So what do you do when one of your favorite musicians goes on social media and attempts to legitimize drugging and attempting to rape a woman? Do you delete his music from your hard drive, vowing to never listen to him again? Do you separate his career into pre and post rape vowing to never listen to their his work? Is it enough to admonish the artist while lauding the art? Where is the line when it comes to judging art versus the artist? Music, film, and sports are rife with stories of extremely talented people who have committed a host of unspeakable acts (though not all have been charged or convicted for their alleged crimes) including:
- Ray Rice: Domestic Violence
- Cee Lo Green: Sexual assault
- Lawrence Taylor: Underaged prostitution
- R. Kelly: Child Pornography and rape
- Woody Allen: Married the stepdaughter he helped raise (not officially a crime but gotdammit) and molesting his daughter
- Brian Singer: Multiple sexual assaults
- Roman Polanski: Rape and pedophilia
All of them have created something iconic in their lifetimes. Their work has created memories and endeared them to millions of fans. Unfortunately they, for many of us, have tainted their work irrecoverably. But does it have to be that way? At what point does an individual’s work surpass the individual? Does art belong to the artist or the audience?It should be said at this point that I find the allegations attached to these and other artists disgusting and abhorrent and in kind the artists themselves. I neither excuse nor ignore their transgressions.
Judging by the reaction over the last couple days to the Ray Rice video (I will not link to it as many outlets are using it as click bait) it seems that our acceptance of the truth when it comes to celebrities and their legal and moral shortcomings are only truly triggered when completely pushed in our faces. While many of us where disgusted by the story three weeks ago the visceral disgust at Rice’s actions this week feels all too late.
I asked someone on Twitter why Cee Lo’s music would be taboo and not someone like James Brown who had a damning record of domestic abuse, the most damning of which was his alleged sodomy of Tammi Terrell with an umbrella. Their response? “James Brown never got videotaped or defended his abuse on Twitter.” Along with “There’s no permanent reminder of his actions. Also, you have the rose-colored historical view.” This is problematic for me as it sets a clock on abuse and gives a sense that the effects dissipate over time. Judging by the number of celebrations had for Michael Jackson’s recent birthday I seem to be in the minority on this issue.
I generally judge people’s character by whether or not I could see myself sitting at a a bar with someone and enjoying his or her company. Cee Lo was for me far and away one of those people. That is no more. To be fair, divorcing yourself from someone you have never met is no great feat. Growing up being a big fan of the Dungeon Family, Goodie Mob, and ultimately Cee Lo as a stand-alone artist makes leaving the music behind much, much harder. At nearly 37 years old I have been listening to Cee Lo for over 20 years. At some point good music becomes more about the memories attached to them than the music itself. And it’s not just music.
I grew up a huge New York Giants fan. My childhood is filled with memories of my father and me laying waste to bags of sunflower seeds and debating over the merits of his Jets teams versus my Giants. Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor was far and away one of my favorite players. He was ferocity and aggression personified in a time where those traits were still favorable. More importantly, he was one of the few NFL players fortunate enough to play for one team his whole career. For a giants fan in the ’80s that meant that LT belonged to us. He was our guy. As a player he had his issues with drugs and some bad behavior, but nothing so much as to not make him a fan favorite. When he was arrested for soliciting an underage prostitute I put his jersey at the bottom of my trunk. There was a sadness where I would not have expected there to be. It was because I wasn’t just putting a jersey away. It was a symbol of my childhood that had been tainted. Since then I have pulled the jersey from banishment. Not so much for my love of Taylor but for a need to hold on to the Sundays of my childhood.