“Mani-legs go on forever. I’d follow that tush ANYWHERE!” It didn’t take the Internet to prove that there’s no creature on Earth more rampantly obsessed than a Barry Manilow fan. Fred and Judy Vermorel, two academics with a penchant for annotating the collected phlegm of Sid Vicious, branched out in 1985 to ransack the fan mail of pop’s great and good and collate the most hilarious bits for a volume of cheap laughs – er, that is to say, present their considered findings as the culmination of a painstaking piece of important socio-cultural research. But you can see how the resulting thesis might work on both levels.
Most of the ardour is reserved for the expected big hitters, especially the three B’s: Bowie, Bolan and Barry M (whose fans are the most worryingly organised, with their own bootleg networks, fanzines and secret Mani-language). But no pop star is without their cohort of demented nutjobs, and it’s somehow reassuring to know that healthy niche obsessives existed for the likes of Nena. (“What will turn me on will be her face, her mouth and the way she laughs. But I do imagine her vagina.”) Even Blondie drummer Clem Burke (“I would then get whipped cream spread in his anal passage and then eat it with a spoon”) and Bruce Foxton (“then he withdrew and I licked my fingers as I had got them full of his ace-tasting juice”) are roped into the horse-frightening shenanigans.
It’s not the lasciviousness that’s entertaining here, more the naïve ways these sheltered kids choose to express their filthy desires. Sometimes the earnestly gauche phrasing puts you in mind of a Jim’ll Fix It letter gone awry. (“I would like to make Debbie Harry’s quim ache.”) At others, the tone takes on the formality of a job application. (“My secret sexual fantasy is about Bruce Foxton of The Jam and it is as follows.”) One Sheena Easton fan is so endearingly shy, he tries to excuse himself from his own pun-strewn wet dream. (“She said: ‘Isn’t it awfully warm?’ and I said: ‘I think I’d better be going now’. She said: ‘It’s all right. I’m not that much of a Modern Girl!'”) But worry not, he gets there in the end. (“And she says: ‘I don’t know about your kettle but mine’s just blown over.'”)
After a while, you start feeling rather sorry for the poor, sweet, innocent pop stars who have to read the more unhinged stuff. Clean cut Nick Heyward suffers especially badly. “You can lick me out if you wish! I’ve got a good mind to throw a custard pie in your face! Your sperm would last me through breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea and supper!” (The frequency with which young, impressionable types somehow conflate the prospect of oral sex with the more childlike, Beano-esque sense of anticipation at a ‘slap-up feed’ is oddly touching, or perhaps just odd.) Some fans exhibit stalkerish tendencies, but luckily they don’t seem to have really thought their methods through. “We’ve got a rough idea of what area she lives in. We’ll have to go knocking on every door: ‘Does Cheryl Baker live here?’ Then she’d either say ‘come in’ or ‘go away’.” Good luck with that one.
It’s not always good clean fun. Groupies have real, sordid tales to tell about Richard Jobson and a bag of grapes, and one girl almost tops herself over a year’s worth on unanswered Nick Heyward correspondence. But mainly these are harmless, sweetly protective obsessions. (“If a nuclear war did happen I’d be thinking: is Boy George safe?”) Usually the worst crime they commit is slipping into boring pretension. Bowie fans, unsurprisingly, win hands down on this score. (“I AM THE SON OF A RACE OF NUCLEAR CYBERNETICS AND ROCK N ROLL STARS. SKEMATICLY CALCULATING SCIENTISTS THAT WALK AROUND ON STILTS.”) Yes, yes. Hell’s bells, is that the time?