Afghan Whigs inspire hysteria

Afghan Whigs inspire hysteria – Arts By Jeff Randall

When I was a kid – say about 12 or 13 years old – about the only music I would listen to was Beatles music.

My dad, ’60s pop aficionado that he was, had every Beatles album on vinyl; and I used to sit for hours, listening to “Revolver,” “Rubber Soul,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Abbey Road” (“Abbey Road” was the best) and all the rest of those magnificent works of art.

I guess you could say I was obsessed.

But even in my young and impressionable years, the years in which my love affair with the Beatles was at its height, I never quite understood the insane fan bit.

You know – all those old films of the Beatles performing in concert or for Ed Sullivan – I just never understood the screaming hysteria that accompanied every song. Girls crying and fainting, boys jumping wildly into the air, parents mortified.

I didn’t get it.

Sure, the Beatles were great and all. The greatest, maybe. But screaming and swarming and losing one’s mind hardly seemed an appropriate response.

Well, I’m about a decade older now. And although I wouldn’t describe my life to this point as a truly wisdom-inspiring journey, I have picked up the occasional nugget here and there.

One of those nuggets is the reasoning behind the insane music fan.

For me, that reasoning is the Afghan Whigs.

Most people have never heard of the Whigs. Or to put it more accurately, most people have heard the name, but never heard the music.

I hadn’t even heard the band’s name until 1993, when I picked up a copy of “Congregation,” their third full-length album (I was intrigued by the cover art, OK?).

It was shortly thereafter that I began to identify with the insane fan. Because insanity is a perfectly reasonable word to use when describing my relationship with the music of the Whigs.

Their albums have become tantamount to spiritual tomes. Traveling to their concerts has become something of a pilgrimage. And when I listen to their music – their beautiful, heart-breaking, soul-mining music – I feel as though there is little else in the world that matters.

When I sit back and think about it, I like to believe that my penchant for the Whigs has stemmed from my somewhat conflicted musical tastes. Because of the era in which I was born, I have an affinity for all things punk. And because of who I am, I find nothing more enlightening and empowering than the soul music of the 1960s.

More than any other band out there, the Whigs embrace both of these art forms and recycle them into something new.

Roaring guitars and slinky backup singers coexist peacefully in the music of this band. Dropped references to Marvin Gaye in lyrics, Barry White in attitude and the Replacements in sound result in music that – if I had the talent – I would want to make.

Sad but true, I have sunk to the level of the screaming, crying girl in the front row of Ed Sullivan’s audience.

This past week, I went to Chicago to see two Whigs shows. At the front both nights, I let out high-pitched squeals and wails that I never thought possible. Before each show, I would shake in nervous anticipation. After each show, I would close my eyes and revel in the moment as though it were some sort of post-coital bliss.

I felt the same way in May 1996, when I traveled to Chi-Town to see the Whigs perform for the first time. And I felt the same way last May, when I drove with two friends to New Orleans for a one-night-only show.

I’d drive farther, if necessary.

Come to think of it, maybe I’m worse than those ’60s kids in the grip of Beatlemania. Even if I don’t cry and pass out in the face of what I believe to be the world’s greatest band, I have a deep-seated desire to go to great lengths to experience as much of the Whigs as I possibly can.

Then again, maybe I’m just like any other music fan.

Pretty much all music fans have one band that they like to call their own. They own every available recording, they travel to concerts and they plaster their walls with posters.

And the people that do these things have embraced music for what it really is – a personal and eternal gift.

It can speak to you, speak for you and get you through hard times. And unlike girlfriends or boyfriends, music won’t give you any hard times unless you let it.

So maybe my unhealthy obsession with music in general – and the Afghan Whigs in specific – isn’t all that unhealthy. Maybe I’ve just found something that I can use as a center in life. Maybe I can even figure out a way to parlay this love into an economically and emotionally feasible way of life.

Maybe I’m not like those freaked-out teen-aged Beatlemaniacs at all.

But I probably am.

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