Sally Block was 16 years old the first time she saw Moxy Fruvous perform. It was 1999 and the band was playing a gig in Utica, NY, not far from her hometown. She had never heard of the quirky Canadian folk-pop quartet before, but her boyfriend was a fan.
The relationship did not last past the fall, but by then Ms. Block was a full-blown "Fruhead." She had fallen especially hard for the band's drummer, Jian Ghomeshi. He was 32 with long wavy hair and a flirtatious smile.
On a post break-up whim, Ms. Block decided to e-mail her teen crush and, to her shock, he wrote back. They began corresponding. She confided in him about boy troubles, books and prom date drama.
"You could always go solo or skip it all together – cool people do that," Mr. Ghomeshi suggested in a note sent on May 4, 2000, that was provided to The Globe and Mail. He added: "Weren't you gonna send me a photo? You should. I'd hate to meet you at a gig and not realize that you're Salleee. Yours (with a smile from Philly), JiAn."
Their back and forth continued for three years, escalating to phone calls and a handful of post-show hang-outs, at which Ms. Block alleges the singer sometimes got "handsy." It ended with a dramatic falling out that Ms. Block – now 31 – cannot stop thinking about these past few weeks.
Like many one-time Fruheads, she has been sifting through her memory since the Ghomeshi story broke last month, searching for a sign something darker may have been festering deep within a man who always presented himself as a feminist and staunch progressive.
Three weeks ago, the CBC announced it had severed ties with Mr. Ghomeshi, one of its most recognizable personalities. Since then, nine women – all but two unwilling to be identified – have claimed Mr. Ghomeshi physically assaulted them, including during sex. The allegations have not been proven in court, and Toronto police are investigating. Neither Mr. Ghomeshi, nor his lawyer, Marie Henein, responded to numerous requests for comment. In a recent Facebook post, Mr. Ghomeshi wrote he intends "to meet these allegations directly" although he has yet to do so.
In the meantime, Mr. Ghomeshi's former fanbase is struggling to reconcile the headlines with the man they once knew.
Frutrip and FruCon
"Old Fruheads like me are quietly falling apart as we watch an incredibly important period in our lives become sickeningly tainted. Was this kind of thing going on, even then? ... Did we somehow ignore it? And how do we now reconcile the reality of this person with our undeniable attachment to his work and its important place in our lives?" Melinda Beasi wrote in an email to The Globe – echoing a statement she posted on her Facebook page. (In an e-mail to The Globe she added: "It's difficult enough processing everything that's been coming out now, without being dragged into a more public conversation... Other than [the post] I think I'd rather not talk about it.")
Moxy Fruvous started in 1989 and was active for a little more than a decade, cultivating a sometimes fanatically loyal fan base, mostly from Ontario and the northern United States. They set up message boards to dissect the band's latest set list or favourite quirks about each singer. Someone created a Moxy Fruvous drinking game. "Drink anytime someone requests King of Spain... Drink anytime Jian hits on an all American beauty." Fruheads in a city where the band was performing would offer their home to out-of-towners in need of a place to crash. They'd discuss "frutrip" plans – road tripping to Moxy Fruvous concerts – and the next "FruCon" – the annual fan conference in Toronto.
After the band split up in the early 2000s, the Fruhead communtiy broke apart too. The Ghomeshi scandal has prompted a mini digital reunion. Except now, the Fruheads are dissecting themselves: What had they seen? Should they have known?
Jim Neill, the marketing director at Iron Horse – a concert venue in Massachusetts – said a story posted online that alleges Mr. Ghomeshi tried to get two 16-year-old Iron Horse staffers to come on his tour bus after a show was "inaccurate."
"It sounds like the kitchen manager at that time just didn't like the singer and like made up a story that went well beyond whatever it was that actually happened," said Mr. Neill, who looked into the incident after he started getting media calls about it.
Ms. Block wrote about her story online, including a detail Mr. Ghomeshi groped her after concerts. (Kevin Bullock, a friend of Ms. Block's, told The Globe he accompanied her to a show and saw Mr. Ghomeshi being "handsy.")
Liz VanGerven, a 36-year-old from Brampton, Ont., remembered bumping into the band before a show when she was in high school. They asked her to meet up later, "But I remember I couldn't because my aunt was picking us up."
More than two dozen Fruheads contacted for this piece declined to comment on record. Many worried they could face retribution – both from Fruheads who are loyal to the group and the general public for being associated with the band. The majority are struggling with their own feelings.
Lisa Winston, 55, lives in Maryland, and to this day, her licence plate reads "Fruhead." She says she was devastated when she heard the allegations. "I just did not want to believe it." Now, she said she still loves the music Moxy Fruvous created, but is coming to terms with the fact Mr. Ghomeshi may not have been as he seemed.
Fruhead Vika Zafrin wrote in an e-mail: "To say I'm disappointed is a huge understatement… I'd seen Jian's creepy side in interactions with fans, but had no inkling of the violence. The ways in which he frequently addressed social justice issues on Q, his expressed politics, and his education in women's studies all combined to create an impression that Jian was using his power and visibility for good."
And for Sally Block, the Ghomeshi allegations brought back a time she is still ashamed of. In that story, she was the villain – at least at first.
It was January, 2002, and she was a 19-year-old college student. Mr. Ghomeshi had stopped replying to her e-mails and she was angry. She broke into his e-mail account after guessing the password. Mr. Ghomeshi found out and was furious.
E-mails viewed by The Globe show Mr. Ghomeshi tried to have Ms. Block banned from that year's FruCon. "I think a harsh rebuke should come from within the community thru its defacto 'leaders,'" Mr. Ghomeshi was quoted as writing to one individual.
Someone from Mr. Ghomeshi's camp alerted her college that the musician had discovered his e-mail account was accessed using its server. Ms. Block said Mr. Ghomeshi was pushing for a serious punishment, although the school gave her only community service. (A spokesperson for Siena College confirmed Ms. Block attended, but said that "due to student confidentiality... Siena does not release any information regarding student disciplinary records or sanctions."
But according to the Block family, Mr. Ghomeshi wanted more. Eventually, Ms. Block's father, Bill, phoned him.
"I was trying to find out if there's any other recourse, but he was very adamant and very arrogant... he was insisting on pressing charges," Bill Block, 68, recalls.
Finally, Mr. Block put it to him: What was he doing carrying on this type of relationship with an underage girl in the first place? (Mr. Block said he had not been aware the extent of the correspondence until Ms. Block confessed.)
At that point, "[Mr. Ghomeshi] screamed … a bunch of four letter words," Mr. Block said, but then he backed off.
A.J. LoCicero, one of the FruCon organizers, said that in the end, the committee decided not to ban Ms. Block. She came to the conference, but left the room when Mr. Ghomeshi was around. He said it was not uncommon for Mr. Ghomeshi to write back and forth with his fans – including the teenagers. He seemed to enjoy the attention.
"We knew, yes, he liked his women. And he had a type. He liked them young. He was very flirtatious, sometimes beyond what seemed appropriate. But there was absolutely no suggestion of violence," he said.
After the e-mail hacking incident, Ms. Block said she stopped e-mailing Mr. Ghomeshi. There was nothing for five years, and then, out of the blue, just after her 25th birthday, an e-mail arrived.
"hi. it's been a long time. but i still have a note about your birthday date. i think i might have missed it by a day, but happy birthday, salleee. may you have a most magical year ahead. yours, jian"