I was in Australia a few weeks back, and I’m not sure how much it made the news here in the US, but a high profile Aussie cardinal (nowadays second to the Pope in fact) got convicted for some less than godly behavior. Turns out some young choirboys were caught sipping from the holy wine (that’s not a euphemism) and so then he disciplined them by burying the bishop (that is a euphemism). As a result of his conviction, the high school he went to decided to remove all his old achievements and awards, essentially erasing the memory of him.
In a similar backlash, the recent airing of a Michael Jackson documentary resulted in radio stations banning his music. Also, entertainers Roseanne Barr, Louis CK, Kathy Griffin, and actor Kevin Spacey’s past and upcoming work was taken off air or cancelled after some less than ethical behavior came to light, ranging from sexual assault, to bad comedy, to a bad tweet.
It’s an interesting time we live in, with the vilification of bad behavior and the subsequent erasing of creative work. Were these actions reprehensible? To state the obvious: of course. But I hope you’ll agree that all misdeeds are not equal in their evil.
Because if you really think about it, the overwhelming majority of great artists are…and let’s be honest here folks…assholes. Or, at least messed up in some strange way. But surely part of that magic creative element in us involves our dark sides as well? Can we admire the beauty of a creation and forgive the creator for their misdeeds? How far will it go? Do we take down Picasso’s art from gallery walls because he was a chauvinist womanizer? Is Wagner’s music less amazing because he was (broadly speaking) anti-semitic?
Well, maybe. But people are complex creatures. And artists more so. Creativity often comes from dark places within us. Jazz was born in New Orleans brothels. And let’s face it about artists: you won’t turn out normal if you spend years of your life locked in a basement painting or writing music. Or Syncopated Times articles. Normal people just don’t do that. Normal people work a job they hate, watch Netflix, and can’t wait to retire so they can watch more Netflix. And if an artist gets a lucky break—they can end up writing for Netflix. (I’m available and I have a basement.)
Could you imagine if we removed from the jazz catalogues the music of all the cats who did morally questionable or criminal things? We’d basically be left with Kenny G. And I’ll tell you what’s criminal—that hairdo.
Okay, so the more cynical of you might be thinking: hmm professor, getting a little defensive? Sounds like you’re just covering your own ass.
Well…you’d be bloody right! I mean…right now I feel like I’m a pretty respectful guy. But one day when I grow up, I’d like to become a dirty old man. I look forward to the day, in around 40 years time, where I can shamelessly ogle on all the ladies at my gigs; slapping the odd bottom or two as I speed past in my wheelchair. Or perhaps when I’m 90, guilt some young lass into feeding me, just so when I lean forward to take a spoon of apple sauce, I can sneak a peek down her top. Would you ban me from festivals?
Would you be cynical of my love for my future adopted teenage daughter when I divorce my wife and marry her? Will you erase my Arbors back catalogue? Will you take away all the Grammies I’ll win?
I beg you. Don’t put this future dirty old man out of a job. Close your eyes and listen to my beautiful clarinet tone. Let the sound reach your heart, carry you away, and please forgive the shortcomings of this fragile and fallible old man that created that sound. And let him hit on your granddaughter.
Frank Page is an illustrator and cartoonist living in Central New York and is the creator of Bob the Squirrel. See more of Frank’s artwork online at www.bobthesquirrel.com.