I saw it on the message board where I'd followed everything else, from the early interviews to the speculation over the song titles to the release of the 30-second Amazon and (more excitingly) 90-second iTunes samples, and where we'd argued for months over autotune in live performances and which vaguely promising album from the 70s this sounded the most like. There had been a few false alarms, the post said, but this time it had really happened: The Beach Boys' new album, That's Why God Made The Radio, had leaked.
I wanted to be a Good Fan, so I stopped for a minute and thought about it. But in 2012 I know longer have any idea what being a Good Fan should entail.
Obviously I'll buy the album -- but probably on iTunes, and even though we should all be able to agree that Good Fandom involves, at a minimum, buying the record, some super-fans might already throw me off the bus here. (Even after I tell them how much I dig Love You!)
MP3s? Digital liner notes? There's a small but consistent group of fans between 20 and 30, like me, who are determined to make up for having been born too late to buy Pet Sounds by waiting to listen to the album at all until they've gone down to their local independent record store (I'd have to drive a ways, personally) and picked up the vinyl, preferably in a vintage Woodie with their best gal hanging off the running board.
To them being a good fan is experiencing music exactly as they assume people did in 1964: No previews, no in-depth TV specials, no camera-phone footage on YouTube, and absolutely no pre-release torrenting. If at all possible, under this definition of Good Fandom, you should wait to hear the album until you can travel back in time and listen to it with Brian Wilson in the enormous sandbox where he wrote "Surf's Up."
I get the appeal; being a Beach Boys fan in 2012 is half listening to music from the 60s and 70s and half wishing you could have been there when nobody else was listening to it, in the 60s and 70s. But I also like to not own jewel cases--so MP3 album it is.
On the other end of the spectrum sit the people who are now, even as we speak, listening to "Summer's Gone," which I'm told is a plangent, echoing anthem to dying stars and time gone by. (This is how people who like Van Dyke Parks talk.) They'll be buying the album too, at least most of them--but the minute the leak went out they downloaded it, and if they take the CD out of the packaging after they buy it it will only be to see whether anything's printed underneath it. For them buying the album is just a way to justify having the leak on their computer, unless they have a particular dog in the MP3 bitrate fight and would like to encode it themselves.
I'm generally skeptical of the argument that piracy is a victimless crime, or that information wants to be free, or that all the Richard Stallman fans running rtorrent are simply using it to lawfully transmit their own files from peer to peer and how-dare-I-conflate-bittorrent-with-piracy.
But while I sit hear waiting to listen to an album that might not even be very good, I find it hard to argue with my forum-mates' logic: They're going to buy the album when it comes out on Tuesday. Some have already preordered it already. It's on the internet, and they can get it without any particular worry. They're already reviewing it, while the Woodie crowd places their hands over their ears and begins shouting "I can't hear you!"--the word on the message board is that the songs we thought would be good, the Isn't It Times and From There To Back Agains, are good, and the songs we thought would be bad are bad.
But I haven't downloaded it--at least not yet. For all my wondering about what a Good Fan would do, I think bands have gotten increasingly good at obviating the need for leaks by satiating the early demand themselves. Want to know what it sounds like? iTunes's previews are now 90 seconds long; I've already heard almost half of each song. Interested in whether they pulled it all off? Five of the songs have been streaming for a few days already.
Am I a Good Fan or a Bad Fan for downloading a leak? At this point, I'm just not ready to go to RapidShare, click through a hundred pop-under ads, and try to convince my computer I'm not trying to buy PHENTERMINE PH3NT3RM1N3 $PHENTERMINE$ from a Russian pharmacy while the whole thing downloads at dial-up speeds because I'm not a Premium-level thief. I'll just buy it on Tuesday.