WARNING: one paragraph in this post contains profanities and slurs, not safe for work.
i-m.net turned ten on November 24th 2014 and I never bothered to write something about it. There was the title and the words "thanks for putting up with us" in the post body. Nothing else. It was an odd time. I thought that I may seem too excited and that people would accuse me of wanting whatever amount of minutes in the spotlight – which could not be further from the truth – and I just...didn't. The fact that I had mixed feelings about everything from early 2009 on, especially from mid-2013 to a couple of months ago, probably contributed to it.
Those mixed feelings were not a result of “being disappointed by my hero", by the way. The whole concept of heroes aside, how can one be disappointed by a person creating art when it's obvious that it's what they breathe and what they live for?
In a stark contrast to that, I have been preparing an 11th anniversary post since the last weekend of August, but most of the initial drafts seemed too strange to end up being published. It was suddenly hard to write. I used to underestimate the whole concept of going public with about any kind of a writing and wondered why is it such a big deal to press the Publish button, but now I get it. From blog posts and poetry to tweets and news articles, every single thing one writes may have consequences. And if random strangers have it like that, what’s left for those under tight scrutiny?
This piece was meant to go live on the evening of November 24th, but then I got distracted by everyday matters. And I'm glad that the above happened, because if this post had gone live at the same time as JF's…that would have been really awkward.
But here it is, today, two weeks later. The story of this website. In some way, my story, too; because I want to tell you how I got to run it, how I stuck around despite being an absolute dilettante making one mistake after another, how guilt and fear became my dominant emotions and evolved into strange, near-robotic behaviour…and how I ultimately snapped out of it.
The point of what you’re about to read is not to glorify this website, me or us. The observation, if any, listed here are my own and are not affiliated with anything or anybody.
Ćao! / Ћао!
What is a random stranger from what most people assume is a huge area in Asia where it snows all year long and people speak Russian and drink vodka doing running a website about somebody who is most certainly not Vladimir Putin? And it's a woman? Whore! Groupie! A bitter c*nt! Must be secretly a teenager! Must be secretly a middle-aged fat lady! A magazine-scanning schizophrenic! No, it's erotomania! Go get laid instead. Hitler! Goebbels! Harley Quinn! Gollum! Show some criticism, stop sucking his c*ck all the time! You're probably ugly! How come you're not a dude? How can a girl be capable of this? I thought you were a gay man because the site design is so gay. Bitch. You were probably a hall monitor in middle school! Do you do anything else in life? Thanks for nothing, bitch. You're technically more obsessed than all of us, because you run this website. Stop pretending you're above it all! Real fans don't do this, be a real fan! Why do you not call it "Smiles" with a "s", that's what it's called on the old site?! You’re from…what? Your country caused both world wars!
The above things are actual quotes from the past eleven years that I could remember on the top of my head and, yup, most of them are gendered. It's funny how people know everything about you, especially when you have never spoken to them. And they have a list of stereotypes handy before you can even say ćao or whatever is the common informal greeting where you are. Want a pro tip? They have those stereotypes handy for those they love and those they love to hate and hate to love, too. It's just that everybody is used to the latter, to the point where they believe everything they have ever read about somebody has got to be the absolute, ultimate truth.
So, in case it really matters to you, I'm from Belgrade, in Serbia, 32 going on 33 and a web developer/designer who most likely abandoned studying for a degree in Italian language and literature forever. I’m not a musician. I was raised as the only child of two alternative types who obtained university degrees in their thirties and had me in their forties. I have a dog and she’s awesome.
invisible-movement.net was born in April 2004. The whole thing had started only five months earlier.
My only close friend at the time always had one famous-man obsession after another and her Romeo of the day was somebody a lot of people are obsessed with. It was all about him, and it was impossible to talk to my friend about anything that was not the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so I had to play along. What I said was close to "The band annoys me most of the time, but wow, the guitar player on Under the Bridge was great, so was the one in Scar Tissue, very inventive...come to think, the one in Californication and Road Trippin was pretty minimalist, but one could see his heart was in it...and yeah, the current one is good, too. What are these people's names?”
My friend was baffled. After she informed me about those four people being just one person, she told me about that person having not one but three solo albums and another coming up in about two months. I rushed to check them, but I was on dial-up, so downloading the first song, from what ended to be some sort of a fifth album, took ages. While waiting, I stumbled upon on a fan-made website, because the official one was down. I was trying to ignore the tone that almost everything was written in, the webmaster seemed to be presenting own opinion as facts and most of it focused on a very specific period of time. After reading the backstory that my friend “warned” me about because I was so “fragile” and “innocent”, I got around to reading about songs.
The lyrics caught me by surprise – it was not the kind of stuff I had to put up with because I liked the melody, it was the kind of stuff that I read books for. The kind of stuff that, in my twenty-year-old mind, came from the places art should be coming from. If this person could have a completely different thing going on outside of the public masquerade and write such beautiful things, then I have no excuse for not writing anymore…I told myself and started writing again.
Eventually, I got my hands on the music. A lovely American friend named Amanda sent me TROWFTD, I won Niandra in a competition and somebody else burned me Smile and the internet tracks on CD-ROMs. The songs sounded exactly how I had imagined them to sound. The one that stood out weeks beforehand was my favourite.
So, in April, I was going on and on about how I can finally write again and how I’ll pass that dreaded Italian language 1 exam this 10th time round, really. Why? Because of the beautiful lyrics, the poetry of the songs on those four albums. It was the classic and potentially dangerous “this person changed my life” narrative, taking a simple push in the right direction to extremes. That was enough of a reason to start a website.
"H-how dare you separate one person from the rest of the band?" my friend asked. "It's not fair! Let's make a site about all of them! They belong together!"
I shook my head. I was still getting over the sheer fear over the fact that I was on a RHCP message board and that other board, and now this. How was my friend not making a distinction between music made to appeal to everybody and music that seeks its own listeners, solely by being what it is?
On April 13th, I purchased a domain name, named after my favourite song. I never liked the idea of using people’s names for anything from fansites to usernames on social networks, it’s not like they gave us a permission to do so. To this day, I feel uncomfortable about rearranging the words in the site title and renaming the Twitter account, just so the search results would give people what they actually searched for and not the articles on music blogs that retell things. And yes, that’s from the list of all things I ever did wrong, which I mentioned earlier.
Having had only a couple of years of experience with mostly nonsensical websites, I dabbled in what became the initial i-m.net for seven months, using a WordPress, 1.2, the new, scary thing that succeeded a platform called b2-cafelog. There were three or four installations of it there at first, the sections were single php files split into multiple pages. Insert the “I have no idea what I’m doing” golden retriever image macro here, as you see fit.
At the same time, there was a whole avalanche of solo albums coming out, one after another. And it was impossible to process them and properly enjoy them at once, the same way it was impossible to bulk-read so many interviews and then quote random sentences for them. But everybody was doing it, I could not keep up. I was concerned that I did not know how to admire people the right way – sit there and absorb everything that has ever been said about them, at once, and then become an expert, somebody who totally knows the person, inside and out…and become malcontent at some point. Instead of it, I was taking everything that would come our way, enthusiastically, but bit by bit, day by day. I just could not process it all immediately.
It was hard to side with everybody who quoted moments from old RHCP interviews by heart. It was hard to side with those who were there since 1994 and apparently, into the only real art there was, as us who tagged along in the 2000s were fake. This reminded me of my elementary school friends hating everybody who liked and enjoyed Eurodance, gabber, happy hardcore and similar genres, all of which I never stopped loving. Not being exclusively into guitar music was, apparently, the equivalent of not being an actual human being.
And the idealistic little 21-year-old girl thought we all could be best friends, forever. My site was going to be like, web 2.0, have instant news and spread the love in a way that did not involve the fan lingo similar to Smurf talk. On my site, we were not going to discredit female fans. And I was totally going to bridge the gap between people who came through RHCP sites and those who discovered JF in a hip, indie way. All of that while being a new fan coming from some random Ruritania, who struggles with formal education and much more!
On the day i-m.net was launched, I was in the first month of being brutally grounded by my now-deceased father and allowed only to spend a limited amount of time online. Five minutes after the chocolate brown and ochre-coloured absolute mess saw the light of the day, he put a physical lock on the end of the phone cable that was going into the socket, so I could sleep when he wanted me to sleep. I had to suffer consequences, he said – for repeating a year at the university for the second time in a row, despite passing that famed exam.
Until his death, Dad continued to give unwanted opinions on this site, despite not knowing anything about the internet. One of the last coherent things he ever said was “You have to promise me one thing! Give up on your website and JF, or at least remove all emotional involvement with it and be cold!”
I ended up taking the second part of the advice way too seriously. But more about that later on.
i-m.net appeared at the right time, somehow. I remember being pretty confused to find it on the first page of search results within a couple of weeks. At this time, I still did not understand the frightening amount of responsibility to both myself and the others that would come with it. I was like an elementary schooler, bragging about a silly class project.
At this time, my now-retired mother was the head of the project whose goal was to connect all museums in the country through a central database. She was the information architect working with an old-school programmer and, at some point, I was involved with it as the user interface designer, too. I found this fascinating and I developed a great affinity to indexing data and term relationships. It probably shows on here.
Real Life ™
Fandoms for bestselling bands and artists are scary places. There was hierarchy. There were tapers and they mostly didn’t like us n00bs. There were people who were popular fans and had cred. They went to concerts, some went to a lot of them. When they’d come back from concerts, whether those were the 2004 performance shows or something RHCP-related, the whole message board would flock around them. They had managed to meet John, as well as other people. Sometimes, the experiences they were retelling sounded uncomfortable, sometimes they sounded cool. But there was this strange sense of entitlement, more often than not.
And there was always that financial and social disparity, the sense of first-world (I hate that term!) superiority above the rest of us. It’s not their fault that we are “poor” and “being poor does not make us good”, and we are “Anglophobes”. I remember e-mails from people who only wanted to tell me to stop whining about not having been able to go to the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival in 2005. I guess it was a variant of “Know your place”. The phrase “Check your privilege” was not widely used back then, but it would have come in handy.
At the time of the RHCP’s Stadium Arcadium tour, the procedure of getting anywhere in the Schengen zone was still ridiculous and Kafkaesque and nine years later, I am still not sure how I made it to the two shows in Austria. It was only then that I added the missing pieces to the puzzle, to make it three-dimensional, after three years of observing everything exclusively online. It was interesting: the popular fans were outdoing one another with their anecdotes, connections and privileges. Us peasants and mere mortals, we were enjoying the music. Some were awestruck. I remember being absolutely disconnected from anything but the melody coming from right above me a couple of times. I only learned the right term for this in 2012.
None above was not the case at the 2007’s Green Fest, which made me wonder about the absurdity of it all. It was marketed aggressively, because not many big names were coming here back then. There was even a reality show in the style of Takeshi’s Castle where the winners would get a pair of tickets. There were people who wanted to be there just because a huge thing was happening and, as people grown up in isolation imposed by the outside powers, we never had a chance to witness something like a huge band coming here on the peak of their career’s success, with the best line-up. And it was one big, big mess, all the same.
On the one-hour walk back to the town of Inđija, soaking wet, with three other friends while the rest of our eleven people-group had scattered, I wondered if this is what it was all about, at all. I never saw my favourite artist as a juggling monkey on a tricycle or any case, but seemingly, I did not see the local audience as a tool for whomever was above everything to make money. Any way one could look at it, it was pretty bleak. And then, the municipality of Inđija eventually showed us what it was all about, by building a fashion outlet centre on the same expropriated piece of arable land where the event was held.
All three of these events I attended – and some that I couldn’t, but this website covered them – resulted in meeting a lot of new people. Some vanished from 2010 on, as if this place and I had gone the path they could no longer follow, some remained close even now. Some saw me as some sort of a trophy to be added to their friend lists to the point where they told their school mates that they knew me (!) as if that was more than knowing anybody else, some think I’m withholding whatever non-existent secrets they’re entitled to. Some had very specific goals and knowing me and having their contacts know that they know me was a compromising thing to them. That one hurt a lot, actually….but yeah, humans. Can’t live with 'em, can’t live without ‘em. Can I be an Ewok instead? I always wanted to worship trees and do some pagan magick!
The cheese stands alone
Did I say that fandoms were scary? Fansites are even scarier. Running one is scary!
When this website was started, there were a couple of others that were, like, big. People who were running those had ambitions, connections and were in the know, or whatever. And they wanted to compete. Step on somebody’s foot. Make up stories. Be adored. There was a point where everybody was out to get the odd one out. Following an advice from a friend, I stopped visiting all the “competition”, because, at that point, even hearing about them would result in enormous anxiety. Being a little dilettante on planet whatever and focusing on archiving and categorizing the output of a creative mind I had appreciation, and helping others find what they were looking for was more important than this. And, in the big picture, we were all taking ourselves way too seriously.
Then, boom, the enormous amount of press coverage and the appeal of writing about somebody from a big band that’s touring vanished, and websites started to vanish, too. In 2008, little prior to The Empyrean press release being sent to i-m.net without any explanation one day before the world had it, I was horrified to realize that there were tumbleweeds around this little corner of the internet and that everybody else had gone. And then, there was the breach of the fourth wall in the form of jf.com becoming a blog, thus shattering the very last fan myth I actually believed in, the “no internet” one.
While I had some experience with how to behave like, you know, a normal person in promotional campaigns through my then-job of the creative director for Serbia at Lush, that was not enough and it had nothing to do with this. Bath bombs are not extraordinary people, there are hundreds of them coming out of the mold in each batch. I spent most of the period of time between November 2008 and February 2009 hiding in a corner, panicking. I suddenly felt responsible for every single stupid thing I have ever said, for this website’s layout possibly being inappropriate or cheesy, sourcing the content of some pages and…you name it, I felt guilty about it. Naturally, I ended up saying and doing even more stupid things that would not make sense to anybody older than, say, six. There was a particular point in time when I should have and could have breathed out a sigh of relief and stopped worrying, but instead I became worse.
In my fear of myself, this website, its visitors and more, I overlooked a lot in 2009 – namely, two people with numerous alter egos, doing odd things. They had played their game well, for years, by then. One of them wanted other websites to leak the information on who was the new RHCP guitarist, as what was probably their own revenge against him. I’d…better stop here.
The next time a person doing odd things came my way, I reacted. But nothing happened, or so I thought. Months later, I read this person’s name all over the media, including some daily local free papers. There was more guilt, because I felt that, had the 2009 mistakes not happened, I would not have been the paranoid girl yelling “wolf”.
The 2010 show fiasco? I blamed myself for that, too; because, I should have been granted a permission to write about the band in question first. If I didn’t, the site visitors would be angry. Sure, the reps were extremely unfriendly and so on, but still…see how my mind works?
Between a rock and a hard place
Eventually, I started acting the way my dad would have wanted me to act. Every single thing I could not understand, not being a journalist, a musician myself or a fan who follows things on social networks (I’m about the worst person to like any kind of page, I never read anything), I dealt with this the only way I knew how – by channeling my dominant feelings of guilt and shame into extremely negativistic, cynical behaviour on the inside and an almost-robotic, cute to the point of diabetes persona for running this website on the outside. And these two would overlap, get all mixed up and I would not know who was who and what I was actually thinking anymore. The other day, I found a piece of a never-completed entry for my personal blog, where I was asking myself how a wide-eyed kid grows to be a cynical bastard AND a Prozac fairy, at the same time.
In 2012, things started happening again, after a couple of peaceful years. There was PBX and the little EP preceding it. The feeling that this website was, apparently, the only place other than music blogs that was promoting the two releases was not as scary as it could have been in 2008/2009, but at the same time, everything about it felt so strangely cold, as if everybody was inhabiting a world of mutual detachment. I don’t even know how to explain it, but if I would have had to compare it to right now, it would have been its exact opposite. Right now is awesome. On the day I was opening a big box containing LPs, CDs and cassettes on my bedroom floor, I found myself crying. Then throwing the empty box around and kicking it. Then wondering. And wondering some more.
It seems that the whole fandom was heading the same way. There were so many happy people and so many angry people. At some point, it was impossible to continue moderating comments. here were a lot of new people listening to the music, but the website “dementors” from back in the days gave place to a new generation of social networking kids. They would come, take what they need, put it somewhere on a social network and be important or whatever. Then they would come back here to leave some really odd comments, almost always of racist and/or similarly questionable nature.
And to many, I was suddenly the bad girl for doing what any fansite owner would have done, at least in my mind – appreciate where the artist was taking us and asking the people to be kind. It was hard to grasp how much the internet changed since 2004. With social media, the illusion of mainstream artists and whomever else living for the masses and not, well, living a life, became dominant and loving to hate and hating to love everybody the way one does with whatever reality star seemed to have become the dominant concept pretty much everywhere.
Eventually, every single day started feeling like one particular scene from The Simpsons Movie.
There was a point mid-2013, when I felt completely detached from everything. I still loved the music, but everything else, coming from anybody and everybody, I don’t know. The amount of cold I was feeling for reasons I could not even explain, the fear of doing this or that wrong, the criticism from the site visitors who did not have the same understanding of the term “news” as I did and those who made a meme out of me, it was too much. It did not help that I had problems with my physical health at the same time. I felt like something was telling me to go away, and not come back. After all, I had spent some time being just another mere tool in the hands of those in charge of putting the music out there and my mileage and my feelings did not matter at all – I was disposable.
That was the point where I, the person who introduced herself to you all earlier, left, seemingly forever, and the tee-hee robotic entity was basically running the website and social networking profiles by herself, or maybe itself. If there is anything from this period of time to a couple of months ago that sounds too strange – it felt even stranger to be writing it.
One day before the release of Enclosure, I found myself undertaking the GTT test. I was pretty disoriented and detached from everything in general, not just this website, by then; and after this was done, I don’t remember the rest of the month. Today, I know that this is called “brain fog” and that I probably had a lot of instances of it before I got the diagnosis of a very common endocrine disorder that could have lead me to diabetes. But what did that mean about all those times when running this website and feeling responsible got me feeling weird? Was it real or was it all my imagination? I opted for the later, and continued being somewhat uninterested and robotic.
By the time we were in 2015, the transformation into a robot had been complete. It was going to be yet another year of doing things, buying new things and being a confusing, shadowy entity. That seemed like a plan!
The year of clarity
2015 took an unexpected turn. Sometime in February, despite my increasingly good physical health and no signs of depression or anything similar, I sort of broke. I stopped being interested in anything other than contemplation and that included this website. Not sure when I stopped updating, it must have been April-May, the time I connected some dots and figured out some things that should have made me revert to being an actual human on here again, but instead, they had a completely opposite effect. I was so going to walk away, this time for real.
Then there was July and that event. I announced it and forgot about it, just to see it cancelled/changed after a couple of days. This was the point where I started questioning myself a lot. Should I have not written about it? Should the comments I was reading before it was cancelled been scaring me as much as they did? What was it, again? Was that my compassion, social anxiety or whatever speaking, all of the sudden? Was this the moment when I realised that I did not only robotificise myself, but also others and that nobody was a robot here?
It took about seven weeks to wake up from a strange dream one morning and start crying. I cried for a couple of hours, wondering how hurtful and repugnant my behavior may have been, if anything was ever right. There was a certain amount of relief, but instead of being numb like I trained myself to be, I was, err, normal.
I started thinking about this little place, a lot. I realised that a lot of wonderful things happened and that I did not appreciate them at all, that I would either find a way to see something bad about them or to dismiss them as fictional. I spent September and October contemplating the hows, whats and whys and looking at a bunch of new internet calamities unfolding. This time, they were more bizarre than ever before, but my robotic alter ego had apparently died in August and was not around to react. Mid-November, I ended up sending a close friend this neatly ordered list of all of my and my website's unforgivable sins towards both its visitors and the one who brought us all together. She assured me that those things were human, but I could not help thinking most of them were stupid, uncalled for and an eventual result of constantly tumbling down the stairs in the dark, piloting a starship when you can barely pilot a supermarket cart.
I didn’t get it. But I get it now. Whatever it is that I was supposed to get. I’m slow, you know?
At the end of the day…
Building and running websites for business clients is nothing more than an equivalent of fixing somebody’s car, it’s just that people whose cars you’re fixing don’t suddenly think they’re mechanics. It’s what puts the bread on table and one has to put up with it. Running a website about yourself – e.g., a portfolio or a personal blog – is all about presenting yourself to strangers and, in the latter case, opening yourself to judgment. It’s slightly frightening, too.
Yet running a website about somebody else is ten thousand times as frightening as any of the above could ever be. There are all these people who think you want money. There are those who think you’re a creep, a lurker, some form of a voyeur, or, at best, living your failed ambitions through somebody else. There are those who are morbidly jealous, as if there was actually something to be jealous about.
And there is something you may overlook – a living, breathing human on the other side of the story, who may be as sensitive as you, have their own quirks and pet peeves, and so on. This person can get offended, as much as you can, with something that you cannot even predict. And it’s justified, more often than not. And if you’re like me, you become self-conscious to the point where you may find yourself regretting a typo you made years ago. Each time you post something, you wonder if it’s morally OK, if it’s too intrusive. You find yourself editing the text on the site thousands of times because it sounded like a fact or an opinion and it was supposed to be a quote.
To sum it up, your actions may have serious consequences and though nobody will be out to get you – you will know something is off. There are days when everything looks and feels like a strange film, almost too strange to be real. Nobody gives you any instructions on what NOT to do. As a dear anthropologist friend of mine said recently, it all adds up to some sort of a beautiful curse. This is a confusing existence...
…but, at this point in time, I am strangely calm about it, like never before. And I wouldn’t have it any other way than what it is like at this point in time. Our ecosystem suddenly seems so balanced, doesn’t it?
This story could have been a bunch of statistics, which I used to be so keen on, not realising how wrong it sounded. But the reason it did not work last year is probably because, at the end of the day, it had to end up being a long confession.
Thank you, everybody, for everything. And thanks for putting up with me over the course of the past eleven years and two weeks.
- Iva T.
P.S. I’m not as literate as I used to claim, this is not my native language and one of the things I learned through i-m.net was not to judge people based on typos they make, even if those typos are of the lazy kind. This piece of text was read by a professional editor who pointed out the typos I made, the missing articles, tenses that did not match and sentences that were not clear enough. She is also a professional musician and a great person who taught me a lot of things throughout 2015 and I’m privileged to know her. Thank you, Esther, you are amazing!