According to TMZ, Beach Boys’ Bruce Johnston, while signing autographs for fans in New York last Thursday, went on an anti-Obama rant, saying that the president was ‘an asshole’ justifying himself by declaring ‘unless you're interested in never having any money and being socialized,’ and finishing up by declaring that Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill were ‘the last two good guys.’
Right, Reagan, the guy who cut numerous social services programs and increase poverty, the guy who said that homeless people ‘make their own choice for staying out there’, that ‘trees cause more pollution than automobiles’, the guy who thought that creationism should have been taught in class! Yeah I respect the hell out of that guy.
So I totally disagree with Johnston, he admires someone I regard as ignorant on many aspects, but does it affect my appreciation for the Beach Boys’ music? It does,… a little bit, I know that we should always separate the art from the artist, but I often have a hard time to do so, especially when there are a lot of passionate ideas about politics, ethics or science involved. It has always been hard for me. Honestly, can anyone listen to Michael Jackson without the child molestation allegations in mind? For me they are as visible in the middle of ‘Billie Jean’ than Jackson’s disappearing nose in the middle of his face. Separating the art from the artist is simply a hard thing to do!
Nobody is a saint, I concede this, we would not be able to listen to anybody’s music if we were examining all the details of musicians’ lives, but I am talking about major jerks or even worst. Can you enjoy the music of an asshole? Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine’s recent rants and Chris Brown’s bad boy behavior are certainly not going to make me listen to their music soon. The Brian Jonestown Massacre was performing this week in LA, I didn’t go, as I simply cannot stand seeing Anton Newcombe yelling at his musicians all night long again,… but worse, can you appreciate the music of a murderer?? Charles Manson recorded some albums after all, and he sold some! Some people can do it, but I would not be able to ignore Manson’s past while listening to his albums. Even president Obama couldn’t abstain to add, when talking about Kayne West’s talent, that Kayne was a jackass.
Even the greatest were assholes, Wagner was anti-Semitic, Mahler forced his gifted wife to give up music since ‘one composer per family was enough’, Liszt was a womanizer, and there are tons of examples like these ones in literature and visual arts too.
We all have different boundaries, and if we manage to do this separation at times, is there a limit to anyone’s capacity at disassociating the art from the artist? Where do we drop the line?
There was a recent example in the news, regarding the current exhibit on the collection of Gertrude Stein at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The exhibit featuring the art collection of the American writer and poet had completely omitted the fact that Stein was a massive pro-Nazi collaborator, who proclaimed her admiration for Hitler, and even proposed him for a Nobel Peace Prize!! How can you forget about this! The New York Times reported a few days ago that the museum was about to amend wall text to reflect Stein’s Vichy government ties (she was living in France). So much for the separation of the art and the artist! This was simply too much, it was going over the limit of our tolerance and the total separation was simply impossible.
And what about the artist who is totally politically engaged? What if the political views of the artists are all over his songs, his lyrics, his art? The separation becomes totally impossible. In any case, great art can stand on its own, but to a certain degree, any art will always reflect the artist’s personality, and rarely lives out of its context: the artist’s life and persona.
I am not asking my favorite artists to be my heroes, too often people confuse artistic talent with ethical values, and that’s a mistake. However, it never spoils anything when the people who make the music I like and love are the good guys.