Photo by Bob Gruen
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of KXSU
In the wake of the current media-blitz of exposure and exile, this is not the first article you have read about sexual misconduct. Ever since allegations against actors like Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, and most recently, George Takei, have come to the forefront, so has the conversation about power, abuse, and the work of those accused.
While we are on the subject, I would like to direct your attention to a related problem in the music industry. Music, much like Hollywood, has a deep and present history with abuse. Only most of the time, we don’t call it abuse, we call it being a rockstar. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll has been the favorite tagline of musicians for generations. I hate to sound like a 1950s preacher, but that life is not one lived without casualties. There is a reason all these assaults happened in the first place, and it has a lot to do with our culture of silence in favor of art. One need only to look at the way in which we understand musicians in a historical context to see how ingrained the problem is in our culture.
For example, John Lennon is a legend. I myself worshipped the man as a kid. To me, he represented everything good in the world. He was peaceful, loving, good humored and, obviously, musically talented beyond belief. I spent my childhood listening to Beatles albums on my little iPod Nano and reading biographies that recounted the rise and fall of the world’s greatest rock band. He is nationally recognized as a hero, a god, a legend. That is the narrative I was given. When I was older, however, I learned just what kind of a man my hero was. In 1980, Lennon admitted to domestic violence in an interview with Playboy. His son, Julien, has also accused him of emotional abuse. This is no secret to anyone, this information has been out and open to the world for years. But go into any Forever 21 and there he is, smiling on a T-shirt. The conversation about his abuse ended a long time ago, and his legacy remains largely untouched.
If you need another example, just think about the week of Halloween and how many times you heard alleged child molester Michael Jackson singing “Thriller”. It is important to note that Jackson was cleared of all charges, but equally important to consider that he paid a hefty sum to the families of the defendants.
From R. Kelly, who famously married 15 year old singer Aaliyah and is accused of countless acts with other minors, to Jimmy Page, who’s kidnapping and statutory rape of 14 year old Lori Maddox (with whom he had a relationship with thereafter) has been swept under the rug of time. Maddox, interestingly enough, was also involved with David Bowie, to whom she lost her virginity at the ripe age of 14 as well.
Despite this, these men are still considered heroes of the form. Day after day I see posts that condemn the newest fried witch in this moral hunt, but there is no action to change who we idolize. My personal problem with this media witch hunt is not the accusations that occur, it’s the ones that fail to. The word open secret is not exclusive to Harvey Weinstein. It applies to figures of power everywhere, throughout all mediums, and in all time periods. While Jackson and Lennon are dead and gone, today there are artists like Xxxtentancion, who faces allegations of strangulation, false imprisonment and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, and yet he continues to be supported by a rabid fanbase. How can we condemn only those who are trending on Twitter while ignoring our own historical faults? I am glad that consumers have decided that they do not want to support the art of the more abhorrent members of society when it comes to the work of actors. I am glad we cut these people off from the power they abuse. But I am not yet satisfied. We cannot collectively pat ourselves on the back while we continue the cycle of power and abuse in other aspects of our lives. Before the recent wave of outings, consumers, not just media, have turned away from allegations against the famous and powerful because they could. It is easy to look away when there is something prettier and shiner to distract you, like an album, movie, show or comedy special because it is easy to say “I like to separate the artist and the art”.
I hate to break it to you, my friend, but when you download, like/share, or purchase that art, you are not separating the two. You are directly and financially supporting that artist you claim to dissociate with. Every time you mention how great John Lennon or Michael Jackson were without also acknowledging their horrid past, you are continuing the cycle of power, abuse, and silence.
Ultimately, that choice is not mine to make, it is yours. I cannot tell you not to watch House of Cards. I cannot tell you to never listen to The Beatles. All I can say is that before you buy that Led Zeppelin T-shirt, think about who and what you are supporting.
SHELBY JOY LEONE | Dad rock must die | KXSU Music Reporter