Are they dead to me now?

Can you separate the asshole from the art?

Last weekend, I went for a drive. Sophie, a rising high school senior, is giving college a try. With one hundred fifty other kids, she’s spending a week on a college campus studying Environmental Science. It’s the whole deal: dorms, dining halls, lectures and lots of field work. The field work was the draw—the girl likes being outdoors.

Last weekend was my driving shift—the drop-off. Sophie and I had an uneventful trip to New Haven, Connecticut, five hours away. Minimal traffic, nonstop pop radio. After I dropped Sophie off, after I found a Walmart so I could buy a charging cord for my phone, after I battled with Apple maps for fifteen minutes trying to get directions to Interstate 95 rather than the Merritt Parkway, I hopped on the road back home. This time, I listened to my music.

My music? Well, it’s punk music. Sometimes I like amped-up rockers like the Clash and the Ramones, and sometimes I like discordant, scrape-y stuff like Sonic Youth and the Dream Syndicate. I had a nice mix with me, and five hours to listen. I started off my drive with X, a seventies punk band from Los Angeles. Because everyone else I know thinks X is annoying, I never listen to them. What a treat! I knew the words to every song, and I screamed along just like the drunk twenty-one-year-old I used to be. As the album wound down, I geared up for my favorite X song: The World’s a Mess it’s in my Kiss. And then the CD skipped back to the first song on the album.

I was positive that song was on the album I was listening to. When I got home, I took to the internet to set the record straight. You can’t just Google X. Too many random words starting with x show up, so I Googled the lead singer, cleverly named Exene. From her Wikipedia page:  Exene Cervenka, as a self-styled “conspiracy therapist,” has provoked controversy on social media and on YouTube, by advancing conspiracy theories including the view that the Isla Vista shootings were a hoax designed to bring about stricter gun control laws.

Do you remember the Isla Vista shooting? I had to look it up. I was confusing it with the Las Vegas shooting and the Orlando shooting and the Blacksburg shooting and the Sandy Hook shooting and the Parkland shooting and the Columbine shooting and the Pittsburgh shooting and the Charleston shooting and the hundreds of other shootings I hear about as I drive home from work every evening. No, the Isla Vista shooting didn’t ring any bells. With only six people murdered, it didn’t make any of the lists.

I’ll remind you: Elliot Rodger killed six and injured fourteen people with knives, guns and his car. Twenty casualties, incalculable others affected by the assault on their friends, family and community. Exene Cervenka spends her time on YouTube spouting off crap about fake news. More internet research. Ah, Christ. She’s a Sandy Hook denier as well. And the Boston Marathon bombing.

exeneExene Cervenka was my crush. Her harmonic whine, headbanging and dancing and screaming into her mic. She took cool to a completely different level. The music X played has been an important part of my life for more than thirty-five years. A staple on my forty-five-minute commute when I first got out of college. Late night party sing-alongs, early mornings hung over with the lyrics of Nausea pounding over and over in my head, watching concerts at DCs legendary 9:30 club. I even played X songs in my spin class. Are they dead to me now?

Can you separate the musician from the music? The artist from the art? It’s easy for me to write a list. Stuff I love that I should boycott because of the sins of the actor, the producer, the singer. Stuff I love that was created by criminals—molesters, rapists, abusers and murderers.

  1. Michael Jackson moonwalking during Billie Jean.
  2. Kevin Spacey in American Beauty.
  3. Charlie Sheen in Platoon.
  4. A half dozen Harvey Weinstein movies.
  5. Bill Cosby’s early comedy.
  6. Phil Spector’s production of Da Doo Ron Ron.
  7. Sid Vicious covering Sinatra’s My Way.

These are terrible men. And they’re just a sampling of the many horrible people who create art I love. A couple of artists I’m not remotely fond of, Jackson Browne and Woody Allen, shouldn’t be left off the list. For a little over a year, I worked at a domestic violence nonprofit. The director made a mental note of every actor or singer who had ever been credibly accused of domestic violence. Seemingly every week, in the middle of a discussion about a movie or a band, she would blurt out “Oh, he’s an abuser.”

So far, I haven’t banned any of these artists from my enjoyment. But it’s hard to watch them without thinking of the terrible things they’ve done. I’m sure I’ll continue to love X’s music. After all, there are four members of the band, and I’d say they’re all equally important to the sound that they create. But lingering in the back of my mind, I’ll always know about Exene’s Truther Theories. I’ll know that she thinks nothing about enhancing the pain of Sandy Hook parents by calling them “actors.”

Jonathon Richman, a punk/folk singer who got his start in the shadow of Lou Reed and Andy Warhol, sings a song about Pablo Picasso. The refrain of this song goes like this: “Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole.” Um, not true. Google his name, he seems to be quite a jerk.

17 thoughts on “Are they dead to me now?

  1. Jeff, I always love reading your posts. You make me think. There are definitely brands I don’t buy because of political reasons – Angel Soft toilet paper (Koch brothers), Yuengling beer, and LL Bean to name a few. I just don’t want my money to go to support causes or people I don’t agree with. While I might be able to enjoy the art of someone who was a jerk, I don’t think I could financially contribute to anything that would benefit them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Angel Soft? That’s got to be disruptive. I’ve been pretty lazy about avoiding products/stores with a record of discrimination or other behaviors I don’t like. Maybe it’s time for a reevaluation.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree – I love your posts because they do make me think. My mom operates under the philosophy, “they’re dead to me now” when someone offends her. And the sh** that offends her is if a person comes out as LGBTQ or something that offends her religious beliefs. She is the person that voted for Trump because he said he was a Christian. And she annoys me SO MUCH with her stance of things that I have taken a different approach. I just separate the two. Not that someone’s sexuality would bother me. I’m not trying to trash talk my mom, I guess more to figure out my stance – which again, I don’t think I would have thought about until this thought provoking post.

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  3. Like you, I’ve mostly separated the two in the past like shopping at Hobby Lobby or Chick Fil a. I think this has affected me differently because I expect the musicians that write and perform music that resonates with me to think like me politically. It’s like when I read Kim Gordon’s (Sonic Youth) book and found her to be a vapid name dropper, I was terribly let down. Although in this case, I think Sonic Youth is 95% Thurston Moore so it didn’t affect my opinion of the music, just of Gordon.

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  4. Once upon a time, I put artists and musicians on pedestals. They were just as gods, infallible and incapable of mistakes. Then I met a few of them as I learned a bit about the music industry. And I matured a bit. No one is perfect.

    Some musicians I can deal with. Amanda Palmer comes to mind. I don’t agree with everything that she says or does, but I’m still a fan of what she does and believe her heart is in the right place. That said, I rarely listen to The Smiths, simply because Morrissey is a effing asshat. And It brings me great comfort to know just how many old Misfits covers there are on Spotify. And some are truly amazing.

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    • My lack of attention to any sort of entertainment news is a blessing or a curse. I’m unlikely to ever hear about an unpopular position an entertainer takes (unless it’s a crime) but here I am getting blindsided by five-year-old news.

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  5. Jeff! Glad I found you through Laurie’s blog. I totally relate to your post!! I am in the same camp with all of your points! Another one to add, what would we do without chick fil a?? I also heard John Lennon was an abuser, do I ditch the Beatles forever? The list is long. Great post!!


  6. I’m very open to believing in the conspiracy theories about faked shootings; maybe not all are faked but some are in my opinion, our government has done detestable things to our citizens and in foreign countries and I think 911 was an inside job, I don’t believe in flat earth though, that’s a farce to discredit conspiracy theories in general I think. Our world has become all about disinformation, soon reality will be indiscernible from virtual reality, very scary times. I’m not into either political propaganda by Republicans or Democrats (same difference to me, most all serve the corporations). I think all our celebrity heroes have disgraced themselves and there’s more skeletons in the closet, I think the ones who were exposed are essentially the scapegoats to appease the masses, the real devious ones are protected. I’m glad the celebrities are falling off their pedestals because they should never have had the adoration/power/money they we gave them, the real heroes are everyday people, teachers and servers, all customer service workers, the indentured slaves of our world need justice. I hope to not offend you Jeff, but it’s my true opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pretty hard to offend. Plus I harbor many beliefs that are outside the norm (at least in my small town). I don’t try to sway people’s opinions, but I’ll give mine. I don’t believe in a behind the scenes svengali because I don’t think anyone could pull it off. No secrets can be kept, it’s human nature to tell what you know. I agree with your opinion that the normal folk run the world and I believe people should be paid for the effort they put in rather than just the amount of money they generate.

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      • I’m glad you’re not offended, I admit that I’m open to unusual theories, probably because I was exposed to extreme ways of thinking/violence in my household as a child, it made me realize that many secrets exist under the facade of normal. I think there’s a ton of nonsense to shift through, Bigfoot, aliens and the rest but I think that’s the evil genius of it to have leaked truth combined with lies, truth hidden in plain view, it’s easier to dismiss what seems outrageous, but life is full of bizarre truths and cover ups that we find out about decades later. I think the truth takes time to surface and we’ve been conditioned to trust our government to a fault but I appreciate your opinion and am thankful that you haven’t bashed my opinions.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve grappled with this quite a bit myself. I don’t have any wisdom, I still find comedians sets, including those who’ve been inappropriate to downright evil, to be hilarious. But I find watching them is a sad experience now, even if the words are still funny. I don’t know that vilifying the art makes any sense, but I do not know how to separate it either. Art is created by humans. Humans are often crummy, so statistically, art would often be produced by crummy ones. No clue how to feel about all of it. I do know that when Louis CK came through town, I didn’t buy the tickets to see him that before I found out about his indiscretion I’d have jumped on in a heartbeat. I’m hoping the music you enjoy isn’t too terribly tainted, but I imagine you’ll have trouble listening to it with the same enjoyment in the future.

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    • The sad thing is, like with Louis CK, the behavior seems so contrary to the public persona. Those are the ones that really get to me. I wouldn’t blink if I heard that Donald Trump molested a teenager. But Kevin Spacey? That really bums me out.


  8. I just saw an Instagram post with my friend dancing to a Michael Jackson song which made me realise that without thinking about it, I haven’t purposely listened to any of his music since that recent documentary came out (that I haven’t seen but have heard countless people talk about – for and against). This led me to thinking exactly what you have written about in this post. I haven’t as yet come to a conclusion as I was listing points for both sides of the discussion. Like – would it really matter if I didn’t listen to, read or watch that artists work as there are so many other things I haven’t yet experienced, this would be a chance to explore more. To – can listening to music from an artist that is no longer alive really benefit him (he is not making money personally and any money that does go will go to his children – who are innocent). It’s a tough one. One I shall keep on pondering. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I seem to be pretty opportunistic on the topic. Bill Cosby? He’s a monster… but I don’t really care about Cosby anymore. Michael Jackson? Hard to hate. First off, there are personal memories associated with the music, so not only is the music about him, but about me too. Since I wrote that, I think I’ve settled into the don’t censor camp.

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