When Wilco superfan Ronen Givony downloaded a copy of the band's fifth album, A Ghost Is Born (not due for release until June 22nd), from the Internet two weeks ago, he felt simultaneously elated and indebted.
The Boston-based Web master of bemydemon.org -- a Wilco lyric site that singer Jeff Tweedy has occasionally consulted backstage in moments of forgetfulness -- the twenty-five-year-old Givony transcribed the new songs' lyrics and sent them to Tweedy with an apology for having the album early, a promise to purchase it when it is commercially available and a solicitation for lyric corrections.
After Tweedy complied, Givony dreamed up a unique way of showing his gratitude: the just-launched justafan.org, a site set up specifically for fans who download copies of the new Wilco album and want to show their appreciation by making a donation to the band-selected charity Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres. In less than a day online, with nothing more than word-of-mouth publicity, donations exceeded $1,500.
"If you have a community or a fan base that is vocal and has real enthusiasm for the bands and music they love," Givony says, "a project like this can really work."
The fact that the album was in circulation so early surprised no one, including Wilco manager Tony Margherita.
"How do I feel about the record leaking on the Internet?" he says. "Well, that's a little bit like asking me how I felt about the sun coming up today. It's an inevitable thing and not something we ever perceive as a problem. We were -- to be honest -- surprised it took as long as it did [about ten days]. Basically, once the first batch of promotional CDs began circulating at record companies and in the media, we knew it was just a matter of days. It's just something you plan for and assume at this point."
Margherita's matter-of-fact approach to the downloading issue stems in part from the success Wilco had after streaming their previous album, 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, while it was in limbo during Wilco's well-documented exit from Warner Bros. At last count the album had sold 440,000 copies in the U.S. alone, Wilco's best-selling release to date.
"The band and I think this idea is great because it just underscores something we believe very strongly: that real music fans are prepared, even anxious, to prove their loyalty and support their favorite artists," Margherita says. "They want to participate. These people are not the enemy . . . They're the backbone of what we all do. Plus, we get to support a charity that we think is very important, and I'm certain that a vast majority of the people who are downloading the record are going to want the real thing when it comes out in June."