By Chris Zuver, A and E Editor
Throughout the history of popular music, there has been the concept of the icon, and with it, controversy. In the 19th century, you had Beethoven, who was caught being a peeping tom, yet was loved for his concerts and compositions. In the jazz era of 20th century America, there was local legend Miles Davis, who revolutionized the music genre, but was also known for domestic violence. People are selective when it comes to dismissing those they admire. Often, it seems that there is a bias based on favorability.
While the concept of the controversial celebrity is not limited to popular music, musicians are a particularly polarizing—and therefore interesting—subject, especially in recent history. Some musicians get the general pass, like Jimmy Page, who, at the age of 28, started dating 14-year-old groupie Lorri Maddox. However, Page’s band Led Zeppelin is regarded as one of the greatest rock acts of all time and the aforementioned small piece of scandalous information has fallen into the vast lore of Zoso. But if we go back one decade prior to Page, we can see that rock n’ roller Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin at the age of 23, yet, unlike Page, this bit of information is closely tied to his name.
So, while throwing a couple of general examples your way, I ask the question: how far do you accept the separation of art from the artist?
Personally, I am a fan of former Welsh band, Lostprophets. I listened to their first album, “The Fake Sound of Progress” every day in middle school. When I read that their front man pleaded guilty to underage sex crimes in 2013, I was disgusted. But what does that have to do with their music? The singer, despite his crimes, sang well and the band was tight. Their debut still retains a kickass sound and that will never change to me.
Now, ever since that incident, uttering the band’s name has become the equivalent of picking up rattlesnakes from a barbed-wire cage. But let us pretend that this scenario had happened to a different front man. Let us say that tomorrow, it was discovered that late rock legend Kurt Cobain had, beyond a doubt, committed these same crimes. Let us say that witnesses or victims stepped forward and provided video evidence of the act. Would you think that Cobain still deserved the praise he receives? If you’re a fan, would you still listen to the music? And if you would, would you let people know that you did?
When it comes to art, people tend to base their opinions on various things. The same can be said for people’s opinions on celebrities. Often, we rank famous people as “good” or “bad” based on a few things we hear about them. When art and celebrity cross, there will always be those who are surrounded by sensational stories. Yet, people seem to be more forgiving when the celebrity’s art is well-received.
And that is why Michael Jackson is, perhaps, the most looming example of a music celebrity that walks the line between praise and disgrace. Though his name is at the end of many dirty jokes, he is still widely respected for his music and performances, which have set the standard for modern pop music ever since. I have heard as much trash talk about the guy as I have heard admiration, and sometimes both takes from the same person. Whatever your opinion may be about allegations against Jackson, you cannot deny that the celebration of his music and performances, at the least, overlap the level of his associated stigma.
For some people, music is a passive background to be enjoyed, while for others, it is a drive and a lifestyle to be obsessed over. But most of us will have our favorites and we will have our reasons why. What I am saying is simple, really: you all have your morals, and you can all form your own opinions as to what you think is sacrosanct. If you ask me, what musicians do shouldn’t be connected to the music.