A SUPERFAN, LIKE YOU

I guess it is something I’ve never thought that much about, how and why and when some of my peers have died, but a pattern is emerging. There were more than a few people I knew who died in their teens and early 20s, mainly from accidents, terrible misadventure, and sad choices. Mike, from a gun accident. Kevin, car meets logging truck late at night in the Northern Wisconsin woods. Bob, snowmobile vs. barbed wire fence. Paul, and Paul, both overdoses. But now 25 years later and after a long lull, the deaths are trickling in again, but now from illness. It seems too early, for I know that once this begins, it will only increase until I am – perhaps and hopefully – the Last Woman Standing, like my grandmother was for her peers, and like my mother might be for hers. The body begins wearing down, and not everyone will get a long run here.

Today, someone I’ve known for a long time died. Rafaela was around my age, and had recently suffered a major stroke. Complications set in, and she was unable to fight them. She and I knew each other through the odd periphery of Major Fandom, that collection of people who, for a few years or a lifetime and for better or worse, have been dedicated followers of something. In our case, it was the Kinks. Oh, what a colorful group of people that have surrounded the Davies Brothers and crew over the many years of their careers! The fans have left me with many smiles and stories as we’ve all bumbled along in life, seeing each other every so often at shows, or catching up via online forums. We’ve all gone in so many different directions, and it is both strange and rather touching that the strength of the music was so much that we kept checking in, even from great distances or the silence of reading a Facebook update.

Rafaela and I were not close, and not even in touch. I don’t think I’ve had any contact with her for over ten years, in fact, since I saw her at a Dave Davies show somewhere on the East Coast, the place she lived all her life. But I’ve always thought fondly of her. She was one of those people who was simply kind, and who structured a life that gave to others far more than she ever took. There aren’t all that many people like that, and they tend to get used up and overlooked more than not, it is sad to say. It isn’t easy to remain hopeful and helpful. But it was who she was.

My strongest memory of her was the day I met her, giving her a ride with a few other Kinks fans from New York City to a show in Hartford, CT. on a cold winter day. As she quietly spoke, she made it completely clear that she was in awe of us, which took me aback. I didn’t know what to say when she announced, absolutely sincerely and with kind of a starry look, “Oh, I hope I can be a real superfan like you guys someday!” Our collective response was sort of a dropped-jaw cynicism, like, who would aspire to that, or would admire the fans of someone? Superfandom didn’t have any useful real-life value, and was actually sometimes embarrassing, to tell you the truth. I felt Rafaela was na├»ve at best for saying that to us as we sped down the packed urban highway.

But that is what she became – a Kinks Superfan, for sure. She championed that band by attending probably hundreds of shows, starting a fan club for Dave Davies, supporting the causes and work of all the band members. She was always there, quietly hanging out, and became a fond friend of Ray and Dave Davies, not the easiest people to impress. She didn’t have an agenda. She didn’t need to be validated by someone famous. She asked for nothing. I honestly believe that she just loved that band, and had so much she wanted to give anyway, and this was the form it took. I don’t think Rafaela had the easiest life, and the Kinks were a true bright spot for her.

There would be no way for Ray or Dave to have anticipated when they began their career the impact they would have upon people, how those simple 3-minute songs inspired people to do things perhaps they never would have. How could you ever have known? We hear more of the ugly salience of the Superfan Gone Bad in the news, the stalker, the shooter, the creep, and they are certainly out there enough for me to wish fame on no one these days. But it is important to remember that far far far far more common is the fact that music has been a force for great good, and unites people like nothing else. I know it. Raf knew it. I hope you know it, too.

As the afternoon turned into night, we finally pulled into Hartford a few minutes before the show. Someone – I cannot now remember whom, but it may have indeed been Rafaela – had made a banner to bring along to the show, and asked that all the Superfans pose for a picture with it. I took the photo hurriedly, as downtown Hartford wasn’t exactly too nice a place at that point. Everyone had their Kinks gear along, like Superfan Show n’ Tell, some hoping to get something signed by the band.

I look at the photo now with older eyes. I see two of my very best friends in the world there, Jim and Doug, and am deeply grateful that we are all still close and for how the Kinks brought us together all those years ago. I see David, the Nice Guy, and David, the Other David, and someone I don’t even remember at all. And I see Rafaela there, holding Dave Davies’ solo LP, not looking at the camera, but smiling at the Superfans, ready to become.