In their becoming-a-fan stories, fans often begin by describing themselves as "ordinary" popular music listeners, casually using rock as a form of entertainment which accompanies, but does not necessarily shape, their everyday behavior. Springsteen is an indistinguishable part of the media background of their lives; even those who know of him do not give his identity or music much attention beyond seeing one of his albums in a friend's collection or enjoying one of his songs briefly on the radio. But then, something happens. Either suddenly or gradually, fans talk about moving away from that casual stance and becoming people to whom Springsteen's music deeply matters. As Jackie Gillis explained about her becoming a fan: "I had enjoyed Bruce up to this point, but now I was really transformed" (interview, May 14, 1993).
The distance created by this movement from ordinary listener to fan is an important element of fans' understanding of their fandom. Whenever fans go to a concert, a record store, or anywhere else where they may interact with the larger Springsteen audience, one of the first things that strikes them is how different and alien nonfan audience members appear. John O'Brien, for example, told me about attending a concert on Springsteen's 1987 Tunnel of Love tour:
I remember going to Tunnel of Love and looking around and thinking, "Wow, these people must just know 'Tunnel of Love,' must just have heard that single." And I wondered if they really understood the words and stuff. I'm not trying to be condescending, because I don't know. But you wonder about that sometimes. (interview, March 15, 1993)
Mary Beth Wilson echoed:
To me--and I've said this to my friends Joe and Dave a million times during the shows--I feel you should have to pass some kind of test to get into a Springsteen