Fan mail

Group therapy

Time was when the aspiring global celebrity aimed to make the cover of a magazine such as Time. Now the ultimate test of celebrity status is whether you have an "alt.fan" newsgroup in your name. If you ain't got one, you ain't no one.

There are several hundred of these odd little fan forums, discussing everything from celebrities to cooked lemurs. I'm not making it up. Hollywood movie stars take up a lot of space, including most of the big names - Brad Pitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, etc. Other celebs represented include Jesus Christ, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Cantona and ... Chris Tarrant.

Much of the Hollywood fan talk is fawning gush along the lines of "Why is Brad so sexy?" and endless favourite film lists. But having an alt.fan newsgroup devoted to you can be a bit like being placed in the stocks - there to be pilloried as much as praised - and some celebs get rotten tomatoes in bucketloads. Madonna more than most, judging from the postings in alt.fan.madonna. Some of the insults are so vitriolic, you wonder whether they are from disaffected former employees. "Madonna still has fans?" begins one, before suggesting the exotic idea that she dreamt up the singer Alanis Morissette to undermine Courtney Love. "Madonna got jealous of Courtney's talent, so she created a little fake alternative diva to counteract Courtney's popularity. ... Anybody who finds meaning in these two's 'lyrics' must be officially brain-dead. Most of them are written by men and make me wanna hurl."

But that is nothing. If the newsgroup community really hates you, it will make sure you know it before you even read the postings. alt.fan.oj- simpson. die.die.die and alt.fan.oj-simpson.gas.chamber leave little to the imagination. The popular American footballer has the dubious honour of having six alt.fan groups in his name, more than any other personality.

But the alt.fan series is not just about personalities. Any cult, craze or obsession is eligible. Even if you have nothing to say about it: alt.fan.nicole- papa seems to have been empty for months, but I guess there is some kind of subtextual significance in its very existence. Subtext is meat and drink to the denizens of alt.fan.tarantino, where the argument over the contents of the briefcase in PF never stops. Contributions to the long- running debate on "How did Mr Brown die in RD?" are also invited. It is obviously taken for granted that if you enter this newsgroup you know what those initials stand for.

Things are taken even more for granted in the stiff-upper-lip world of alt.fan.british-accent. Unless you were actually present at the beginning, most of the discussions are impenetrable. In alt.fan.monty-python the postings were as daft as you would expect. Although some American had rather spoilt the fun with a posting entitled "The Stupidest F****** Show Ever". Python-fans were not amused

Andrew North

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<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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