When I was younger, I rarely if ever gave thought to what my favorite artists were like behind closed doors. In short, it was easier for me to separate and ultimately to not care. Those times are done.
As I grew older, I started caring about the perceptions and reality that sits outside of the entertainment industry. I feel like this is a natural response to maturity. Of course at a young age I marveled at the careless cool behavior of rock stars and their various outrageous antics, but at some point, even rock stars need to stop acting like gods and children. This brings me to today's topic, judging artists for their private lives and human shortcomings.
For me, it all starts with one person, Michael Jackson. When I was young, I’m talking like age 3-10, I was obsessed with the “King of Pop.” The music was insanely catchy, mesmerizing in terms of production, and in a word, legendary. For fuck sakes there was nothing Jackson couldn’t do in the 80’s and 90’s, until at least shit started to fall apart.
The news of Jackson’s possible, extremely bad interactions with children became a focal point of his past and a troublesome part of his still massive fame. For years I was sure it was untrue, and that he was simply weird and eccentric, but the more I thought, and the more I read, the more unsure I was of his private behaviors.
Even up until 2014 or so, I was still listening to Jackson’s music, and loving it, in spite of what I had heard. These days, I can’t seem to split my feelings enough to still enjoy an artist that was once massively important to me as a person.
For me, there’s certain things I can overlook. For instance, Metallica has more than a few times done their fan base incredibly dirty and they certainly take advantage of their massive fan base, but is that worth not engaging in any way with the band? In my case the answer is no, it’s still worth it, and even though some of their older songs and some recent (in the last several years) statements by James Hetfield leads me to wonder how far off the trail he’s gone in terms of politics, sedition and other warnings for democracy. But until something more concrete crosses my path, Metallica is still one of the best metal bands of all time.
That point brings us back around to how you measure artists with sketchy backgrounds. Even though there are plenty of curious events surrounding the Jackson allegations (many articles have been written about the parents of the suspected abused and their history of blackmail and of course, lack of any real proof) but at what point do you draw a line in the sand and say, I can’t tolerate this?
In the case of Jackson and the sordid allegations, there’s much to be proven or confirmed (we’ll likely never know for sure) while for other artists, there’s substantial proof of their wrong doings.
Case in point, Kanye West and Marilyn Manson. Manson, aka Brian Warner, has since the 90’s dabbled in the kind of shock rock antics that made him a household name in the rock and metal world, all the while skirting the line between acceptable and off limits. At an early age (17-21) I was a die hard Manson fan. His albums during that time were blisteringly explosive, with more angst and venom hurled at the world than the likes of MTV could appropriately handle.
When news broke last year of the horribly abusive lifestyle Manson maintained and doled out to his various alleged victims, suddenly everything that seemed off about the man named Warner made sense. Yes he had been skirting the line between controversial on stage antics in the name of rock n roll, but if the reports are to be believed ( nearly all of them seem likely and the amount of similar things in the multiple victims statements lead me to believe the allegations are true) Warner never gave up that rock n roll lifestyle when he wasn’t entertaining. Instead, he seemed to live in the world of Marilyn Manson, behaving as though lines and limits didn’t exist, and essentially torturing more than a few innocent women along the way. After I read those allegations and articles, I never listened to another Manson song, and I never plan to.
On the other hand, you have a person who, though never accused of rape, kidnapping and other things associated with Manson and Jackson’s private life, but who nonetheless is a legitimately bad person. You know him as Kanye West, but for the last five years or so, West has consistently shown the public a few very important things. One, that you can be a brilliant artist while not being a good person. Two, he’s a person capable of making the ultra up their own ass, self -importance of Kim Kardashian seems somehow normal and in need of support, when in fact she’s neither. She’s still the same horrible human being we’ve always known, but it’s to be applauded at how “normal” she seems when compared to the behaviors of her ex-husband.
West at this point is making the downfall of Sly Stone look tame, which is hilarious when you think about it. It’s also really sad. I don’t even consider myself a fan anymore. It’s just not worth the effort, and he hasn’t had a brilliant album in nearly a decade. To me that’s more important. As long as he was making good thought provoking music I could justify the darker sides. But with that essentially gone and this new, abusive husband Kanye seemingly staying out, who fucking cares. The guy is a joke, and mental illness or not, we deserve to not have Kanye around to deal with.
And lastly, well, just look at the types of behaviors and things he’s said. He’s a known agitator and resistor of democracy, he’s racist to his own race, openly supports abusers, rapists, racists and even will go to bat for a guy we all watched stand there making jokes as attendees of his own festival are literally crushed to death. I’m referencing Travis Scott if you were unsure.
The point is, making art doesn’t make you a good person, and being a bad person doesn’t instantly mean your art is unimportant. It does however mean that we can pick and choose our level of comfort when engaging with artists you don’t like as people. Be careful, but enjoy as best you can.
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Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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