Separating Art And Artist
by Erik van Rheenen, edited by Jesse Richman
Rewriting history is a tricky thing. Unless you’re Michael Jordan and can get away with chalking up a middling post-retirement career with the Washington Wizards and a laughable stint in minor league baseball to zany Technicolor aliens zapping away your athletic powers (along with Muggsy Bogues’ and Charles Barkley’s and, man, Space Jam hasn’t aged well), scheming up “what if?” scenarios is best left to drunken conversations and late night musings.
But I still have some questions. When naïve, impressionable 15-year-old Erik found himself enamored with Broadway Calls’ haunting cover of “A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours,” would he have shied away from delving headfirst into The Smiths’ impressive discography if he knew that the band’s enigmatic-but-talented frontman would eventually liken eating meat to supporting Nazi concentration camps? Would he have started tracing hardcore punk’s roots through Black Flag’s seminal Damaged if Henry Rollins had published his ill-conceived “Fuck Suicide” thinkpiece in the mid-2000s instead of in 2014? Would he have muted Kiss’s classic fist-pumper “Rock and Roll All Nite” from the Tony Hawk’s Underground soundtrack if he knew that Gene Simmons (who, granted, must have always been a little on the lunatic fringe to look like this onstage) would say that people suffering depression should kill themselves — or would he still sing along shamelessly in blissful ignorance?
Kiss aside — save for wasted Saturday afternoons spent singing along while trying to nail the 900, Gene and Co. were never a classic rock outfit I latched onto — the bands I mentioned make up a key part of my musical DNA. Black Flag introduced my younger self to the unbridled emotion of hardcore, and listening to The Smiths begat my genuine love for jangly, bleak indie rock. So I have a tough time reconciling my appreciation of, and admiration for, the art with my raised eyebrows at the artists. Should I balk at my love for “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” to prove that my stance on the choice to eat meat differs from Morrissey’s? Do I boot Damaged out of my library because I think Henry Rollins’ statements on suicide are just uneducated, socially harmful ramblings?