Where Do You Draw the Line?

(Photo courtesy of The Independent web site)

A few days ago, rock legend Van Morrison announced the release is his new single, called “Stand and Deliver.” The song is a protest against the mandated COVID-19 lockdowns. Joining him on the tune is guitarist Eric Clapton. Proceeds from the download will go to musicians in need.

While I support the recipients of Morrison and Clapton’s charity, I completely disagree with their point of view. To my mind, adherence to the original lockdown guidelines would have us on the other side of this particular curve, with the coming vaccines bringing it all home.

Alas, not everyone shares my worldview, including these two rock icons. Okay … that’s the way it goes. I do agree that musicians and business driven by music can use all the help they can get. So if this is one way to make it happen, I’ll get past it.

However, many people feel a little more strongly about Morrison and Clapton’s point of view, to the point of some pretty vehement backlash. One of my followers shared my post, opening his own statement with “fuck these guys.” He went on to say that he was removing their music from his collection, and would never buy anything from them again. That, too, is fine by me. Everyone has their own code, and certain lines cannot be crossed. Still, a life without “Moondance” or “I Shot the Sheriff” seems pretty incomplete.

I’m not one of those people who believes entertainers and athletes should stick to what they do for a living and not wax political or philosophical about things outside their career choice. Who am I to tell them to do this? Who is anyone else?

Entertainers and athletes are people, like everyone else. They have opinions, and the largest possible platform to put said opinions on display. From time to time, I’m going to disagree with what’s being said. Does that mean their music should no longer have meaning to me? Sometimes, that seems a little far-fetched.

I’ve been a fan of progressive rock since the mid 80’s. A journalist friend (also a minority who shares the same musical passion) once told me I would be shocked if I knew about the level of racism that exists in our favorite music and the artists who make it. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t. Prog is a music scene dominated by older Englishmen. If they’re anything like some of the other older Englishmen I’ve heard speak … well, a similar standpoint would make perfect sense in the most disappointing fashion. Yet the music continues within the confines of my home. (Note: THIS IS NOT A CONDEMNATION OF THE ENGLISH as a whole. Lord knows I could say the same thing about more than a few Americans.)

This got me wondering: how far is too far? What will it take me to stop listening to music I love forever? At what point do we separate the art from the artist?

Show me a legendary musician, and I’ll show you something he’s done I simply cannot get on board with. Miles Davis abused and pimped women, to say nothing of having a huge drug habit throughout his career. Yet his music dominates my collection. As a matter of fact, heroin was widespread through the jazz of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. It doesn’t stop me from listening and enjoying.

James Brown went to prison before and after he achieved fame. The music keeps spinning. I don’t agree with everything spouted by Tom Morello and Rage Against the Machine, but that doesn’t deter me from digging the tunes. Roger Waters spouts views that could be seen as extremely anti-Semitic, but I can’t imagine a musical life without Pink Floyd. And on and on and on.

So where do I draw the line? Where does anybody?

I was more than a little surprised at how tough this question is. And even as I write, I don’t have an answer. It was easy to cast Ted Nugent and Kid Rock aside, since I’m not a huge fan of their music. Yet I’m sure there are a few artists with more conservative views that have slipped right in under the radar.

When I look at the comments people make after things like the Morrison Incident, I sometimes find them more focused on the art produced than on the artist himself. Or they find it easier to let an artist go if said artist hasn’t had a hit in more than a couple of decades. I suppose it’s easier to let go of what loved long ago, as opposed to what you love right now.

A friend of mine is well aware of my love for King Crimson, specifically the band from the 80’s. One day he joked, “If you got backstage and saw those guys mainlining heroin, your world would be torn completely asunder!” I laughed, but I also knew he wasn’t completely wrong. But would that be enough to put me off the music that essentially changed my life forever? I wonder.

When it comes to politics, I’m more solution-driven than party-driven. While I would hardly call myself a Liberal, I’m nowhere near as Conservative as many of the military members and police officers I worked with over the past 35 years. I found it possible to carry on conversations with, drink with, and work with these people without subscribing to their personal ideals.

Granted, the incidents in Minneapolis and Louisville made this a lot more difficult. I found myself having to let a few “friends” go after they revealed their true character to me, usually by way of social media. It made me sad, but it didn’t feel like much of a loss in the greater scheme of things.

I suppose it comes down to whether I see a thought process as dangerous or merely dumb. The former is a step over the line. The latter makes me shake my head, but I don’t get too hung up on it. The desire to eliminate a race or condone lynching and other acts of violence is going WAAAAY over the line. Opinion or no, I’ll use whatever I have to shout you down.

Throwing a two-year-old tantrum over a mask mandate is just DUMB, particularly when it’s considered “enslavement,” or “a restriction of my rights.” When I hear that, all I can think is, clearly these people have never been slaves. Or been in the military for that matter (because following orders is essential).

The toughness of this question led me to reach out to friends on social media. The answers I got were quite fascinating. Their opinions pretty much ran the gamut. It only seemed logical to include some of those answers here.

I will not use these people’s names, as they were not being formally interviewed. I will also post their answers verbatim, so I will not appear as though I tried to twist their words. This includes spelling and punctuation.

If you wish to see the original post and associated answers, you are more than welcome to look it up on my Facebook page.

Here are a few answers to the question, can you separate the art from the artist?

  • “Couldn’t listen to some of the artists for years that we had on stage at our club. Very sad when it comes to artists that formed you and you loved to death.”
  • “This question is a great one. It’s companion question is “what is forgivable?”
  • “While I think of cancel culture as the nuclear option, and I think that some folks deserve it, others may have made a mistake and need to be viewed as regular flawed humans who are allowed to be wrong and make mistakes along the way. It’s tricky.”
  • “I feel for the other members of the Lostprophets in this case
  • “Let down by a vile evil piece of excrement”
  • “There is two sides of each artist ….the performer and the person I can differentiate between the two until it crosses a moral boundaries”
  • “In the case of Kevin Spacey fabulous actor and I adore most of his movies but personally made unacceptable choices and actions but I won’t stop watching them”
  • “Gary Glitter again evil but am I to forget the great times at the school disco nights as a result…..no I can’t”
  • “I can separate the two when it comes to music.”
  • “Well, Claude Debussy was a total cunt to his wife, who shot herself in protest of his affiars and he didn’t care. But he still composed some of the most beautiful music ever made. Richard Wagner was Hitler’s favourite, and a anti-semite, but again, made some of the most amazing music, which laid the foundation for all film music today.. so…”
  • “The music/art is seperate to me ….the person I can dislike….the music/art I cannot”
  • “I can normally separate the art from the artist…but not Morrissey.”
  • “Because a whole part of the enjoyment of The Smiths was this character who was telling you the truth about the world and accompanying you on a difficult journey as your friend. Now we know he’s a total cunt, it’s not possible to have that the experience again. Consequently I can’t listen to The Smiths now.”
  • “What I find confusing is the double standards. Some artists have said things that were objectionable, apologized and they continue to be demonized. Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist and somehow gets a pass.”
  • “I was in an Italian Restaurant a few Christmases back, the usual Christmas mix tape was playing over the speaker system. Gary Glitters Rock and Roll Christmas came on and everyone seemed to pause their conversations and just quietly enjoy the moment – feet tapping, heads nodding etc. When it had finished everyone had a slightly guilty look about them. Funny how Michael Jackson gets a free(ish) pass while others music is effectively erased from the history books”
  • “Its a difficult one. Someone above made a good point about supporting an artist financially if you have misgivings about their views or actions. That’s about where I am. I could quite happily buy some music by Wagner who’s racist views I disagree with but wouldn’t support someone like Gary Glitter, or Morrisey.”
  • “It sucks coz I love a few lost prophets songs. But no way. Can’t do it. However, like you say, I’d watch Seven any day of the week!”

In the end, the answer is simple: there is NO simple answer. To be certain, these issues (and many like them) will be with us for years to come.

#cirdecsongs

You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell

Would you like to have your album reviewed? Contact me at cirdecsongs@gmail.com

2 Comments

  1. I think artists are absolutely entitled to expressing their political opinions. While no specific example comes to mind, if I would really dig an artist’s music and they voiced a political view that was different from my convictions, I could probably “forgive” them in most cases and separate my opinion of them as an artist from political differences. In this particular case, I have to admit I’m struggling since we’re not just talking about a political issue but really an existential question.

    While I completely agree with Van Morrison and Eric Clapton that everything should be done to keep the concert/live music business alive, their proposed remedy is simply wrong – literally dead wrong. Re-opening performance venues at full capacity while we’re witnessing an explosion in new case numbers and deaths every day? Are you kidding me?

    Their argument about freedom of choice is completely flawed. If COVID-19 would only impact those who don’t want to wear masks and don’t want to social-distance, it would be one thing. The problem is it doesn’t. What you do and I do will directly impact other people. And therefore it’s not about individual freedom. I hate to reiterate saying something we’re probably all tired of hearing but it’s true: We’re all in this together – literally!

    The other thing that’s flawed about Morrison’s and Clapton’s position is this: What good would it do to reopen performance venues at full capacity at this time, and people running these venues getting sick? Not to mention guests and the performing musicians? How long do you think this could go on before these places would need to be shut down again? It’s completely short-sighted and, frankly, shockingly naive!

    While I’m not ready to dump Morrison or Clapton, their irresponsible stance is hard to forgive, especially considering the influence they have on their fans. It could literally kill people. Obviously, I don’t believe that’s their intention. Still, it could cost lives.

    Liked by 3 people

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