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Fan Essays In Retrospect
by Michael Gallagher

Part I: General Fanatical Behavior

I guess you could say I was casually late to get onboard the Aztec Camera bandwagon. I think I grew up in the last place on Earth that was equipped with cable television, so I missed the cool, early days of MTV when "Oblivious" was being shown with some regularity.

My introduction to Roddy's music in Spring of 1985 was quite coincidental actually. A friend stopped over one night in his parent's new car and he insisted that I experience the amazing quality of the stereo. I climbed into the back seat, sat back and he cranked the volume as Knife was popped into the tape deck. On came "All I Need is Everything" and the dramatic instrumental opening got my immediate attention. And then those lyrics... "I wish myself into your arms"... that line succinctly summarized my pathetic high school existence. I was hooked on Aztec Camera from that moment on.

Following an entire summer of listening to the Knife album daily, the natural regression led me to High Land, Hard Rain. Aztec Camera appealed to me on so many different levels. Those painfully beautiful chord changes could (and still do) twist my heart in a knot in the best possible way imaginable. Those clever and sometimes cryptic lyrics helped me to identify feelings I had and was still unable to get my head around. The fact that few people had ever heard of Aztec Camera was (and still is) appealing because it gave me a sense of uniqueness... real or imagined, that is. And, last but not least, that shadowy, young figure with the big, hollow-body Grestch guitar on the back of the Knife insert... the blurry, fringed image of a guy pictured on High Land, Hard Rain who was just a few years older than myself. Roddy Frame was a mystery to me. Who was he and how could he write such amazing songs? I wanted to hear more of his music and I wanted to know more about him.

Fast forward a year or two to my early college days. The overplayed High Land, Hard Rain album was, at this point, replaced by the now-overplayed "Backwards and Forwards" live e.p. on my stereo. My quest for further over-exposure to the music of Roddy Frame in 1986 led to weekly harassment of the snooty local record shop owner. Have you heard of Aztec Camera? Do you know if they're working on a new album? If they were to release something new, when do you suppose you'll get it in stock? I'm actually embarrassed for myself now that I think about it, but I guess my persistence was somewhat admirable at the time.

I'm not sure if the shop owner had finally grown tired of my queries about Aztec Camera, but after many months of interrogation he told me that "Aztec Camera has been broken up for several years." I'm presuming this news flash, rumor, or whatever you want to call it was based upon the line-up changes that were happening after the release and subsequent touring of the Knife album. Needless to say, I was crushed by the early reports.

All that changed a year later when progress of the third album became known. Harassement of the shop owner resumed once again as I pressed him daily for confirmation of a release date. The anticipation was nearly unbearable as the album was delayed week after week during the Fall of 1987. And, finally, in November, the long-awaited "Love" album was in my hands. The only possible development that could have surpassed that joy was news of Aztec Camera playing a live gig in Chicago. That announcement came a few days later on the radio and I couldn't have been happier if I had just won the lottery. That concert at Chicago's famous Cabaret Metro on November 27th was a religious experience. It was an unbelievable evening worthy of all the build-up in my mind.

With the release of the "Stray" album in 1990, news of another Chicago gig was announced and a high school friend by the name of Michael McDermott (who was Roddy's opening act that evening) was kind enough to provide me with a backstage pass. The actual concert itself was, in all honesty, a bit of a blur for me. That was probably due in large part to the meeting that was to take place afterwards. When the show was over a handful of people, including myself, were whisked through the Metro's musty, winding corridors to a backroom arranged with a surplus of snack trays and drinks.

And there was Roddy, surrounded by and chatting with fans, signing autographs and handing out t-shirts. I hung back to make sure I'd be the last person to speak with him. I had many year's worth of very important questions to ask him, afterall... though what those questions were I wasn't quite sure of as I approached him. When everyone else cleared the room, I shook his hand and told him I was very glad to meet him. He was very gracious and offered me food and something to drink several times throughout the course of our conversation.

I mentioned to him that I was pleasantly surprised to hear the band play "Just Like the U.S.A." at the show and he told me how it was added to the playlist because it was one of the roadie's favorites. I asked him if his cover version of "Jump" was meant to be a sarcastic poke at Van Halen and he explained that it reminded him very much of a Velvet Underground song and that he wanted to re-record it as such. We talked about his new cover version of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" and he asked me if I liked it (sh'yeah!). Our brief chat lasted somewhere between 5 to 10 minutes and I shook his hand again as we wrapped it up. Roddy's music had been such an enormous part of my life leading up to this and our short meeting made me very proud to be a fan of such a genuinely nice guy.

Part II: The Aztec Camera Home Page

Skipping ahead a few years... by 1995, I had quit my day job in construction and decided to give computers a go. I was running a small and local online service out of my house at the time and started hearing people talk about this thing called the Internet. It all sounded very complicated and intimidating, but I decided to see what all the buzz was about. I got myself online for the first time and immediately searched for information about a possible new album from Aztec Camera. To my disappointment, there really wasn't anything out there.

As it turns out, the interest generated by this thing called the Internet pushed most of my company's clientele to newer, bigger services like America Online. While my struggling little business was being snuffed out, I decided to use the opportunity to create something on the Internet... but what? What do I know about that isn't already being done on the web? Ding! Aztec Camera! I had all the records, all the singles, a few photos and articles snipped from newspapers... it'd be a good start. But those things still didn't address the issue of whether or not Roddy was working on a new album. Answering that question would require a bit more effort.

With that, I put on my thinking cap, made a few phone calls and got a hold of someone at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles who supplied me with the answers I was seeking... Frestonia was to be released in a matter of two weeks. I quickly scrambled to get my hands on every "How to" book about HTML and the Internet so that I could create a web page to tell other Aztec Camera fans about the new album. It took several days of trial and error HTML coding, but on October 17, 1995, the "Aztec Camera Home Page" made its online debut.

It started out with really nothing more than news of Frestonia's pending release, a couple of poorly-scanned photos of Roddy and lyrics to a few songs from High Land, Hard Rain. But being on the fringe of involuntary self-unemployment allowed me all the time I needed to concentrate on adding more to the site almost round the clock. Looking back on the 1995 site revision history page, you can actually see how the pieces began to come together day by day.

It took a week or so before I received my first e-mail from a fan who had stumbled upon the new Aztec Home Page. Soon after, more messages began to come in and I was carrying on very detailed and long-winded written conversations with people I had never even met. We had absolutely nothing in common except for our love of Roddy's music. This concept of being able to share our thoughts and experiences relating to Aztec Camera soon inspired the creation of the e-mail list. Slowly but surely fans from every continent were joining up and contributing to the daily discussions about Roddy, his music and its impact on us all.

As more people became aware of the web site, new content began rolling in from Aztec fans from all over the globe. Packages arrived at my doorstep with piles of British magazine articles about Roddy, videos of tv appearances came to me from Japan, cassette tapes of early '80s interviews from Scottish radio programs showed up, guitar tabs and scanned photos were being e-mailed to me... the list goes on and on. It was amazing to experience first-hand not only the number of Aztec Camera fans there are in the world, but also their willingness to help put the site together.

My goal for the web site has always been to continually add new content - as much and as often as possible - without removing anything that has already been added. In 1998, I guess you could say the "Aztec Camera Home Page" was beginning to burst at the seams. With all the new content coming in, it was time to expand to a new web hosting plan that could comfortably house it all. This also seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the entire site a complete face lift and an identity of its own that was somewhat more appropriate than just (boring old) "Home Page". We wanted to come up with a web site name that sounded and felt like "home" to Aztec Camera fans around the world. After some debated brainstorming, Squid, our resident Fan Essays editor, suggested It was brilliant, it was perfect. We've got a name, so now what do we do?

The plan for the new site was to incorporate all the elements of the old "Home Page" and add as many new and interactive ideas as possible to the new design. Some of those ideas include the aforementioned Fan Essays section, electronic postcards, a powerful search engine (seen to your top right), an online store, a custom-programmed Roddy-related game or two and, our most popular feature to date, the mp3 of the week section.

For the facelift part of the project, I recruited longtime Frame fan, fellow contributor to both tribute CDs, web guru and friend, Stuart Matthews. Stuart and I casually tossed design ideas around for several months until I decided, I think around the first week of January 2000, that I'd like to finally launch the site on Roddy's birthday... which, as any devoted fan knows, is January 29th! With less than three weeks before the poorly planned launch date and nothing more than a one page composite to work from, we scrambled to assemble the pieces, both old and new, before time ran out on the self-imposed deadline. Despite literally two sleepless nights in a row there at the end, we failed to launch the site on time. The new "Aztec Camera Home Page", now known as, went live a day behind schedule on January 30, 2000.

I guess that pretty much brings us up to present. If you've stuck with me long enough to read this far along, you're probably wondering what the point of this essay is and why the need for so much seemingly unnecessary detail. Well, Roddy Frame and his music are and always have been the focus of the web site and I've done my best to present it from an impartial, almost journalistic approach while keeping myself out of it as much as possible. I hope I've succeeded in doing that thus far! But from time to time people do e-mail me and ask how the site got started and all that kinda stuff. I thought, with this being the five year anniversary of the site (in all its forms), this'd be a good opportunity to tell my side of the story behind the site.

And although I've done a fair amount of tapping away at the keyboard over the years to try and spread the word about Roddy and his music, I also want everyone to be quite aware that none of this would have been possible without a great deal of help! My sincere and deep thanks go out to everyone around the world who has ever sent in suggestions, feedback, tour dates, photos, audio, video, articles, guitar tabs and essays. Thanks to everyone who has ever contributed their time and talent to create the tribute CDs, those of you who've purchased said CDs, the t-shirts, the mousepads and the coffee mugs. Everyone who has ever visisted the site, signed the guestbook, everyone on the mailing list and everyone who planned and came to the Aztec Anorak fan convention in London last March. It's been a pleasure to observe and share in your loyalty to and passion for Roddy's music.

All of these things are the pieces that make up what you could call this online/interactive Roddy Frame scrapbook. Each piece and every effort is equally important and much appreciated. Many unforseen milestones have been reached since the first edition of the primatively produced "Aztec Camera Home Page" went live in 1995. I never could have anticipated that five years down the road it would have evolved into what it has become. I'm very proud and honored to be a part of it and I look forward to its further evolution years from now.

I'm still just as fanatical about the music of Roddy Frame as I was way back in 1985. I still listen to it every single day and I try to share it with as many people as possible. Roddy, thank you for providing us all with such wonderful music. Keep it coming... sooner than later, please. Keep in mind that many snooty record shop owners around the world are being harassed on your behalf. :)   

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