The Art and The Artist

Vinyl Shelves

The Dean of Rock Critics™, Robert Christgau, writes about a subject near and dear to my heart, namely can we separate the artist from the art?

A little while back in the introduction to your resurfacing of an old piece about Biz Markie, you wrote that you were boycotting Van Morrison. I’ve felt similarly disappointed and disgusted by him of late. (Same goes for Eric Clapton.) Short of him renouncing things he’s said—which seems unlikely—is there anything that would bring you back to his music? I have so much love for so much of his work, and I’m tempted to justify continuing to listen with the belief that the man singing “Into the Mystic” or “Everyone” is not the old crank talking harmful nonsense today. But that leap can feel awfully forced on some days. Should I be making it at all? Does it make an ethical difference if I’m listening to CDs and albums I’ve already bought and not listening to streams? I.E., not putting more money in his pocket. I guess I’m just curious to know more about how you draw—and might redraw—your lines in a case like Van’s. — David Marchese, Brooklyn

Ever read Barney Hoskyns’s excellent Small Town Talk, about the Woodstock “scene”? Van’s not a major player there, but he gets what I presume is his due, which left me with no doubt that he’s long if not always been a major prick. When I read it back in 2018 this did not stop me from listening to Moondance or Into the Music or “Jackie Wilson Said.” Nor has the ignorant, reactionary, racist-to-anti-Semitic blather he and his homeboy Clapton have been spewing during the pandemic turned me off their music (though the only Clapton I actively like is half a century old) because, yes, the music has its own reality. You could even say that the guy who’s making the music is not the prick—that he inhabits or creates some other reality when he sings and plays. So my boycott is about Morrison’s current Latest Record Project, which Greil Marcus did review and thought sounded pretty good until it approached the Protocols of the Elders of Zion part. But Greil’s a big big Van fan, where I’ve merely found some value in his ceaseless recent output. So it’s easy enough for me to say fuck that shit.

(click here to continue reading Xgau Sez: September, 2021 – by Robert Christgau – And It Don’t Stop.)

Speaking for myself, mostly I can distinguish the music (or other art) as a different entity from the artist who created the art. I always think of Ezra Pound’s fascist leanings, and his poems. Jimmy Page and David Bowie both had a sexual relationship with the same teenaged girl. John Lennon beat his wife. The film Chinatown remains great, despite the ickiness of the rapist Roman Polanski. George Orwell ratted out alleged communist-sympathizers. And so on, there is a long list of people behaving badly who are artists of note.

I rationalize listening to Van Morrison’s back catalog (some of which is pretty great) by not streaming or purchasing any of his newer work. I actually have all the Van Morrison albums I need (though I think my brother borrowed a few of my Van Morrison vinyl LPs), and Eric Clapton hasn’t made good music in decades, imo. 

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