The Twisted Bell

I Was a Twentysomething Oldfield Fan

My introduction to the concept of 'virtual communities' wasn't through reading Howard Rheingold, it was through something much more mundane: a mailing list. Specifically, a list about a somewhat-obscure and out-of-fashion musician (who is, nevertheless, still popular) called Mike Oldfield.

In early 1993 I joined the then-almost-new Mike Oldfield mailing list, which had maybe fifty members and received a couple of posts a week. By the time I left Amarok (as it had become) in late 1997, it had over five hundred members and was sending out 25K digests every day, an increase that reflected the rapid rise of the Internet itself.

I learned a lot from that list, not just about Mike (as we all called him - hey, it's quicker to type than 'Oldfield') but about the medium of email itself, and about the net's potential as a gathering place for communities that couldn't possibly exist elsewhere. One of the list's more interesting features was that, because Oldfield is far more popular in Europe than in America or even the UK, the list didn't show the usual US-centrism seen on other parts of the net. We had more than our share of cross-cultural misunderstandings, which was a good education for all of us.

I also gave a fair bit back. At times I would lurk for months, but at others I'd bombard the list with long analytical screeds and in-jokey humour, becoming one of the most active members of our small community. But I peaked in late 1996/early 1997, signed off at the end of '97 before heading off on some world travels, and never signed back on. The cyclical nature of mailing lists, with the same issues coming up again and again as new people joined, had finally worn me down, and I'd said all I had wanted to on the subject of Mike.

In the early years of Amarok its archives were stored on the accompanying FTP site hosted by list-moderator AnnMarie 'Kerick' Scott. When Kerick left the list and the site disappeared, so did the archives (despite her best efforts), and any trace of all those words spoken into the electronic ether.

So why am I bringing back some of them now?

When the web came to prominence around 1995 I figured I'd like to put something about Mike onto it one day, but never did, being too busy with other things. Nowadays, I work in the web and have my own site; but there are dozens of Oldfield fan sites now, and I was never too keen on running a straight fan-site anyway. For one thing, it puts too much emphasis on my Mike-fandom: I still like his music, but he's by no means the only artist I listen to and admire. In fact, most of the stuff I listen to these days is a world away from Mike. (What stuff is it? Ahh, that would be telling.)

But... I wrote thousands of words on the list, and some of them are worth keeping. Through Amarok I explored broader ideas about culture and music that summed up a lifetime's music-listening (even if some of them drew a little too heavily on my postgraduate studies of the time). I also made some very corny jokes. Yes, it was in-jokey. Yes, it's largely impenetrable to a non-Oldfield fan, even with the aid of the Amarok FAQ (where you can at least figure out what some of the abbreviations mean). Yes, it's already out-of-date. But there's good stuff in there, and I want to give it a home, if only so I can stop looking over my personal archives once a year and thinking 'I really should do something with this'.

So what's here? Well, there's stuff specifically about Mike, including informal reviews of the albums he released during my time on the list (and a few older ones). There's stuff about broader musical issues, as mentioned above. There are jokes and comic pieces on the subject of Oldfield, many of which were originally destined for a part of the Amarok website to be called 'Froggy Went A-Court-Jesting' that never saw the light of day. And there's stuff about the culture of the list itself, which will probably ring a familiar bell (tubular, of course) to the members of any mailing list or newsgroup. It isn't a complete collection of all my posts, just of my favourites as of right now.

An aside: many of these posts quote from posts made by others and from their replies to mine. I've removed their email addresses for privacy's sake, but have left names as originally quoted to give credit where it's due. I'll happily replace those with pseudonyms if any of the people concerned ask me to.

So here it is: my gift to the Oldfield fan community. I hope you enjoy reading it all as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Rory Ewins
23 January 2001

The Twisted Bell

©2001 Rory Ewins