Monday, March 25, 2019

Separating The Art From Only The Artists We Really, Really Like

I moved my Michael Jackson records to the garage this weekend. I don't foresee a time when I will feel like listening to "Off The Wall." At least, that's how I feel now. My Jackson Five hits compilation is sitting on a chair. I am undecided about that one. Yet, I have no problem listening to The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers or Darlene Love.

"Stray Cat Blues" is a monumental cringe maker and creep fest. How many of us stopped listening to "Beggars Banquet?"

In 1978, "Manhattan" was a Woody Allen masterpiece and "Love & Death" was (and still is) one of the funniest films ever made. Now, they are exhibits A & B., and Allen hasn't been found guilty of anything except really bad decisions.

Have you listened to any blues recordings lately? "Back Door Man," anyone? Wasn't John Lennon a wife beater? Didn't he rather see someone dead than to be with another man? He wrote it, so it must be true. No more Beatles.

When does this end? Is it a judgement call? Is molesting children worse than murdering a spouse? In prison, the answer is probably yes. But what do we do? Is not listening to "Billie Jean" the right thing to do? Should I no longer get chills hearing the opening of "Be My Baby?"

Confused In Queens


Shriner said...

We will know if "Thriller" doesn't get played at Halloween anywhere this year.

The world has the attention span of a gnat. Literally, go watch a Saturday Night Live from 2 months ago. Maybe even one month ago? Everything satirized then -- has been forgotten by the public at large.

Child molestation, though, that's a big hurdle to overcome.

Sal Nunziato said...

"Child molestation, though, that's a big hurdle to overcome."

It sure is. But the question remains--does it make "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" any less of an amazing pop song? There's got to be 3 dozen people responsible for that record, not just the child molester. And does this mean, murder is an easier hurdle to overcome? Will we be enjoying "Be My Baby" again, much sooner than "Billie Jean?"

big bad wolf said...

It does not make it any less of an amazing pop song. The work, once done, is separate from the person, and if the work is amazing. or at least enjoyable, you should enjoy it, not put on a hairshirt. You did not do anything wrong. You are not endorsing his non-work conduct by enjoying his work. If the reports of his personal conduct put a shadow on the work so that you are not enjoying it at the moment, that's a reason not to play the work now, but you neither endorse or take on a person's sins by listening to the person's work. And you neither erase nor atone for those sims by not listening.

And, if like Michael, the person is dead, you are not enriching them by buying, playing, or licensing the music. It's trickier if the person who has engaged in bad conduct but done good work is enriched because you listen. Then I would incline toward never buying, trying to avoid licensing/royalties, but I would not say that my judgment should be enforced by pulling the person's music from the world.

Stray Cat Blues presents a different issue. With it, the question is do you approve of the work. I do. It's spectacularly done, and creepy, art. But if one doesn't like what is expressed in SCB as an artistic representation, then not playing it is an apt. By not playing that song, one expresses disapproval of the song, and keeps one's focus on one's own approval.judgment of the work. Again enjoyment or lack of enjoyment of the work as work is what one is responsible for.

Anonymous said...

i struggle with the issue because some music is so emotionally connected to a memory of time and place that I haven't gotten rid of it. Jackson Browne's first album, Whiskeytown's "Stanger's Almanac." I feel like I've rationalized in some way by thinking, "yeah, I'll probably listen to that again some day." otoh, I was never invested in Allen or Jackson, so it's easy for me to say, "never again" about them. going through it now with Steve Earle, an all time favorite, but a pattern has emerged - Cheri Knight quitting music after her one album with him, Lydia Loveless' song about him, the sexist things he would say with Alison Moorer right at his side and the shit he talks about her since their divorce. it's taken some of the bloom off, but for now I still have all the albums.

Shriner said...

I guess in the case of Michael Jackson -- does it become more of a question of *when* the art was created?

Presume (since he was never found guilty for this) that he actually *was* a child molester. I've not seen the documentaries, but from what I read it was reported that things started (maybe) in 1986? Does that mean everything from "Bad" and on, is suspect, but that "Thriller" and before is fine?

Phil Spector killed somebody decades after he had his musical hits. I think (in the grand scheme of things) his art will outlive his action.

I'm not sure MJ will. Mental Illness, though, is terrible.

And nobody seems to give Jerry Lee Lewis a lot of shit these days, either. Time has a way of masking atrocities.

Man from Mordor said...

Interesting discussion here. Can the artist be separated from the art produced? Richard Wagner was notoriously anti-semetic, but the operas he composed are core repertoire. In fact it could be posited that in any Venn diagram plotting all music, the operatic works of Wagner, particularly The Ring tetralogy, would need to be at the very centre with all roads leading towards them. Ars longa, vita brevis, indeed.

Rick said...

As a lifelong Phil Spector fan, it's been interesting over the last decade to see allegedly reputable and authoritative music sites allow any discussion of his music to be hijacked by trolling which has nothing whatsoever to do with his music. Both major biographies on him focus on his character, with out-and-out inaccuracies about how he actually made some of the most brilliant records of all time. The many people without an axe to grind are either ignored or misquoted.

With social media now dominating mass media, there are two conflicting and extreme narratives running at the same time: curated celebrity worship and annihilation of those who "sin". Both have devastating effects on what is art, and the truthful contributions of artists. The attacks on Barbra Streisand this past weekend went as far as accusing her of being the mouthpiece of some secret Hollywood cadre of pedophile promoters, when the truth of the matter is that she just shot her big mouth off with some truthful component within her opinions.

It's great you've brought up this important discussion. Modern music for the most part has been progressive in terms of most social issues - despite ugly Puritanical blowback in the 20th Century. Hopefully we'll all continue to love blues, jazz, R&B and "The Devils's Music" without jumping on mob-rule bandwagons and becoming revisionist pedophile-hunters. You have to wonder if "Sweet Little Sixteen" or "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" might soon become taboo by presumed association.

My Spector collection (including autographed 8 X 10)has pride of place as it always has, I never cared for Michael Jackson and if I owned any Gauguins you can bet they wouldn't be in the garage.

Rick ("The Aberrant Homosexualist")

Anonymous said...

Big Bad Wolf nailed it for me, so I'll just add a couple things. I've enjoyed Stray Cat Blues for decades, never even paying attention to the lyrics; I had to just look them up to see what your reference was about. I can't manufacture a new dislike for it now, because, honestly, its meaning still is just that song I like by that band I like lots of music by (And, it could be told as a story from someone else, not reflecting Jagger & Richards' point of view. I'm pretty sure those guys also weren't Lucifer in Sympathy For The Devil or the proto-goth of Paint It Black, either...). As to Lydia Loveless, I hadn't even heard of that song (or her), so I looked it up and...she says it's not about *the* Steve Earle. I suspected not, since I read the words before reading what she said about it and I didn't think, even at his drugged-up worst, that he'd literally do the things she mentions in the song. I don't know what he's said about his numerous exes, either, I guess because I'm more interested in listening to his music (and the music of other troubled souls who make music) than in reading his thoughts and utterings. I wasn't ever a big fan of MJ, but I couldn't imagine never listening to Billie Jean ever again (or even taking a break from it!) because of whatever he's done or accused of doing. But, to each their own, I reckon.
C in California

steve simels said...

I'm lucky -- with the exception of "I Want You Back," none of Michael Jackson's music has ever meant anything to me.

Sal Nunziato said...


Yeah, but Spector's has. Curious as to how you feel.

steve simels said...

I tend to approach these things on a case by case basis. Spector? I'm not gonna stop listening to "Be My Baby."

cmealha said...

We can't know what's really in the hearts of the people who's music, films, books, etc we enjoy other than through the art they create. When we find out that one of these idols are not all we have them cracked up to be, it's difficult to dismiss the joy that they've brought into our lives. The first instance in my life of an idol being exposed as a not so nice human being was in the case of Mickey Mantle. Even more so than The Beatles at the time I held him on the highest of pedestals. When I later learned that he was a drunken womanizer I was devastated that he had not lived up to the image I had of him. In interviews and on TV he had always been a humble and self-effacing individual whom I aspired to be. Little did I know. In the case of people like Jerry Lee Lewis, Phil Spector, Michael Jackson, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, et. al., my connection to them was in the art that they delivered. Whatever we learn about them after the fact doesn't diminish the joy that the art brings to my life. I do feel disappointed when I learn that these people are not the people I think they are but then it's all an illusion anyway. I don't red a book and determine if I like by asking if the author is a good person. I've never questioned if an album is good based on the knowledge that the artist kicks little puppies in his down time. I do question if I should financially support that artist once I learn the 'truth' about their true nature. I know what Woody Allen did was creepy in the extreme, but I still enjoy his movies. Yeah, Phil Spector is a murderer but "Be My Baby" still lifts my spirits whenever I hear it. I may not buy the next McCartney album if I learn he's a secret Nazi supporter, but it would not diminish what he's already he's already accomplished. It would just make me sad.