulnerability to every fan of their music. There are varied reasons for this, the primary one being an inflated sense of self-worth on the part of the singer. Sometimes it’s a fear based upon a bad experience with an over-zealous fan from the past. In any case, the interaction between gospel music fans and the singers is an important and long-held part of our genre of music.

    Artists should have enough tact and common sense to remove themselves from unwanted advances by unreasonable fans. This is easier said then done, certainly, but it can be accomplished without much effort, really. Sometimes you have to be blunt and let the fan know that you need to be available to speak with other fans, that you would appreciate it if they would stop following your bus, etc. Some people don’t take hints very well, so you have to be plain with them.

    By the same token, many artists need to realize who is paying their bills and show some courtesy and hospitality at their record tables. Even when a singer is feeling a little under the weather, it is not unreasonable, in most cases, for them to spend a few minutes of their life conversing in a civil manner with those who are paying them money so that they can do what they do for a living.

  3. Gerry wrote:

    Avery has mentioned the unmentionable. Unfortunately, there are sg groupies. Indeed, some have even slipped notes to artists I know saying - if you can believe this - “I’m staying at [hotel name], room #…”
    Now, call me cynical, but I just don’t think that they have a prayer session or Bible study in mind.

  4. DM wrote:

    There has always been diesel sniffers. If some of the singers are getting old so are they. Where do you think those old women on the front row at “Grand Ole Gospel” came from.DM

  5. jb wrote:

    DM, you are right. There have always been diesel sniffers and always will be. It’s sad, but, funny too. You can spot them a mile away. It’s fun to go to the NQC and watch the “ladies” hang or hang out (literally) at certain quartets product tables. To some, it may be flattering. To others, I’m sure it is disgusting.

  6. dkd wrote:

    Diesel sniffers are a way of life in most any type of music genre. Most of them are just nice people (mostly ladies or girls) and are infatuated with a group or a certain member of a particular group. Most of the time the group/or individual in the group will be cordial and not think too much of the infatuation. Sometimes though a “groupie” will step over the line and this can cause situations that can be uncomfortable for individuals or group members.

  7. Singer's Wife wrote:

    This is both a humorous and not-so-humorous subject, especially if you happen to be the wife of a singer. I can’t tell you how many times my husband has been given the old “butt swipe” by women old enough to be his grandmother. Perhaps I should explain this term that we coined to describe the act. Old lady comes up and wants a photo with singer. Singer cheerfully obliges, and allows old lady to put her arm around his waist. After photo is taken, she slides her hand down to his rear and either rubs it or gives it a few pats. Intentional? You bet. But it seems rather comical that she would get her little jollies this way - perhaps that’s the only place she’s getting them at her age.
    Now the really humorless stuff is when your husband is approached at the convention by a groupie (translated desparate-for-attention middle-aged woman) who pretends she has some great need to bend his ear off about her private life and during the conversation lets him know that she is available for anything. This type of behavior burns me up. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to whip out the old wallet and show her the cute smiling faces of those adorable children back home and tell her she should see a counselor, as gospel singers are NOT qualified to counsel people about anything regarding their personal lives. That’s what pastors and their wives and psychologists are for.
    This opens up a whole debate on what the singers actually owe their fans. I once had a wise pastor of our church tell me that pretty much after my husband sings he has fulfilled his obligation, and owes no one anything (read no extra listening to personal problems or folks monopolizing his time.) Although some people would like to think that because they attended the concert and paid for a ticket or gave in the offering and bought a cd that now he’s obligated for life. It has to be thought of this way: a person attends a concert and pays something to do so. They get to hear the singer sing. Have they received what they paid for? Absolutely. A person buys a cd. Did they receive a product for what they paid? of course. The problem comes in when people think that singers are responsible to do what the Church should do. Gospel groups are parachurch organizations. They have a place in making people feel closer to God through music, but they can never take the place of the church in meeting needy people’s needs. And I have to tell you from years of experience that sometimes, no, make that a lot of times, the fans have so emotionally drained him that he has nothing left for our family when he gets home. This is when I start thinking he’s way too nice.
    Now, just so no one thinks I’m way too mean, that same pastor recommended that my husband pray and ask the Lord to reveal which of those people at a concert God actually wants him to take more time with. These aren’t always the people who think that they are the ones who need to have the poor guy’s time!
    That’s all I’ll say about this subject!

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