Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Separating Artists From Their Art...

A friend passed along this comic recently, the first panel of which you can see right here (though I encourage you to go read the whole thing). The short version is that a lot of the most prominent musical artists from the 60s/70s (a/k/a/ the baby boomer pantheon we'll be forced to hear about 'til they all die off) were just truly shitty people who did really terrible things. Whether it be Jimmy Page kidnapping a child to become a de facto sex slave or John "Give Peace A Chance" Lennon routinely beating his wives and children, a lot of the rock gods of the era (and let's be frank, every era) were reprehensible in their personal lives.

But we rarely if ever think about that while listening to their music, and it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Specifically, should we be thinking about these things? And to what extent should the general shittiness of the artist come to discount the art they create? Does Led Zep's music become out-of-bounds due to their collective shitty behavior? Does the fact that John Lennon had a walk-in humidor closet to store his vast collection of fur coats (not a joke, that's actually true) mean we can never listen to Imagine again (besides, of course, the fact it's a terrible song)?

More specifically, I've been thinking about this because I recently found out the lead singer of one of my most favorite (and I mean super duper favorite) Minnesota-based bands raped a friend of a friend in high school. Granted, because criminal charges were never filed and thus there was no investigation, this is technically just an accusation. However, given how underreported sexual assault is, combined with the fact that the victim is likely to reap far more negative consequences than the perpetrator if they do come forward, means it's pretty damn rare anyone fabricates claims of sexual assault. In this specific instance, I'm very inclined to believe the accusation due to the parties involved and the particulars of the story (sorry about being so vague -- the person in question does not really care to speak about this, and it's not my place to publicly out either party).

Since learning of this, I have had a really difficult time listening to said band. In fact, I've gone so far as to take all their music off my ipod and computer (which, again, was a lot of music. I really, really liked the band in question), not so much out of some sense of righteousness, but because I would start to feel queasy every time one of their songs popped up on shuffle. But that's really just a temporary, knee-jerk solution, and I don't really know what to do going forward.

And that's where the tricky questions come in -- knowing what I now know, it technically doesn't make their music any different. It's still some interesting, complex music combined with introspective and moving lyrics. But yet, I can't shake the fact that most of these music and lyrics are written by a rapist.

Yet somehow, I have no problem listening to music created by other people who I either know to have or have very strong reason to suspect have done much the same, or even worse. I'm sure part of the reaction is the personal connection to the story, but that really shouldn't make it any different. Further complicating things -- if I stopped listening to all the music created by people who have done reprehensible things, would I still have any music to listen to? And does my listening to the music of people who have done horrible things in some way signify my tacit approval, or at least acceptance, of those acts? Or can we truly separate works of art from the horrible things the people who created that art may have done?

I honestly have no idea, but it's an interesting question to wrestle with...

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