The Ground Floor Effect

M: The other day I was watching the season premiere of The Big Bang Theory, and the theme song came on.  I was watching it live, which I rarely do now that I have DVR, so I couldn’t fast forward through it.  Of course, I quickly remembered that one of my favorite bands, Barenaked Ladies, does the theme song for that show.  Every time I hear them I smile a bit more than I do with other bands, even bands that I like as much or more than BNL.  Why, you might ask?  Because I was a fan before they made it.  I was in on the ground floor.  That little extra bounce that I get when hearing them, I’m dubbing it The Ground Floor Effect.

For some history, back around ’94, several years before BNL made it big in the US, and even a year or two before they became local favorites in Boston, I heard the song Jane, and loved it, so I decided to try to find out more about them.  With the help of my friend Miller (whose name isn’t actually Miller), I found their first studio album, Gordon, and I was hooked.  (C: You could have asked me.  I had discovered them by then too, and saw them perform a total of 5 times in high school! It helped that most of the shows were free. E: Oh, right, because that had nothing to do with us liking them.  Uhuhn.)  Goofy, irreverent, musically interesting, hilarious and just downright fun.  Crazy lyrics, rants in the middle of songs about things like macaroni and cheese, sound effects like the ones Ferris Bueller’s keyboard made, and some really good ballads and surprisingly good musical ability.  What wasn’t to like?  But at the time, it seemed like no one knew of them.  I, however, was all in.

E: I remember when about 7 of us went to that show they did at the Orpheum, a Boston venue that seats about 1000, and Steven Page wore a green gingham dress.  That was actually one of the first times my husband and and I hung out, come to think of it (M: You’re welcome).  Anyway, their live show is like nothing we’d ever seen (M: A comedy show with music).  I remember, too, how up in arms we were when local music writers criticized one of their later concerts, because they had attacked OUR guys.

M: I’m still not sure the writer actually attended the show, as the commentary about the audience being detached couldn’t have been further from the truth.  (E: That was so divorced from reality that it still pisses me off.) But I digress…  back to present time.  As I smiled listening to the Big Bang theme and thought more about The Ground Floor Effect, I realized that it doesn’t only apply to music.  I love letting other people in on lesser known yet awesome movies like Frequency or Conspiracy Theory, books like The Alienist by Caleb Carr.  I am happy when they like the things I recommend.  However, it really is different with bands.  There’s an unknown-to-superstardom path that books, movies and TV shows generally don’t progress down.  In fact, the only even remotely comparable experience I can think of for myself from outside of music would be the Lord of the Rings movies.  Thanks to E, the good big sister that she is (E: Ooo, first I’m right, then I’m a good big sister – fortunately I’m sitting to type this or I’d fall over), I had read the books in high school, and loved them, to the point where I took a class on Tolkien in college.  When I heard that they were trying to make a movie out of them, I got excited.  (E: where as I was cautious and slightly panicked – good on you for having faith from the beginning.  M: Yeah, but I’m such a sucker for the stories that I even liked the Rankin-Bass animated versions.  “Where there’s a whip … *crack*… there’s a way!” E: Best orc song ever!) I followed the movie project from the time it was announced and a few design sketches were released, through getting New Line Cinemas to bankroll it, to casting, to firing the original Aragorn, Stuart Townsend, four days into filming, through filming in New Zealand, to the first clip shown at Cannes, and on and on.  When the movies came out I wanted them to be the best ever, and to break records.  I was elated when they did.  I was genuinely upset when Fellowship lost the Oscar to A Beautiful Mind, a decent enough movie, but certainly not an unforgettable cinematic masterpiece.  When Two Towers lost to Chicago! Chicago?  I mean, that was a slap in the face.  And when Oscar redeemed itself a bit with its adoration of Return of the King, that still didn’t fully make up for how slighted I felt the previous two years.

E: Ah, my poor bro.  There was no way either of those movies had a chance to win best picture, but ROTK was a lock – if FOTR had won, then there’d be pressure for TT and ROTK to repeat, and people would get sick of them.  This way the momentum built in the proper direction – even if ROTK isn’t, per se, the best of the three films.  But of course that has nothing to do with who gets an Oscar.

M: I know that was the widely used excuse that was considered acceptable at the time, but to me the Oscar should go to the BEST picture.  Each of those three movies were the best pictures the years they came out.  Judge them each on their own merit, that’s all I ask.  Still, this was a very rare movie experience, where you can be in on something so far before most people have heard of it, and can actually recruit people to it.

C: I still gloat over having discovered James McAvoy very early, and predicting that he would get noticed and go on to get big roles. I also brag to people that my brother M came up with the idea of putting recently-aired TV episodes on the web several years before the networks clued in!

E: That feeling of catching on to something early is why movies like Slumdog Millionaire win best picture; people are thrilled to discover something so special.

M: All true, but still, most of the time movies gets hyped right from the start.  With bands, even the best seem to come out of nowhere when they hit it big, while in almost every case they’ve actually toiled for years to break through.  It provides more time and opportunity to get in on them.

So I kept thinking further about the Ground Floor Effect, and I started to wonder: why does it make any difference to me?  I mean, *should* it make me like a band more?  Why?  Is it the sense of discovery, that I found an artist before they were popular?  Is it a sense of superiority, like I’m better than their other fans because I’m not a Johnny-come-lately?  Or is it the satisfaction of seeing that a fledgling, up-and-coming artist I like has made it big, that other people are recognizing in them what I saw from the beginning?  Personally, I lean toward the last, but I think they are all probable reasons for some people at some times, and I’m sure there are many more.

What about you?  Who were you in on before they made it?  Who makes you feel The Ground Floor Effect?

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