Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Artists Versus Their Art


On the heel of the Andy Williams obituary, some musings about artists. 

Williams was, by all accounts, a stand-up, laid-back, nice guy. Hard to find anybody who had anything bad to say about him on a personal level.

You like to hear that about artists you like.

Other artists who have achieved some renown in various fields sometimes aren't so nice. And the question for some people–me included–is: How much of a pass does being good or even great as an artist buy you?

Where do you draw the line, if you do? And should you?

Some people can separate it easily. There's the guy, over there; and over here, his music/art/movies/biz, whatever. The two aren't the same. If you don't know anything about the artist, can't you appreciate what s/he has created without that?

Sure. 

But if you know he was a total scuzzball? Does that matter?

I myself find this easier if the artist is question is dead. Nobody is perfect, and if Picasso was an asshole, well, he was Picasso, right?

It's a slippery slope, and for me, at least, it depends of how much of an asshole somebody was.

I know folks who were happy that Michael Jackson died. Not so much that they wanted to see him gone per se, but that knowing what they knew about his personal life, they couldn't listen to his music. They didn't want to buy any of it, or help make it more popular, because they didn't want to see him benefit by that. 

How good does a song have to be to excuse pedophilia?

William Burroughs and Naked Lunch. Brilliant book. But: That he got plastered down in Mexico and killed his common-law wife–he put a glass on top of her head and stepped back a ways to show everybody what a good shot he was by knocking it off. 

His aim was low. Hit her in the head.

(For me, even the idea somebody would shatter a glass on top of my head shows how drunk everybody must have been. Really? Flying glass shards?)

Johnny Carson took over The Tonight Show when I was in junior high. I watched him, on and off, for the thirty years he was the king of late night TV. I thought he was funny, a great interviewer, and like Stewart and Colbert today, that was the place to get your news and be able to laugh at it, instead of crying. 

I read recently an unathorized bio of Carson, and while you have to take these things with a grain of salt, there was a whole bunch of stuff I did not know about the man.

He was a mean drunk, and when he got lit, he beat his wives. He cheated on them all with a slew of women, both right before, and right after, "I do." He was a terrible father; not so much abusive as inattentive. He tried to fire Ed McMahon because he couldn't stand to get upstaged. Ed took the hint and dialed it back. (Apparently the bit that Gary Shandling did with his sidekick on The Larry Sanders Show, a really funny send-up of late night, was dead-on.) Carson was autocratic, held a grudge, and smoked himself into an early grave. 

Not to say he didn't have good qualities, but those bad ones, taken together, make me wonder: If I had known this about the man when I was watching him on the tube, would I have continued to do so? 

Truth is, I don't know. I like to think I would have changed the channel. I would now. 

It's all relative, isn't it ... ?

7 comments:

Narda said...

No. I don't separate the man from the message. Sure, we're all complicated beings, and one person's asshole is another guy's stand-up guy.

I've got my little hierarchy, and at times it is a little unfair, but I stick to it.

Thomas Valley said...

I just bought a Dan Simmons book. Conclusion: He's a good enough writer that I can forgive the fact that he's a political bag of diseased weasels.

I will not, however, buy another Orson Scott Card book. The quality of his writing does not outweigh his public and dramatic douchebaggery.

Joe said...

Harlan Ellison is an example of an author who's quality of work outweighs his assholiness.

Steve Perry said...

I don't put Harlan in the same category. He can be abrasive, and he doesn't suffer fools gladly -- though he has mellowed some these days. Get to know him a little, he's a charming, if strongly-opinionated fellow. Which could describe a lot of the people I know.

Those of us who have foibles -- and who among us does not? -- aren't the same as killers, wife-beaters, and child molesters.

Philosophy matters, too. I wouldn't send any money Sarah Palin's way, either, nor to Rush Limbaugh's pocket, but that's more for the outright hypocrisy they manifest.

We all draw the line where we will, and one man's hypocrite is another man's hero. Different strokes.

steve-vh said...

Speaking of relative, my sister recently told me (in a kiss off letter, gee i been trying for years to get you to leave me alone) "we grew up in the same house but under different roofs" regarding our polar opposite perceptions of our parents, LOL. Brightest, clearest thing she's ever said.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

I'm completely with Thomas Valley on this one. I could overlook a LOT of Cards' religious heavy handedness, but his recent article about Gay Marriage pretty much divorced me from any future work.

Apparently, the only time you can be an enlightened human being is in a fantasy world set hundreds of years in the future.

Steve Perry said...

Present company excepted of course, Kid.

I thought you were gonna be in India by now?