Saturday, May 21, 2011

Essay: An Intro/On Separating An Artist From Their Art

Recent controversies surrounding Tyler, The Creator and the content of his lyrics got me to thinking about the age old problem of separating an artist from their art. This in turn led me to finally introduce a new series to Whiskey Pie, simply titled Essay, in which I plan to get into more in-depth topics relating to music. This will be anything from re-reviews of albums, lengthy essays or personal reflections on albums, or discussion of things relating to music, such as this case.

While I think the hype for Tyler, The Creator and his fellows is a bit overblown, I also think that taking him seriously as a bigot or sexist kind of misses the point, too. Didn't we already go through this with Eminem anyway? There's the real Eminem, let's say, who would never do anything purposefully to hurt gays, and then there's the persona of Eminem featured in his music, a sort of white trash hip hop kid who fucks up a lot and uses bad language. In junior high, my friends and I got in the habit of using 'jew' as a general pejorative term. Looking back, it was immature and racist; none of us were jewish and no one we knew was, either. I'm not saying it was right, but keep in mind, we didn't have anything against Judaism. It was wrong, yes, but it was playful and we were immature 13 year olds. Eminem and Tyler, The Creator speak to those people and they resonate not because they introduce listeners to racist/sexist slang, but because the audience recognizes terms they probably use on a daily basis already.

Awesome album, by the way
Anyway, if you really want to turn this into a race issue, I can point to any number of well respected white artists who've used language just as bad, if not worse. Nick Cave's Murder Ballads album was just such a case. You know he doesn't condone or commit murder in real life, but as an artist with a certain persona, he can explore the elation and joy, from a first person point of view, of murderers. He is literally profiting off of murder and discussion of it, which, even setting aside race, seems worse in my book than using F words or N words. Racism and sexism aren't always acted on, and anyway, words are a safe avenue of expression. I'd rather have my feelings hurt by someone calling me a nerd or a cracker than someone sticking a knife in my back, or to be blown away by a psychopath in a bar as detailed in excruciating detail in Nick Cave's 'O'Malley's Bar.'

All of which eventually gets me to my point: an artist is not always embodying their art. When the South Park guys have a racist Chinese stereotype who mixes up L's and R's and pronounces "city" like "shitty", they are not saying that they despise Asians or that it's OK to mock them. It's simply part of their shtick to push buttons and at this point every group in the world has gotten it good from them.
Awesome episode(s), by the way
I'm reminded, too, about a quote from conservative journalist/writer PJ O'Rourke. I completely forget which show it was on, and I couldn't track down the quote online, but he was on one of those countdowns/interviews on VH1 where they have a random assortment of talking heads spew quotes about this or that, cutting occasionally to period television clips and/or news footage. Anyway, he said something to the effect of, why did everyone think that musicians in the 1960s had all the answers and were going to save the world? He argued they really didn't know anything about politics, besides which, playing music won't really change anything or convince anyone of anything, politically speaking. Magicians and street performers don't know anything about politics, they just know how to make doves appear; they never have and never will change the world or influence politics, so why would musicians?

Kind of a right wing prick, but also kind of hilarious
I would argue that's a gross oversimplification of musicians and the effect they can have on people's lives, not to mention that someone's profession doesn't limit them from doing other things...but it is hard to argue with his main point, which is that the music of the 60s didn't change the world or somehow install the hippie ideal in the world. If music can't get people to care about each other or stop all violence, does it also follow that music can't make people hate each other and start committing violence? That's dubious logic, I realize, but I know this: the only thing music has made me stop is feeling bad about something; the only thing music has made me start doing is feeling better.

Listening to MF DOOM makes me feel better, and he raps about conquering the world. I'm effectively comforted by someone saying they want to rule over me. Well, music is an amazing thing that defies logic. And P.C. language sticklers.

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