I like these posts that stir up some intelligent conversation… so here’s a topic that came up recently. I don’t have all the good answers, but I’ll put out some thought-provoking questions…
For me… well, let’s start with The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Both of these bands have had a profound effect on my life. There were periods where they were all I listened to, and at some point, I knew pretty much every chord and lyric of their music… especially the Beatles. I had a couple of songbooks of the sheet music to their entire catalog, and I would bang it out on the piano mercilessly.
This was long before it came to light that John Lennon was a brutally sarcastic, child-abandoning, misogynistic wife-beating asshole. Or before I became familiar with Roger Waters’ irrational and raving anti-Semitic ideologies.
This whole issue is nothing new. For my dad, it was Richard Wagner… brilliant musician with profoundly evocative, complicated music… but also a raving anti-Semite, well-known for bashing Jews at every opportunity. Hitler was a big fan.
These days… there’s no shortage of disgraced brilliant musicians whose music has been just as influential. Michael Jackson tops that list, but R. Kelly and Chris Brown aren’t far behind. A few decades ago, Chuck Berry, James Brown and even Elvis… don’t scratch the surface too far because you won’t like what you find. And it’s unfortunately, a very long list.
This isn’t just musicians… it’s artists of every genre… and the ones that sparked this discussion recently are Woody Allen, whose personal life outside of his movies has been very concerning for decades… and J.K. Rowling, who went from an intelligent and established writer to… weirdo transphobic. Now we can add Dr. Seuss to the mix.
The question is… do you separate the artist from the work? Can you enjoy the genius fruits of the labour, or is it tainted forever with those revelations?
“Yesterday” was written by Paul McCartney. “Something” was written by George Harrison. Knowing that, do I treat them differently than “Imagine”…? I can’t listen to “Imagine” without seeing the video that goes with it, John and Yoko all dressed in white, singing about a better world… while somewhere in a nearby shadows is a beaten Cynthia Lennon and an abandoned Julian. Does it make a difference that “Imagine” came out after The Beatles had broken up?
I don’t know. I struggle with it, and I go back and forth on it. Except with Roger Waters…
When possible, I’ve been to every Pink Floyd concert that ever came to town. I’ve also been to a couple Roger Waters “The Wall” shows… and, at the last one, I was horrified by the imagery… the big, floating pig with glowing eyes (very Pink Floyd) – but now, with a Jewish Star of David painted on its side. And people wildly cheering all around, perhaps some oblivious to what they were looking at, but many not. That was enough for me. End of the line.
It’s interesting, the reaction to recent allegations where people say things like, “Well, I’ve never liked his movies…” or “Harry Potter sucks; I haven’t read any of them or seen the movies” – like that’s somehow got anything to do with it. The entire point is it doesn’t. Woody Allen had been cranking out a movie a year for a very long time. Some aren’t great, some are, and some are truly genius. Harry Potter has been transformative for a lot of kids. I’ve seen many Woody Allen movies and I’ve read the first three Harry Potter books. You know what I think? Correct, it doesn’t matter what I personally think. The question is a much-bigger-picture issue. It’s almost easier to answer if you’re not familiar – or don’t care about – a particular artist… just understand that to a lot of people, at some point, they meant a lot.
In many of the cases, people have known all along and haven’t cared. The more successful, the more has gotten shoved under the rug. Today, a lot of those rugs are being pulled back… and here we are.
For what it’s worth, that’s my take on it. What’s yours?
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