Recently I wrote that we should not separate the art from the artist — that is to say if the artist is a morally bankrupt monster, then we shouldn’t continue to consume their art despite it. There are plenty of artists out there who aren’t abusers who we can enjoy instead.
But it’s easy to say it. What I wanted to know is: could I live it?
I’ve already long purged my (rarely used) DVD collection, saying so long to Woody Allen’s films and anything with Kevin Spacey, among others.
That was easy. I don’t often watch the same film more than maybe a couple of times. But my music collection would be very different.
Music has always meant a lot to me. As a teenager, discovering the likes of Radiohead, R.E.M. and Bob Dylan was like discovering prayer. In those days, much of my time was taken up with reading with my headphones on.
So now, decades later, will I be able to say goodbye to the artists and albums I love? I know plenty will still survive the cull, but not everything will. Saying goodbye to some is like saying goodbye to parts of my life.
My music collection got digitised a few years ago which made this easier from a logistical perspective — a simple press of “delete” rather than having to dispose of racks of CDs or piles of vinyl records.
I started with the obvious, given my recent piece — out went Michael Jackson’s music. There was only Bad, Thriller, and a Best Of collection of the Jackson 5, but out they went anyway. I’m sure I need not explain why, but if you’re unsure, watch Leaving Neverland and come back.
Next, Led Zeppelin. That’s seven albums I love gone, but at least I won’t have to think about Jimmy Page kidnapping a 14-year-old girl to have sex with her whenever I’m listening to “Whole Lotta Love” or something. Getting rid of those albums was easier than expected.
Goodbye, too, Ryan Adams. After recent allegations of abuse and misconduct that made everyone go “oh, yeah, I can see that”, I don’t want his 12 albums of hit-and-miss alternative country, indie rock, or whatever genre he’s into this week. I’ll admit that I will miss Heartbreaker and the underrated Cold Roses but won’t mourn his personality-free album of Taylor Swift covers.
Eric Clapton next. Sure, he gave us “Layla”, but also drunkenly announced his support for Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech at one of his concerts back in the 70s, said England was “overcrowded” and chanted the National Front’s slogan. The irony of all this coming from a man who had built his career co-opting and covering the music of people of colour apparently lost on him. You must know you’re a racist when a whole anti-racist movement starts off the back of what you say.
It starts to get more difficult with John Lennon. This is probably the first time where my love of the music forced me to have a real think. But then I remembered Lennon was a noted physical abuser of woman and had a parenting style that wavered between absent and psychologically abusive. So Imagine and John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band go on to the delete pile. After some thought, I decide The Beatles’ work can stay. There were three other men in the band who, as far as I’m aware, don’t deserve deletion (as a side note, Lennon’s son Julian once remarked that Paul McCartney was a better father to him than John ever was).
Chuck Berry gets to share a space in deleted purgatory with Jimmy Page after having sex with a 14-year-old girl. He was 33. Later in life, in the 1980s, Berry videotaped women in the bathrooms of one his restaurants. Ew. Bye, Chuck.
Elvis Presley may have been The King, but he also had a well-known creepy predeliction for 14-year-old girls (for one thing, he met his future wife Pricilla when she was 14 and he was 24). Heartbreak Hotel is great, but I don’t need it.
Miles Davis’ music is not for everyone (especially his later free-jazz years), but even if it wasn’t sometimes tricky to get into, his well-known history of beating his wives means I can’t bring myself to listen to him anymore. So I won’t. While we’re on that subject, James Brown can join him for the same reason.
Oh god, Morrissey. I loved loved loved The Smiths in my teenage years and still do now. But oh my god, Morrisey. Racist, xenophobe, defender of Harvey Weinstein. His solo work is definitely out. But what of The Smiths? Do I keep those beloved albums because the awful Morrissey is just one-fourth of the group? I must think on that further. Because honestly? I hate Morrissey.
This wasn’t easy, but I feel good about it. I’m not saying my music collection is now full of absolute angels. There are probably artists in there who have done awful things I don’t know about, or maybe scandals that will come out. It’s like fighting the tide. And I know that, in reality, this makes no difference to anyone but me.
This may not be for everyone, either. What we do about the art made by bad people is under constant discussion. You may not wish to ignore these people’s art, and that’s up to you. But it happens. If you don’t believe me, try to find someone who still listens to Lostprophets or Gary Glitter. Why not just expand that further? I expect I will have to do this again in the future, but there will still be plenty of music to go around.