Thursday, 5 January 2017

Don't Stop Listening: The Necessary Separation of Art and Artist

Around the time of the release of Kanye West’s magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I attended a Christmas party populated by a few like-minded music nerds. During the evening, a friend cornered me for a discussion revolving mostly around the music she had been recently getting into. Lowering her voice considerably, she moved in closer to drop what she thought to be a shocking revelation - she actually liked Kanye West’s new album.

‘You mean My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy?’ I asked.

‘Uh huh,’ she confirmed nervously.

‘Uh, yeah… so do I. I think it’s great!’ I stated rather matter-of-factly.

For a moment she looked offended, as if I was somehow mocking her. Upon realising I was actually being genuine, her expression then morphed into something resembling outright confusion.

‘Really?’ she asked, baffled.

Our exchange at the time struck me as a little odd. I wondered why exactly she had been so apprehensive when it came to admitting to her enjoyment of the album. In the weeks following our drunken chat, I found myself in similar discussions with friends who were either a) into Kanye but not exactly willing to advertise it, or b) dismissive of the music without giving it a chance. Then it hit me. The reactions had nothing to do with the music at all, but rather with the man behind the music. The ego-fuelled rants, the endless showboating and the badly-timed stage invasions had seemingly taken their toll, even on those who at one time considered themselves to be massive fans. 

In a way, it was understandable. Hell, even Istruggled to work up the energy to give any kind of shit about the man or his music for a short while. But then I heard ‘Runaway’ and quickly backtracked, deciding that I was not going to let any amount of Kanye-related douchiness take away from what really mattered – the music. Had I not learnt the importance of separating the music from the artist at the time, I may well have deprived myself of one of the best albums of that year.

This is not the only instance of me having to play the ‘separation game’. My enjoyment of The Flaming Lips has also recently come under threat, thanks to a drastic change in main man Wayne Coyne’s attitude in the press. Once known for his overly-friendly, down to earth persona, Coyne seems to have somehow transformed into a bit of a shit-talking egomaniac of late. Whether this can be attributed to a newfound appreciation of bad drugs, some deranged version of a mid-life crisis, or the horrible influence of his new bestie Miley Cyrus, his behaviour can’t help but leave a bad taste.

Despite this, I have in no way been willing to let any of it dictate my enjoyment of the music. The Soft Bulletin is far too good an album to not listen to on a semi-regular basis. And I’ll be damned if I am going to let anything as minute as some diva-like rock star bullshit ruin the feelings of euphoria that go along with listening to ‘Do You Realize?’ for the millionth time. 

All of this is hardly anything new to music fans. There are countless examples of musicians acting like spoilt children and coming damn close to ruining their legacies in the process. History is full of them. I’m sure to this day Morrissey fans still give their Smiths records the evil eye upon hearing another one of his famously long-winded, misguided rants. And how about those long-suffering members of the Kiss army that still happen to be out there? You can only imagine how the poor bastards must feel anytime Gene Simmons opens up his tired old yap. And let’s not forget U2’s overly-loyal fan base, who are regularly forced to deal with the trauma that goes along with seeing Bono’s smug face popping up all over the place to remind us all just how much better he is than the rest of us.  

For the most part, it’s something we simply have to learn to ignore if we want to continue to enjoy the music. That said, it would be wrong of me to not also mention the rare occasions where an artist’s personal life cannot help but destroy any potential joy their music may have, at one time, brought. It’s extremely hard to imagine anyone with even the slightest conscience being able to hear a Gary Glitter track again without feeling at least a little bit queasy. And can you honestly tell me that the mere mention of the name Chris Brown does not make you want to immediately rush out to locate Rihanna and give her a big ‘ole hug, while simultaneously cursing the fact that such a monster can still be allowed to sell records and receive awards? I didn’t think so.

At the end of the day, if the actions and/or words of the artist is not hurting anyone, and the only real crime happens to be that their head is perhaps wedged a little too far up their own behind, then there’s really no reason to not sit back and continue to enjoy the music in the same way you always have, especially if said artist is giving us albums as strong as Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy every couple of years.  In these cases, does it honestly even matter what they happen to do or say once the music stops?




No comments:

Post a Comment