Should we judge the musician when we judge the music?

Popular music has often turned ordinary musicians into gods. Rock in particular thrives on larger than life characters. But just because the music they create is stellar does not mean they are stellar individuals. In short, rock and pop seem to have a high ratio of assholes.

And yet, we are often willing to bypass our opinion of these bad boys when evaluating their music. For instance, my wife is a humongous Guns ‘n Roses fan. Even though she got shafted in ’92 when Axl Rose decided 45 minutes was enough for a show, sparking the infamous Montreal riot, she still won’t miss a chance to see them live (even though Axl is the sole remaining member of the classic line ups). They’re playing the Metropolis in Montreal (a 2000 seat club!) in a week, and there was never any doubt that we’d end up there, waiting for hours for Axl to show up.

On the flip side, when I was a teenager, I loved the band W.A.S.P. They were supposed to open up for Iron Maiden on their 98 tour, but pulled out for nebulous reasons. I would have gotten a second chance in 2004 when they were booked at Les Foufounes Electriques, a legendary Montreal club. Well, Blackie Lawless didn’t want to play and he shafted the local promoter, a small company putting together shows for the love of music, by refusing to play on the day of the show and leaving with his guarantee. Well that’s it for me. Fuck Blackie Lawless. He’s not getting another dime from me. I can’t even listen to W.A.S.P. anymore.

And then there’s Michael Jackson. Without a doubt he was a hugely talented musician. But I couldn’t bring myself to listen to his music because of all the allegations of child abuse until after his death. His songs are great (the musicianship on Thriller is among the best ever in pop/rock) but I can’t help thinking about the man. Now that he’s dead, I feel I’m not contributing money to a child molester and I can listen to the music again. But it’s always on my mind.

I also just finished Tony Sanchez’s book about the Rolling Stones. Wow, Mick and Keith come across as two real assholes: narcissistic, opportunist and egotistical jerks. Do I want to feed their machine with my money? I’m having issues with that. This also why I refuse to listen to Ted Nugent: the guy’s a moron.

Richard Wagner was a notorious anti-semite, and his music and ideals were glorified by Hitler. Should we refrain from listening to Wagner because of that?

I ask the question, but I have no answer. I doubt I’ll stay bothered for long at the thought of listening to the Stones, but my disdain of W.A.S.P. will most likely endure. Should I deny myself the pleasure of Michael Jackson’s music because of his actions?

Am I the only one that’s bothered by the character of the person behind the music?

Jean-Frederic Vachon
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  • Anonymous , July 7, 2013 @ 9:17 am

    All the people you wrote about I agree fully ( except Uncle Ted ). I would add quite a few to that list like waiting to finally see Yngwie when he was gonna open for ELP and when we got to the show an announcer came out and told us Yngwie left the tour that morning because he wanted more stage room. I was also at the RIOT. GnR could have saved the whole show you where there . If they would have come out early and played an extended set they would have deserved the Rock God status they have. But you know Egos, Drugs, and Alcohol, have a way of creating the biggest assholes on the planet.

    • Drew , July 7, 2013 @ 9:18 am

      Sorry that was me above

  • Ovidiu Boar , July 25, 2013 @ 9:39 am

    Hello. I don’t think it matters at all, unless the said behaviour of the musicians interferes with the music itself. I don’t have a specific example, but let’s say there’s an extremist (be it from a political or religious or whatever point of view) – a person with fixed ideas, who insists on forcing them down everybody’s throat. All through his music, of course. Than you can very well say “no, I won’t listen to his music, because he’s an asshole and I don’t agree with anything he has to say”.

    Otherwise, I personally try to give every artist an open-minded listen, regardless of the things I read in the press about them.

    • jfvachon , July 25, 2013 @ 10:54 am

      Thanks for the comments! You bring very good points, and I agree that we SHOULD dissociate the two. But I find it hard sometimes. I guess it also depends on how much we enjoy their work? It’s a lot easier discard an artist we’re not passionate about, isn’t it? 🙂

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