I’d be lying if I said that I have purged my entire music catalog of people who have been found, or accused of, bad behavior. Not parking ticket bad, and not even drug use bad. But BAD behavior – crimes against others.
And I’d be lying if I said that I’ve purged my catalog of any song that mentions, or even celebrates bad behavior.
But I do have some issues with those behaviors, real or imagined. And my reaction to it seemingly depends on the artist, their catalog, and what they mean to the music scene as a whole.
First off, let’s acknowledge that there were plenty of old musicians – blues, jazz, country, big band, etc. that weren’t model citizens. Rock followed with angels, and devils, and people in between.
Country artists wrote about prison and murder with regularity. Jerry Lee Lewis was perpetually in trouble with society, for his marriages and relationships. Ira Louvin, Spade Cooley and many others treated their wives like speed bags. Rock, soul, and R&B had similar problems.
These early stars reflected the environment of the times. Many things were swept under the rug, if they could be, for white males. Many things were out in the open for black performers. Women weren’t even considered here – they were supposed to be window dressing.
This kept going on, unfortunately. In the 70’s, the era of excess, rock stars routinely bedded “super groupies”, the most famous of them all was only 14 and was Jimmy Page’s concubine for a few months (after David Bowie introduced them). At least two performers, Ted Nugent and Steven Tyler, adopted their underage girlfriends. This was shrugged off, seemingly, and no outcry or stink impeded their careers.
In the 80’s, Tipper Gore came on the scene with the PMRC to try to ‘clean up’ rock. We all know how that went down. The targets she picked were either obsucre (the Mentors anyone?) or totally misunderstood.
Funny thing, though, it wasn’t until hip hop started to reflect life on the street in violent, unsanitized terms that people started to really take notice. Charlton Heston reading the words to “Cop Killer” was laughable, but Middle America seemingly no longer could roll with sexism and violence – if it came from black voices.
Fortunately, we’re smart enough as people to realize (this may be a stretch but I’m here on a limb and I’m not retreating) to understand the difference between character work and real life. I didn’t expect Ice-T to bust out on the streets hunting cops with a sub-machine gun.
But how do you deal with real life issues in the here and now when domestic violence, statutory rape, and other allegations of abuse (emotional and physical) and criminal behavior are no longer whispered about, or amusing anectodes, but out in the open court for public shaming?
Who do we give a pass to?
Sadly, I think it’s dependent on your relationship to the work of the artist and how vital it seems to you. I never was really on board with R. Kelly or Chris Brown, so it’s easy for me to cast them aside. Gary Glitter was always disposable, and he’s easy to dispose now (except at sporting events).
For older artists, or artists where the transgressions were 40 or more years ago, I don’t think I can do more than say “that’s not right, at all.” I still marvel at the Louvin Brothers’ harmonies even knowing Ira was a drunk that beat his wife and girlfriends. Zeppelin, the Stooges, Bowie, and Aerosmith are still on my playlists knowing that in the 70’s they had sex with groupies under 16.
There’s a song called “Francine” by ZZ Top. It’s a nice blues rocker from their second album and was their first charting single. Yet the final verse states that Francine just turned 13. Ick. I don’t know if that was the reason it stalled on the Hot 100 or not, but…yikes.
But what to do with someone like Ryan Adams? Adams was always a favorite of mine. Starting from his days as an alt-country heartthrob in Whiskeytown to his varied and enigmatic solo career, Adams was one to follow and watch. He mostly made great records, and even if he whiffed many times it was intriguing to see him try.
Now, though, it has come out that Adams was emotionally abusive to Mandy Moore (allegedly) during their relationship, and Adams also had a close mentee who was an underaged female and that he exchanged inappropriate messages with regularly. There are other stories of him grooming female artists and then going in for the kill, sexually.
I loved Adams’ work, and was sorry that I never had seen him live. Was. Right now, I don’t know what I’ll do about Adams’ music in my collection. I’ll review his albums, neutrally, but as for my own personal catalog I don’t know. “Love Is Hell” is always a go-to for me when I’m down. But is it such a go to considering the source? The CDs I had are sunk costs, but if I stream an Adams song now that wasn’t uploaded personally, he’s going to get royalties.
We’re all going to be confronted with these choices. When we take the fandom blinders off, and are left with the person and their art, what are we going to do? Where is that line?
It’s blurred, now.