Miscellaneous Rumbles

How do we treat bad men’s art?

1

I’ve been following the debate surrounding the new Michael Jackson documentary and what interests me especially is the discussion about how we relate to his music in the face of his pedophilia. Michael Jackson doesn’t mean anything to me, but there are a ton of problematic people - mostly men, really - who have produced towering works of art. Wagner’s fierce anti-Semitism, Chuck Berry pimping the Apache girl, Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his thirteen year old cousin, Ike Turner savaging Tina. What do you do with this knowledge? Does it affect whether or how you enjoy a given artist’s work?

2

Anthony Braxton said "the history of music isnt the history of nice people* and that sums it up ,however MJ cant defend himself. Big moral question ... someone writes sleazy music,sleazy lyrics why should we be surprised when they act it out?

3

There's bad people in all walks of life.

I don't give it much thought. I just shake it off like a turd on a dog's tail.

I don't listen to or enjoy even outstanding music, if the artist is a sleeze bag for whatever reason.

Too many good things in life to think about and enjoy.

4

Sometimes in music I think you can hear what kind of person is performing. If you listen to enough Paul McCartney I suspect you just know he's a decent bloke. As for Wagner...

I shoot a lot of opera. Every time there is an opera put on by our city's opera company I shoot it. While not a huge fan of opera I have developed something of an appreciation for good singing of opera, and believe me you can tell. When it's good it's spine tingling. I can't remember his name but years ago I shot I Pagliacci and the principle was a US singer called Dennis someone. When he sang "Non so Pagliacco..." I nearly cried! (If you don't know the opera it's the one with the guy dressed up as a clown). I loved that moment. But having shot Tristan and Isolde with an excellent cast I can say with certainty that I would not like Richard Wagner if I met him. To me Wagner is bad B grade movie soundtrack at its worst. Sorry opera buffs.

Knowing a bit about the artist does affect my listening experience. I have never liked John Farnham's music but having met him and discovering that he is possibly one of the nicest people on earth I have a lot more respect for it. Likewise I used to love Neil Finn's music, but having seen him in action with his brother once, behaving like an absolute painful prima donna and pretentious twat I rarely listen to him any more. Great singer, brilliant songwriter, twat.

5

there's a line there somewhere, but honestly i can't place it precisely. sometimes people's transgressions, though nasty (Clapton's vile racism, Steve Stills' gargantuan ego, Mark E. Smith's all-encompassing awfulness) are outweighed by the relative depth of badness divided by the quality of their work. sometimes they're utterly irredeemable...i doubt anyone in Great Britain listens to their Lostprophets CDs any more (if you don't know what i'm talking about, DON'T look it up or you'll be sickened). and sometimes it falls in the middle; i reckon Jagger could be called a sex pest, but to my knowledge everything he did was consensual and free of Ryan Adams-style coercion. for me sex crimes are worst, perhaps because murder is morally comprehensible.

i am fortunate in that i never cared for most of the artists currently in the sex-pest A-list. i can take Led Zep and Jacko or leave them alone, never liked Adams or R. Kelly, and haven't voluntarily listened to Berry, Jerry Lee, or Ike in decades.

i also dump artists for political reasons. though i haven't totally dumped Morrissey yet, his continuous racism makes it awfully difficult to even think of him despite my deep love of The Smiths.

the one area i'm pretty tolerant is drugs/alcohol. no doubt this is in part because i like drugs and consider them more harmless than not, and it's also true that if i cut out all of the substance-abusers i'd have 70% less music to enjoy.

6

Two comments: To JimmyR, may I suggest you listen to more Wagner because you might change your mind. Die Walkuere, Gotterdammerung, Siegfried, Tannhaueser among other operas of his have music that is simply overpowering in its greatness. And if you really can't stomach Wagner still, then try Richard Strauss and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Korngold's aria, "Gluck das mir verblieb" from his opera Die Tote Stadt is all over YouTube (sometimes called Marietta's Lute Song) and is the single most beautiful opera aria of the 20th Century and very nearly the most beautiful of all time. You may very well be in awe when you hear it and it will only take up about 6 minutes of your time. My second comment is this: Anti-semitism and racism and other human failings may be despicable BUT pedophilia is a CRIME and of the worst kind because it destroys a child's innocence and indeed his life. Michael Jackson may have legally been acquitted, (so was OJ Simpson for that matter) but even Ray Charles would be able to see that Michael Jackson was a child molester -- and therefore his music should be shunned by all.

7

I try to view and judge the art on its own merits, regardless of how I judge the one who created it. This includes music, film, literature, graphic arts, CEOs, sports, politics, etc.

Some art is created and stuck in time (recorded music, films, books, paintings, etc.). Finding out how screwed up the artist was after that point in time does not affect my earlier opinion of their art.

Hasn't anyone else ever heard a singer blathering away at an interview and thought, "Hey (--fill in name of artist--), just shut up and sing!".

9

Worshiping rock and sports stars and actors, etc. for whatever reason is idiotic. (Take the Kardashians. Please. Just take them away. Famous for what?) There are many people whose work I enjoy who are despicable in real life. Kevin Spacey. Hell of an actor, complete garbage as a human being. Louis CK. Jared from Subway. It goes far beyond the famous. I just read of ANOTHER clergyman (thankfully not Catholic this time) arrested this week for sexual improprieties. There was a State Policeman busted for the same. Teacher forced a Catholic kid to wipe the sacramental Ash Wednesday cross off of his forehead. People killing infants in a drunken rage. There have been four murders this week alone of people getting shot and killed trying to prevent a loved one from driving drunk. A mother killed her baby due to post partum depression (at least there's a medical reason, tho it still isn't right.). Hateful remarks from both sides of government, in all levels from federal to local. Drive by shootings, killing innocents. Killing for religious reasons.

My question is just, "What the Hell is wrong with these people?"

Some people are just a waste of skin, just using up our air. Just because you've made something, or done something, of beauty or of quality, it doesn't give you a free pass on being a quality human being.

10

Is it possible to still have an appreciation for the art, but despise the artist? We are human, after all, and I feel that sometimes one overrides the other. I realize that is the point of discussion, but, for me, being a despicable human being will never be able to entice me with no matter how much talent. Yet, deep down in the back of my mind, I still realize the talent, and can't help but wonder, sometimes, what if?

11

well, as i said above, for me it depends on the artist and particularly on the relative severity of their transgressions. Johnny Cash, for example, was not a nice man, but he was also not a criminal other than in the drugs sense. a lot of country singers were imprisoned for whatever reason; IIRC Johnny Paycheck went in on a murder rap. and let's not even talk about Miles Davis, eh? since sadly musicians seem to be a rather smurfed-up lot to start with, i have to be somewhat forgiving or i'd have nothing to listen to...the number of guitar-playing saints is vanishingly small.

12

There are a few musicians that I would listen to oneof their songs if I heard it on the radio but I’d never buy their music or otherwse put money in their pocket. I think they are horrible people. Actually I probably wouldn’t even listen.

And Michael Jackson has been dead 10 years, I don’t have the time or the interest to investigate if he’s guilty or not.

I’d never send my kids to some super rock star’s house for weekend sleep overs tho.

13

I, surprisingly, find myself on the side of judging the art on it's own merit and the human for their own qualities.

I say surprisingly as I am a HUGE Ryan Adams fan, have been since Whiskeytown days. His penchant for a melancholy lyric and in my opinion, beautiful melodies are no less appealing to me after finding out what he is currently being accused of. I have three daughters and would not consider allowing him to baby-sit any of them by any means, but I don't know the circumstances of his life that would lead him to think what he has been accused of is right or correct behavior. His onstage behavior and antics are legendary but rumor had it that he was sober and doing well. If he has indeed committed a crime, then he should pay for his transgressions. Hell, a 3-5 year bit would surely produce some good music?

Jaco Pastorius was allegedly one of the biggest assholes of all time, hell, it ended up getting him killed, but when I listen to his genius transcribed in vinyl, that's not what I think about.

Back to RA. When I was younger, I probably would have been leading the lynch mob but as I've aged, and seen and experienced more of what this mortal coil has to offer, I tend to take more of a but for the grace of god go I approach.

I have vacillated more than once in the time it's taken me to write this, so... for now, I'll judge the art separately from the man.

14

Assholeness I can brush off,tempermental artists, glass houses, and all that. But breaking laws tis another animal altogether. I can't cotton to anyone who preys on the weak.

15

Cosby is not a musician, but he was an artist. He also did a lot of good things in his life. Do we discard and abandon all he’s touched because he’s a lecherous ass, or never eat jello? That’s throwing the baby out with the bath water in my opinion. I try not to idolize the artist, just enjoy the art.

As for Michael Jackson, that guy was FFL from the get go. He was a ruined person as a child. Will I stop listening to ABC? Probably not.

16

I agree with Wabash mostly here, especially the Kardashian’s yet I really don’t know because I’ve never tuned in. I just don’t understand the concept.

I tend to stay away from entertainment news but to me OJ was always an obvious but MJ not so much. Too many witnesses saying adverse to the accusations.

I tend to take Richard Hudson’s view on music.

17

I think if we don't celebrate someone's art because of their transgressions, that's an OK thing to do.

But if the world got some cheap thrill from Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" because, lyrically speaking, it's basically the confession of a pedophile, and if he was ever covicted or tried for being such a character in his song, then I would think that's an awful thing.

It also seems that certain artists get a pass. John Lennon(Spousal abuse), for example, and Glen Frye of The Eagles(just for being not a nice person), for another.

18

Do we discard and abandon all Cosby has touched because he’s a lecherous ass, or never eat jello?

In his case, I do. The man paraded for decades as a rather paternalistic moralist, gladly cultivating and with exaggerated dignity and false humility accepting accolades not only for his work, but for the role he craved as a moral leader of "the black community." And when busted, did he have at least the grace of Jimmy Swaggart to confess, say "I have sinned," and ask for forgiveness? He did not. He compounded his (amply documented) privileged life-long habit of deceptive sexual imposition by rigorously denying all accusations - thereby trying to cast all his accusers as fantasists and liars, doubling down on their own shame and pain.

I had enjoyed his comedy albums from the early 60s, watched the cartoon, and - while I didn't often watch the Huxtables - admired and respected him. I didn't want to believe the accusations. But smoke and fire, and his case enough smoke to drive a man with a functioning soul to his knees and make him crawl somewhere - anywhere - toward any promise of redemption.

I don't hate him. By the time all the women came forward and all his and legal teams' attempts to avoid or forestall trial ran out, and he finally stood before the bar - still, as broken as he was, in all the outraged denial he could muster - I was certainly done with him. It's not up to me to forgive him. I'm pretty ambivalent about the likelihood of final judgment or an afterlife - I think we create our hells, purgatories, and paradises here in our mortal sojourn - and I guess I don't care if he can make himself right with any "higher power" he espouses to recognize.

In my version of things, he had (and maybe still has) the opportunity to make things a little right with the legion of women he injured, simply by admitting and - genuinely, brokenly, both privately and publicly - apologizing from any deep clean recess of his shriveled soul he can find. I don't know if he should have the nerve to ask them for forgiveness, but at least he could recognize and honor in his pitiful undeserving way how they've borne up under decades of the cascading impact of his behavior on their lives. Though I think by now they've been largely vindicated, they bore the duplicity of his monstrous double life for many years. He could give them the simple dignity of owning up to his responsibility for it.

Those women are the ones from whom he must seek absolution - not me, not society, and not a higher power.


Unless something much more concrete has emerged since I last tried to exercise due diligence in understanding both what MJ was accused of - and what was proven - I have considerable sympathy for him. That is, while I have little doubt he had boys over to his playhouse for sleepovers, and was perhaps familiar with them in ways that make us all squeamish, I don't recall it was ever proven that there was anything like, to be delicate about it, consummation.

I find it possible to believe that, in his heart and mind, he was still a boy himself - and reverted to something like childish behavior in these interactions. Like...pre-adolescent (but fundamentally innocent) explorations of sexuality. "Inappropriate" for a "man" of his age and in his position, absolutely. Possibly compromised by an adult appetite, and surely incredibly stupid.

But after reading all I could (from what I thought to be credible sources), I came away thinking that whatever he was guilty of, it wasn't planned, craven pedophilia. Rather, that he liked children as he had liked childen when he was a child, not as an adult lusting to spoil something innocent. (Or whatever it is that drives pedophilia, and thankfully I have no notion what it is.)

Yes, he was almost systematically bent and then broken for life. And, I think, he was emotionally frozen at about age 10 or 11, and continually yearned for a return to that age of innocence - before he'd been in the room, terrified, as his father and older brothers did whatever it was they did with prostitutes or groupies, and then threatened against telling anyone. I think he wanted a do-over he could never have, the chance just to be normal.

Then it turned out that he, of that family, got the heapingest helping of natural gifts (in almost unnatural proportion). That voice, even when he was a child - especially then. Short of boy sopranos or castratos, I've never heard anything like it. Sure, the family band was a good one - worked hard (or driven hard) by Joe, and possessed of enough talent and showmanship - but it was Michael whose voice and physical grace gave the Jacksons their international success. He had to know - to eventually learn, through his teen years - that the weight was on him. I can't begin to imagine into what shapes that kind of pressure might distort his already fractured psyche. Then, against all odds, he made a seemingly graceful transition to young maturity and had his unprecedented breakout as a solo artist.

I can't imagine the pressure of those tours, his sure knowledge that everything was on him. Then his hair caught fire. Then his skin went whack (and/or he decided to remodel his face). AND he had the money - and the fame - to do anything he wanted, and who would tell him he couldn't make his life the ongoing circus he'd never had? It's no wonder he came out "wacko," with mannerisms and habits and behaviors that seemed incomprehensible and willfully weird to us. But inside it all, I still see MJ as a sad and broken boy.

I wasn't particularly a fan of the Jacksons during their run (wasn't into Motown or soul as a young white boy), and only later came to appreciate the incredible purity and soaring lilt of his voice. I was faintly amused by the dancing (as a confirmed clumsy clod, I've never cared much about it), and while I had come to appreciate soul, funk, and R&B by the time of Thriller, et al, it was a little too slickly packaged for my taste and I never quite got what the furor was about musically. (I liked EVH's guitar solo.) And I watched his famous Barbara Walters interview in the same way we all morbidly rubberneck at a car wreck, just to see the freak show.

I respect his musical and physical skills now, always liked his voice (though not enough to buy records) - but I was nothing like a Michael Jackson fan. If anything, at first I thought the accusations of pedophilia were just another data point on the trajectory of a falling star's predictable re-entry and combustion. I thought something like, "well, wacko Jacko, who's surprised, what did we expect?"

It wasn't till I learned a whole lot more about it than I got from the tabloids and popular opinion that I came to have more sympathy for the guy, and tried to understand what might have been his perspective. I don't know if I'm right in my view of this or not - maybe more evidence has come to light which colors him as a much more evil person that I came to think he was.

But I take him as a broken boy with the voice and grace of angel, who couldn't progress emotionally, whose life became so different from ours we can scarcely imagine it, who eventually had to be given surgical sedatives just to get some sleep. And I can believe that when he played with children in his fun house, he was playing as a child himself.

With all that, it seems that (at least based on what I know), so far his own children have turned out remarkably "normal." I don't know that anything of a compromising nature has ever emerged about his behavior with them - and he apparently served as a traditionally loving and effective father. (Which is more than he had, and seems a small miracle).

So - weirdly - I don't reject his art because of his life. I'm still just not much of a fan, and never seek out any MJ to listen to. I just came to think he wasn't the monster we thought he might be.


As for the larger question, I guess I take it on a case-by-case basis. The same calculus has to be applied to literature as well, and there it can also be a problem. In general, I separate the art from the artist. At the moment - thankfully, I can't think of any artist who really touched my soul that has later proven to be so reprehensible, so beyond the pale, so thoroughly depraved that I can never hear their music or read their words or see their images again. (Though, in some cases, what I've learned about the artist has made me hear/read/see their work differently.)

I like Ride of the Valkyries. Otherwise, nothing on Wagner's rap sheet could make me less fond of his "art" than I already am.

19

Hitler painted landscapes that weren't too bad. Had they been a bit better he could've gotten into art school.

Had he been a tad better, Fidel Castro might've passed the tryouts for the Cleveland Indians.

Had his bone spurs not developed....

20

Hitler painted landscapes that weren't too bad. Had they been a bit better he could've gotten into art school.

Had he been a tad better, Fidel Castro might've passed the tryouts for the Cleveland Indians.

Had his bone spurs not developed....

– wabash slim

Never miss a chance to make it political... wonder how long this one lasts before it gets locked...

21

I met Gordon Lightfoot once. I was a young stagehand in the local playhouse and met a lot of artists simply by having my own guitar on its stand in the green room. As a 12 string picker, I admired his music, the songs spoke to me, and I was hoping for some insight as to his technique.. I was disappointed. Gord was going through some of his less-than-finer moments in those years and was pretty much into the booze by sound check. It was a pretty disappointing experience... but it didn't sour me on his music or his talent. I kept including one or three of his songs in every gig for years afterward.

Of course, Lightfoot turned his life around and is still gigging at 80. Now he is much more approachable by all accounts, and is very much the humble, nice-to-be-here artist I thought he was back in 1969 or so.

Then there is Rolf. Rolf, in the years where all his bad things apparently happened, spent a summer in our town auditing a course at the university. He became a study partner with my Dad and was in our home frequently, where he played one or two of his songs and generally entranced the entire family with his stories. None of us had any inkling he had another side to his personality- not a bit.

I can't play his songs any more... no one wants 'em. My Celtic group took a shot at one of his hits about a year after the news broke and were met with stony silence. Lesson learned.

Too bad. Artist, story-teller, singer, songwriter... his was a rich talent. However, in the end, I guess he did it to himself.

22

Rolf?

for me perhaps the greatest tragedy of MJ was that even mere days before he died he was a captivating performer...i stumbled across This Is It browsing cable one night figuring it would give me five minutes of freakshow before i changed the channel, but wound up riveted for 2 hours. evem though i'm not particularly a fan but it's sad to think of what he could have done with the rest of his life had it not been strangled at age five. has there ever been another artist with such a potent combination of singing, dancing, performance, and composition? well, OK, Prince.

23

So, how about Charles Bukowski as another example? I can't imagine anyone reading him without getting an autobiographical feel of his work pretty quickly? I have never read a biography on the man. This is beacuse I've read lots and lots of his work. And I've been re-reading him many times after discovering him (in '89, I think) even if the intervals between my revisits are getting longer as I get older. I know people who hates his work because of his litterary persona(s), so I really don't want to know. And, like MJ and lots of others, he left us several hours ago.

24

Never miss a chance to make it political... wonder how long this one lasts before it gets locked...

– Bonedaddy

Sorry about that. I was thinking of everything he's done non-politically.

25

I met Gordon Lightfoot once. I was a young stagehand in the local playhouse and met a lot of artists simply by having my own guitar on its stand in the green room. As a 12 string picker, I admired his music, the songs spoke to me, and I was hoping for some insight as to his technique.. I was disappointed. Gord was going through some of his less-than-finer moments in those years and was pretty much into the booze by sound check. It was a pretty disappointing experience... but it didn't sour me on his music or his talent. I kept including one or three of his songs in every gig for years afterward.

Of course, Lightfoot turned his life around and is still gigging at 80. Now he is much more approachable by all accounts, and is very much the humble, nice-to-be-here artist I thought he was back in 1969 or so.

Then there is Rolf. Rolf, in the years where all his bad things apparently happened, spent a summer in our town auditing a course at the university. He became a study partner with my Dad and was in our home frequently, where he played one or two of his songs and generally entranced the entire family with his stories. None of us had any inkling he had another side to his personality- not a bit.

I can't play his songs any more... no one wants 'em. My Celtic group took a shot at one of his hits about a year after the news broke and were met with stony silence. Lesson learned.

Too bad. Artist, story-teller, singer, songwriter... his was a rich talent. However, in the end, I guess he did it to himself.

– Kevin Frye

Forgive me, but who is Rolph?


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