Inane Asylum

The fans hit the shit at Tim McQuaid's Fan Asylum

Twenty thousand Aerosmith groupies have even more options in the pages of Aero Force One. The "Walk This Way" doormat sells for $25. A hockey jersey (in Boston Bruins colors) goes for $39.95. And for the fashion conscious, the Aerosmith minibackpack retails for a mere $19.95.

Stepping through the storage room in the Fan Asylum office, Owen explains that the entire staff develops products that will appeal to hero-hungry fan-clubbers: a box of condoms wrapped with Scorpions photos for the metal guys; the Boyz II Men throw blanket for the Top 40 crowd. "People associate themselves with what they like, and those things factor into who you are," Owen says. "If you have a Steve Perry beach towel or an Aerosmith item, other people can recognize it and immediately connect."

As the Catholic Church, which once sold letter-printed indulgences, realized long ago, vending tiny totems not only reinforces the faith but fills the church's coffers. McQuaid, however, says the merchandise sales and the membership fees only cover the costs of mailing and providing various services like the Web pages and telephone hot lines.

"We don't try to focus on the money. We focus on the service, and the income is the fruit of the process," McQuaid says. "Neither us nor the artist look at this as a moneymaking commodity. It is not a product that is packaged. The fan club is a service to keep the fans involved and entertained."

Still, as McQuaid points out, Fan Asylum is financially buoyant. "We are in our 12th year. We wouldn't be around if we didn't make money," he says.

McQuaid's moneymaking has brought wrath from a few fans, particularly since the connection to the groups is rather tenuous. "There is a segment that resent the fact that we are not all staunch, born-to-die-for fans of their favorite artist," McQuaid says. Fan Asylum tries to lay low, he says, usually avoiding press and publicity. But McQuaid's main consolation to the naysayers is that all of Fan Asylum's employees are music fans "even if they do not personally love every group we work with."

McQuaid himself may in the near future get a chance to involve Fan Asylum in a project that bears a personal connection. Soon, very soon, a reunited Journey will release a new record and embark on a worldwide tour. McQuaid, who still runs a Steve Perry hot line, says that Fan Asylum will be involved on some level. "It will be a greatest-hits tour, and my instincts tell me that they will do very well," he says. Beats hawking sneakers.

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