Twenty-five years ago last Friday, Depeche Mode inadvertently almost started a riot. The band had finally become “big” in the U.S., but had not realized just how big. As a result, when they agreed to a CD signing session at a local record store – the Wherehouse record store – they had no idea that 15,000 people would turn up. Whoops. The message went out on the radio: “for all of you with radios listening to this, pass the message that Depeche Mode will only be here for three more hours.”
Ah, nostalgia. It’s not what it used to be.
So on this, the 25th anniversary of that event, it reminded me of just how far the world has changed, and how it has not. Two weeks ago I was shivering in a long line in Boston as my daughter lined up for a similar autograph opportunity, but the differences (apart from the temperature) were quite interesting.
Firstly, of course, no one was carrying a radio anymore; what a quaint idea. Twitter was the main communication tool, and rather than the old-school one-to-many messaging, now it’s obviously a far broader, many-to-many, fan-to-fan communication tool. The old days when a rumor would seep down the line, growing in intensity are no more: Twitter and similar products ensure that everyone gets the updates at the same time -regardless of whether it is a true message or not.
And of course, there was no CD to sign in this streaming-first world. But there was no CD for an even better reason: this was no alternative band from the UK. Nope. My daughter (and I, by default) were lined up to meet a group of “YouTubers,” whose claim to fame is an array of humorous videos taken while playing Minecraft.
Of course, I’m not trying to suggest that Depeche Mode couldn’t draw a larger crowd if they popped down to their local record store (if they could find one – another big change) and the younger group still seem to get in a tither about One Direction and the like, so it’s not that pop-star power has diminished. Rather, the way we get our content – starting with music – has changed so dramatically over the past 25 years and this has enabled mere mortals to join the ranks of stardom and rub shoulders with said super-stars. All you need is a computer, an Internet connection, and a compelling game to play. Oh, and quite a lot of imagination and confidence I guess.
As for the line in Boston; while it didn’t become as raucous as the Depeche Mode one 25 years ago, the net result for many fans was the same… too many people to meet and too little time to sign. But it did manage to befuddle many of the older locals who couldn’t comprehend why we were lined up to meet people they had never heard of. Perhaps some things never do change as I’m sure the same was said 25 years ago.