Friday, January 13, 2012

On Opinionated Artists

My wife Tara wrote a piece for this very blog yesterday about her former hero Morrissey (which has had the expected result of Morrissey fans questioning her intelligence and writing annoyed articles about how annoyed they're not) which prompted a blog post by my good friend Steven Chicken from his excellent, albeit rarely updated (and on this occasion, somewhat inaccurately titled) blog "Thoughts on the world of Sport" which, with his gracious permission, I've reposted here as I thought it appropriate and a clever and thought provoking follow-up piece.

Over to Mr. Chicken...

I was just reading a blog post by the lovely Tara, in which she divorces herself of a former hero, Morrissey, because of his increasingly outlandish and boorish opinions.

At the entry’s close, Tara writes: “Farewell Morrissey. You ruined it with your stupid ill thought out opinions. You’re a pop star, no one wants to know what opinions you hold*. Just write some fucking half decent songs and stop being a dickhead.

“*See also: Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, Bono, Nicky Wire and Chris Martin.”

I’m not one to argue with the idea that Morrissey is a dickhead. From what I understand, that’s part of the appeal for some people. But it does raise interesting questions about whether the political or moral attitudes of artists should impinge on our enjoyment of their work.

The most extreme example, of course, is that of Gary Glitter, whose festive hit ‘Rock And Roll Christmas’ is presumably now all but banned from Christmas compilation albums after his conviction for paedophilia.

Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan is another case in point; once a spearhead of the disenfranchised youth music scene in the late 80s and early 90s, the bald singer is perhaps now more famous for his paranoid rants and unbearable Christian proselytising.

I have had to ask these questions of myself in a rather different field recently. As a lifelong Liverpool fan, I have found it increasingly difficult to support the club over recent weeks after the damning verdict on their star striker, Luis Suarez, for using racist language towards an opponent; and, more particularly, in the club’s undignified and embarrassing response to Suarez’s ban.

Should these things matter? Should we allow the views of an artist or sporting institution to affect the way we digest their work?

One could write an entire thesis on this, but in brief: it is unavoidable in some instances, and I believe the tipping point comes when the perpetrator’s ‘crime’ has come to define them so vividly in your mind that they become inseparable from it and you find everything related to them to be insipid, including their work, even if previously you had enjoyed it.

Personally, my memories and sentiments towards Liverpool are too vast and too deeply entrenched for the Suarez saga to turn me off the club, but I can see how it could spill over into resentment – as has happened with Tara and Morrissey.

That should not stop musicians from voicing their opinions, though. I hesitate to say that the music scene needs more characters, as that word itself has become a euphemism for “wanker”, but...well, it does.

Naturally, there are boundaries and there are people so deserving of censure that it is only right that they are pushed out of public life. Up to that line, however, I’d rather have the opinionated, wanky, bizarre or just downright offensive ramblings of Nicky Wire, Thom Yorke, Lady Gaga or Morrissey (respectively) than the vapidity of Joe McElderry or Alexandra Burke, the cold cynicism of Rihanna or Beyoncé, or even the ‘let the music do the talking’ of perfectly good bands like Fleet Foxes or Metronomy. At risk of sounding like an American TV executive, I like a bit of attitude.

Of course, it’s all the better if that manifests itself as an interesting quirkiness (The Fiery Furnaces, The White Stripes), elaborate showmanship (Kiss, Take That, Janelle Monáe, Of Montreal), or simply being really really genuinely nice (Elbow, Dave Grohl). But in an age when pop culture is becoming increasingly beige, I’ll take what I can get.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really interesting subject. I suppose the logical, non emotional answer is that a person's art shouldn't be affected by their behaviour - but there lies a further point. Art is emotional. It's not just about the piece, it's about the person, that's what makes it what it is. If anyone else drew a Campbell's soup tin it wouldn't mean what it meant to Andy Warhol. He loved it, that's why he painted it. Under The Bridge sung by anyone other than RHCP is as meaningless and unemotional as looking at a postcard of The Bigger Splash.

    My opinion is you can't divide the artist and the art any more than you can divide the viewer and the art. All three need to be 'right' for the art to be appreciated and enjoyed, and if the artist changes it effectively changes all their works too. I can't listen to Leader Of The Gang the same way as I could before Gary Glitter was convicted of paedophilia, and I think that's fine.


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