When good musicians say bad things

Last updated 09:08 06/10/2010

Well the internet was abuzz yesterday and on Monday with Paul Henry's faux-pas. It's not really the place of this blog to suggest a shark-jump moment from Henry - but since Facebook has his face plastered all over its pages and Twitter was, well, atwitter with twittterings about this twit-move from Henry it seemed time to examine the stupid things that musicians have said and whether or not it has cost them their audience.

D'Oh

Can you be put off a musician because of their beliefs and statements? Or do you not care what they say at all, you only care about what they play?

A famous case of this was Elvis Costello. He was quoted as calling Ray Charles a "blind, dumb nigger", later giving the excuse that he was purposely trying to shock the people he was playing pool with in a bar. (Someone can correct me but the version I heard places Costello, drunk, with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett.)

Ray Charles forgave Costello, suggesting it "sounded like drunk talk" and that people should not be held to ransom for heat-of-the-moment or drunken or out-of-context comments.

John Lennon certainly caused a stir with his oft-misquoted statement about The Beatles being bigger than Jesus.

He backpedalled somewhat as you can see here; fraught, frazzled, tour-fatigued. Many American fans burned records and trashed Beatles memorabilia, some buying it purely to destroy because the Lord's name was taken in vain.

Some musicians aren't as quick as John Lennon was (or for that matter Paul Henry) with the apology.

Eric Clapton: EC Was Here to PC Is HereEric Clapton (blame the drink too, if you must) told an audience in the mid-1970s that he supported former Conservative minister Enoch Powell (known at the time for an anti-immigration speech). Clapton talked of England being "overcrowded" and urged for it not become "a black colony". He suggested England "get the foreigners out, get the wogs out, get the coons out" and chanted "Keep Britain White" (a National Front slogan).

Clapton appeared to laugh off the event, certainly not apologising. To many it seemed to show just how out of touch and uncaring Clapton was at the time, given that he had had his real breakthrough solo hit with his version of Bob Marley's song, I Shot the Sheriff. And of course had created a career around appropriation of black music/s.

More recently Bryan Ferry, at the age of 61 (in 2007), made the boo-boo of praising the work-ethic, architecture and artistic flair of the Nazi movement - to journalists in Germany.

Maybe we can laugh at some of this stupidity, or appear very detached from it and its impact - and the point of this blog-post, by the way, is just to present some well-known examples, not to judge either way - but it would appear (at least from the way the media reports the incidents) that as in so many walks of life anything to do with race and religion is going to put a person in hot water.

Sometimes it is the media putting the words or actions into the musician's mouth. Marilyn Manson came across as one of the most sympathetic, intelligent and articulate interviewees in Bowling for Columbine; essentially he was saying he should not be blamed for inspiring the shootings - he makes his music in an exercise of his artistic right. He plays a character.

But what about when it is the musician's fault entirely? It could be something trivial the musician has said; it doesn't need to be something that makes you judge them because of their political, religious or racist judgments or comments.

What about when Mick Jagger put Pete Townshend's line about "hope I die/before I get old" into absurd practice by stating, before the age of 45, "I'd rather be dead than singing 'Satisfaction' when I am 45" (he is now 67 and sings it at pretty much every Stones show as they continue to tour regularly).

Two absolute doozies that spring to mind do relate to politics and race again but highlight the sheer stupidity of the people making the comments. It's not a hatred from them - apart from maybe a hatred of the education system and, you know, books - but remember this awful gem from Mariah Carey:

Mariah Carey"Whenever I watch TV and I see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean I would love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."

And then Avril Lavigne had this ace up her tongue's sleeve: "It's important to be thankful, even if you're poor. I mean, come on, we all have clean water - well OK, not people in the developing world."

Thing is, I never really cared for the music of Lavigne or Carey before I read these comments. So I can't say I was put off them in any way. I did actually laugh at the stupidity/naivety of these statements - of the fact that they were spoken aloud, filter off.

So - it's up to you on how you want to answer this. I figure you should be trying to think of a time when a musician has said something so outlandish that it has put you off their music and/or off their character. Maybe you liked Kanye West until he interrupted that pop-singer-that-everyone-tries-to-attach-country-kudos-to? Or maybe you were put off Eric Clapton's music when you found out about his political views, as opposed to the usual reason for being put off his music: listening to too much of his music.

For me, I get offended by people that bring their religion, or change of attitude even, to the way they tackle future music and see their old music. Donna Summer, for instance - she turned down the chance to sing It's Raining Men, she turned her back on disco. She was briefly one of the biggest stars around - and then she allegedly suggested that Aids was punishment from God for homosexuality.  I'm not sure who she thought was buying a lot of her records or dancing to them in clubs and helping make them popular?

Before She Saw The Light She Stood By The Red LightSummer's fall from grace and from the limelight appears to be a poor decision on her part to essentially bite at the hand feeding her.

Prince started singing The Christ instead of The Cross when he converted to Jehovah's Witness.

This sort of stuff bugs me a little - I appreciate that people change their ways, but you can't expect to remain in the public eye and remembered for what you once offered if you are not prepared to offer it up in the way people expect.

And since I started with a word about Paul Henry I guess I should end with one.

Usually when Paul Henry says something that is deemed controversial I can see the point of him saying it - regardless of whether I agree with it. I can see that he has angled for humour, even if it's a very black humour. I can see that he is challenging stuffiness or possibly is running with this now overly used justification of saying what everyone is thinking. But not on Monday. He jumped the shark.

He is a skilled journalist and has been playing a role on Breakfast really well - a role that people obviously want (he did win a People's Choice Award, after all). But it's hard to see what the point was with Monday's comments.  I am not going to call Henry a racist though. But I don't know what he was thinking - usually, for entertainment value or whatever else is the reason, I feel like I have some insight into what he is thinking when he says something that pushes buttons. Not this time.

I've been called a racist myself - it's not a nice thing to be labelled. In my case I was just talking about music I didn't like. So the issue of race would seem irrelevant. So the intention of this blog-post, understand, is not for people to go pointing fingers at who they think is a racist - it's merely to create a discussion over what can put you off a person in their role - in this case, musician.

So with that the question remains - can you ignore the things that someone says if you like what they play? Or can you think of when you have been put off a musician because of something/s they have said?

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100 comments
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Don 1   #1   09:14 am Oct 06 2010

David Bowie springs to mind, offering Nazi salutes at Victoria Station. Or Christy Moore spinning apologetics for the IRA.

Wilbur   #2   09:19 am Oct 06 2010

Everytime Bono opens his mouth.

Danny   #3   09:21 am Oct 06 2010

I don't think calling someone a racist name necessarily means you are racist. Or calling someone a fag makes you homophobic. It can be done (as seems to be the case with Elvis Costello's outburst) just to get a reaction. If you want to really annoy someone, and they happen to be black, then call them the n word! You are only doing it for a reaction. I do find it strange that I can call someone every name under the sun, I can call them stupid, thick, white trash, lazy etc. And thats ok, but as you say, as soon as I mention race or religion, I am deemed to have crossed the line. And that shouldn't be the case, especially for an Atheist like myself, with the huge weight of evidence on my side suggesting that , quite frankly, I should be able to make fun of religion without any feelings of guilt or sorrow! Right? Oh, and I don't take any notice of what Elvis/Eric/whoever said...they may have just been having a bad day, or as you say, a drunken stupor. I have also read that Mariah didn't even say those things? Who knows.

Danny   #4   09:22 am Oct 06 2010

@ Don1 - not all of us would think their is anything wrong for apologising for the IRA! lol

simon   #5   09:31 am Oct 06 2010

I only know about the Elvis Costello moment... which you have misrepresented here. Ray Charles never said 'heat of the moment,' only that drunken ramblings shouldn't end up sensationalised - and that doesn't apply to Paul Henry. Elvis Costello worked with anti-racism groups before and after the event, and was genuinely embarrassed and ashamed when he sobered up.

Paul Henry is a small minded and ignorant fool, and it's an embarrassment to New Zealand that he has lasted as a presenter of a news program for so long.

On the subject of the musicians, perhaps people are more likely to ignore it as the musicians have something to offer in terms of musical ability... whereas Paul Henry only has his idiocy and thoroughly out-dated and discredited views to offer?

McFail   #6   09:33 am Oct 06 2010

I think it's important to seperate the music and the person. Musicians are humans too (unless they're James Hetfield, then they are gods) and as such have their own opinions which you may or may not agree with.

Noel Gallenger is complete nob but it doesn't change that his music is great and I disagree with alot that Tom Morrello of Rage says but it doesn't mean I don't love Know Your Enemy.

john   #7   09:36 am Oct 06 2010

Good post and questions -thanks. I guess some of us have stronger views on such things than others, and will find it harder to forgive and forget. For myself, if someone is actually offering up views via their lyrics then my agreement or otherwise with those views affects what I think of the muso, and how much I like the music.

Simon Chamberlain   #8   09:37 am Oct 06 2010

Check Snopes for that Carey story, it apparently isn't true: http://www.snopes.com/quotes/carey.asp

On topic: I'm performing contortions over my continued appreciation for Morrissey. My current thinking is that he was all right (both musically and politically) when he was with the Smiths, and only became a disgusting racist at the same time as his solo career started going downhill. So I ignore everything he did post-1987.

bentel   #9   09:43 am Oct 06 2010

Probably the most recent example of this is Mo Tucker (the coolest member of the Velvet Underground). According to Wikipedia.org:

In October 2010, British newspaper The Guardian discovered a personal page for Maureen Tucker on The Tea Party Patriots official website, wherein she stated, "I have come to believe (not just wonder) that Obama's plan is to destroy America from within." Her page goes on to encourage readers to send the White House hatemail addressed to "King Obama."

Hmmm ...

dragonzflame   #10   09:45 am Oct 06 2010

While not a fan of the woman's music (not since I was about 11 anyway), I'm going to be fair to Mariah Carey and point out that she never made the statement quoted above. It was satire that got picked up and quoted as the truth. I refer you to the font of all wisdom: http://www.snopes.com/quotes/carey.asp


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