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Phoenix, Part 2: Setting out for the Tool fan Ethnography Project

Part 2 of this half-travelogue, half-ethnographic journal is not a post about posters, but it promises one.

Sitting at Merkin Osteria, outed for my fangirl status, and with my true foodie nature under total disguise, I realized this was actually sort of a blessing. Knowing from experience that once wait-staff figure out or come to suspect you are there for a write-up on their food or the restaurant, the ambience changes and their interactions become stiflingly structured. As a frequent solo diner, this is a change I have become particularly sensitive to.

But now that my server relaxed into his perception that I was “only there” as a Tool fan, I embraced the welcome change from the solo-diner uncertainty and awkwardness that sometimes plague wait-staff at humble, self-conscious restaurants who have much to be proud of, like this one.

Though I have varietal favorites, I did the right thing when trying out a new vineyard and ordered a flight, sort of like when I listen to all of Undertow even though I’m really there for the album’s hidden track (that’s a wink and a nod to you, OGT, because, dear readers, almost no one listens to Undertow only for Disgustipated).

I am glad I fell back on my wiser leanings, because I loved the rosé and would never usually order it: not only do I not particularly enjoy them, but I have also come to equate them with the White Claw of wines for my generation, and if you haven’t gathered from previous posts, I avoid that affiliation whenever possible.

Enjoying a glass of rosé, words I never suspected I’d slap together honestly.

But my biases were proven wrong and are now less fortified as a result: the rosé was excellent, and probably the only one of the three I would order again—that is at least until their self-described “kitchen sink” blends shift once again, thanks to the next harvest. It seems you will never want for variety as a subscriber to their wines–super fun. I ordered a full glass of the rosé, and gorged on some seriously excellent food. Should you require a full foodie write-up, feel free to hound me on Insta and demand it, or it won’t happen.

Otherwise, the pre-TLDR is: the bread and pasta are outstandingly delicious. So much so that I ran back to the kitchen and found the bread man to say thank you. And thank you again: it is so hard to find good, house-made, fresh European bread and pasta in the United States, but now I know of one more place to get my fix. And no thanks to you, Germany, for ruining me.

As luck would have it, I met another vagabonding woman who sat down at the table next to me. We are both thrifters and vintage vixens and even motorheads. She asked what I was doing there and I told her I was working on an ethnography of fans of a rock band who had a concert that night down south.

“What’s the name of the band?” she asked.
“Tool,” I said with a rising inflection, knowing that not everyone on the planet listens. She almost spit out her—wait for it—rosé.
“Tool?!” she asked laughingly and loudly.
I chuckled, “Yeah, Tool, you know them?”
She playfully mocks me, “Oh, just a little band called ‘Tool’,” we kept laughing. Another outgoing female who likes vintage adventures, cars, and Tool? I was stoked. We had a fantastic time, as often ensues upon instant recognition of kindred spirits. Cheers to you, gal.

A conversation screenshot indicating one person does not listen to Tool

Conversation screenshot taken from a Reddit post titled “Who is Tool?”

And then, I continued down to Footprint for my second-ever Tool show.

Tool’s Footprint Center performance had big shoes to fill (ha!). The experience I had at Tacoma left me awestruck and I was concerned that, like many drugs, only the first time I ever saw this band live would the experience be that good.

I was so very wrong, again.

I rolled up to the most expensive parking lot I’ve ever entered in my entire life ($50 for eight hours, nearly as much as a poster, and more than a tour shirt), and set up what I like to call my Mobile Command Station, because that sounds way more important and organized than it actually is. I am a remote worker after all, and I did not take the full day off work, so from the west side of the Footprint Center, as fans trickled in by car and by foot, and as the hardest-core of the merch stalkers, whether the collectors or the capitalizers (from what I understand in some dialects, this is pronounced: “scalpers”), lined up hours in advance of doors open, I sat in the back of my car and dialed-in to work.

I batted down questions of, “Where…are you?” and kept my well-groomed serious-face on. I even keep dainty earrings in the car for just such occasions requiring last-minute polish for virtual presence at work meetings. Vagabond stripes, earned.

By the time I got off my work calls, it had become clear however, that my ticket hookup had ghosted me…

As I floated in and out of meetings, some of which required only my presence and very little engagement, I kept thinking, “Tonight is going to rock.” A stranger on the interwebs heard about my story and offered up his extra ticket in the lower bowl, a prized place in any arena for a Tool concert and exactly where I was hoping to be for my second show. Placement in the lower bowl allows you a bit of the “front row” or exciting “floor” feeling without being so close as to render you pixel-blind to the multi-story visuals that Tool–and apparently, a few men named Junior, Breck, and Scott–are known to conduct open third-eye surgery with. No hallucinogens or anesthesia required.

By the time I got off my work calls, it had become clear however, that my ticket hookup had ghosted me, and I was out on a bit of a limb. Aside from the times it is necessary for true safety reasons, have we all agreed yet that ghosting is a garbage interpersonal move? I remind readers that I belong to the geriatric end of the Millennial generation but frequently attempt to pass for a Gen X-er in the same way one tries to pass for Canadian in the presence of those who don’t completely love the United States. I swear I’m a 40-year-old Canadian woman eh.

While inadvertently tailgating next to the arena, I met some stoked poster-hounds who were able to acquire their merch at an early booth while they dropped off their loot at their cars. I had already found by this point in my research that poster-buyers can be a very tricky set of this population to glean data from, so I strike when the opportunity presents. Ah yes, I had identified my next round of ethnographic victims… subjects… no, sorry, consultants.

A teaching moment presents itself!: In ethnographic anthropology, historically, the people we interact and immerse with have been called many derogatory and embarrassing things like “primitives,” “barbarians,” and more recently “subjects.” This is a stain of shame for the field in modern times, but “subject” continues to be used as a favored and familiar term, with arguments supporting its use by comparing similarities of the term’s applicability when we ask things like, “What subject do you study?” I don’t like to use the term subject because it objectifies and strips the humans I study of their anima or animus.

Surely, this particular cultural group of humans—Tool fans—could be fittingly termed “barbarians” and “primitives” just as much as “insufferables,”

Surely, this particular cultural group of humans—Tool fans—could be fittingly termed “barbarians” and “primitives” just as much as “insufferables,” but I recently wrote a short paragraph on ethnographic terminology, and I would like to test the waters and gauge your taste for academic effluence by sharing that with you here.

On using the term “consultant” to refer to ethnographic subjects from the field, taken from my (completely insufferable) MA thesis:

“…The term “consultants” is intended to acknowledge the knowledge-value of individuals who choose to share their time with ethnographers like this author. It acknowledges that individuals in the ethnographer’s field are indeed consulted for their experience and their cultural expertise, which they maintain as a de facto condition of being born [and/or raised and/or identified as members] within the culture of study. It represents these individuals’ agency in that apart from the initial contact, they each can choose whether and when to cease interaction with the ethnographer, and whether and how much to share about their perspectives.

The term consultant typically denotes respectable expertise in the United States, so by calling the individuals in the field with whom the ethnographer consulted, “consultants” the intention is also to show respect to each individual as fellow humans. It is also intended to repeatedly acknowledge and remind readers that the cultural information shared “belongs” to the consultant, because they are its source, and without such individuals this study and others like it could not be produced. Field consultants are and were considered as empowered individuals who are valuable by birthright [as all humans are] and additionally valuable for their contributions to this study.”

Congratulations, you made it through a dense academic paragraph that is just a side note in a “methodology” section of an 80-page paper. You’re on your way to your own graduate degree now.

The insufferable among you are going to let your egos be massaged by the fact that I just called you important and valuable by birthright–and you are; the more humble will hopefully also glean the insight that words matter, and that this author carefully chooses hers when referencing insufferable barbarians–ahem–valuable consultants, such as yourselves. This, patient readers, is a little glimpse into the world of anthropology as a profession.

Where I did not run over a band member from Blonde Redhead, the opening act.

As these consultant-potentials traipsed through the lot, I inquired as openly and friendly as possible about their acquisitions. You see, poster acquisition is an ugly, heated topic this year among online-chatting Tool fans, and for all these consultants knew, I was about to let-loose Karen-style on how unfair it was that they had scored them. This is why they make for a tricky population to approach.

You see, poster acquisition is an ugly, heated topic this year among online-chatting Tool fans, and for all these consultants knew, I was about to let-loose Karen-style…

I was very self-satisfied that I disarmed them enough to engage, and I made a quick temporary acquaintance with one friendly man from the group. Together, he and I sauntered over to the store across the street for some beers and a very good chat. I chose to let him know that I was an ethnographer, and we shared a bit about our Tool interests and journey “with” the band as I kept mental notes, sneaking in some written records in my notebook of fieldnotes during a bathroom pit-stop partway through our discussion (calm down, I washed my hands).

Our conversation yielded valuable insights into the poster-buying world, and contributed to the inspiration for a completely separate angle I pursued for one of the scholarly write-ups that is currently sitting in conference-proposal purgatory, waiting to be judged by the gods of academia, may they be merciful and kind.

I reaffirm my promise to you here, there will be a stand-alone post all about the posters, which will make me a poster about posters, but not a poster posting about posts of posters.

The very decent dude bought me my beer and offered up his support in helping me find a ticket for the night. Though unsuccessful in the latter, his offer and text follow-ups through the run-up to the evening’s show (“Did you get a ticket yet?”, “Are you in?”, “I’m so glad you made it in!”) were a warm reminder that humans, even Tool fans, are often quite decent. Ghosters and posters be damned.

a warm reminder that humans, even Tool fans, are often quite decent. Ghosters and posters be damned.

After we parted ways–though he invited me to join them in line–the beer combined with the excitement-induced insomnia the night before put me in a soporific mode, so I said a little prayer for a magical ticket manifestation, and took a nap in the back of my car like the old lady I am. If you aren’t in the habit of saying your prayers before sleep, you might want to consider it for maximal effects.

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Part 3 is coming soon… Here’s to hoping I woke up to find a golden ticket.

Spoiler Alert: I both did and did not.

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About the Author:

Julia McClenon is an award-winning anthropologist and writer trained in a diverse set of field methods and interview techniques. She has a Master of Arts in Religious Studies with a focus on cognitive science. Everywhere she travels she observes the humans around her with the aim of facilitating understanding across deep divides. Once in a while, she can be found riding a motorcycle in the backcountry. has written 5 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Steven March 8, 2022, 8:34 pm

    You are such a Friends World Student…haha
    I’m sure I would have done this for academic credit if Tool came to Japan.

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