I always have a problem separating the art from the artist (i.e. the artist from his life.) This has come up for years now when the subject is Woody Allen. I was so pissed off with him after the Soon-Yi Incident that for Christmas that year, my husband sent me a card “from” Woody Allen, with a personal apology. No dice. I haven’t forgiven Woody, because that would be shallow, but I find I am still able to enjoy Annie Hall without feeling too much moral indignation.
One school of thought is to accept and appreciate the art (or of course disappreciate it) independently from any judgment on the artist himself. In other words, Joni Mitchell has written some beautiful songs, even though she is a complete asshole. It makes perfect sense! But I can’t seem to do it. Ever since I read an interview with her in Rolling Stone, at least 100 years ago, in which she heaps praise upon herself as a brilliant visual artist, she has made me sick. Just a few months ago, in Starbucks, I picked up the Joni Mitchell edition of their CD series dedicated to an artist’s selection of musical influences. Joni Mitchell is the only artist who has had the temerity to include one of her own songs! What an asshole!!! She is ruined for me forever. Sorry!
What about Roald Dahl? As a child, I loved his short stories. They were so creepy! Who doesn’t love Roald Dahl for god sake? But years ago, when a biography revealed him to have been a horrible father, among other failings, I could never extinguish this reprehensible image of him. Same story with R. Crumb. Seeing the movie “Crumb” the first time, I cried at the tragedy of his crazy brothers. The second time, I couldn’t avoid cringing at R’s coldness toward his son: He says openly that the only person he’s every truly loved is his little daughter, Sophie. Where does that leave your son, you fucking bastard, is my feeling toward Crumb. Yeah, yeah, great cartoons, but what a waste as a human being. He won’t even let his son touch his stupid records.
Today, I read a horrifying account of the life of Bertrand Russell. The least of his crimes against his family members is that he decided to make his 4 year old son John learn to swim by repeatedly throwing him into the ice cold sea. He did this until the child learned that his sobbing was pointless. John later developed schizophrenia. It only gets worse. If you really like Bertrand Russell, don’t even consider reading any recent biographies.
I am so grateful that Patti Smith continues to hold her own as a person. Thank you Patti for living a life that measures up to your art….maybe even surpasses it! Neil Young has done pretty well too, until this afternoon. “He” posted a bulletin on mySpace that on its surface is a noble anti-war entreaty, but turns out to be an effort to sell tickets for his tour with Crosby Stills and Nash. It’s not the worst thing, but it’s not something I wanted to see, either. If you’re reading this Neil, please watch yourself! Don’t screw things up for me like your friend Joni did.