Musicians can be jerks


Jay-Z ,left, and Kanye West perform during the Victoria’s Secret fashion show in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011.

By Ross Hettel

I call it the Kanye West phenomenon.

I suppose that needs some explanation. In my spare time I like to ponder important but meaningless philosophical questions. What’s been taking up most of my thoughts: Does a musician being a jerk adversely affect the quality of his or her music? To get to the bottom of this, we’ll need some examples.

I’ll start with Beethoven and bet you a fiver you couldn’t find someone that honestly believes Beethoven didn’t write amazing music. But did you know that he regularly threw chairs at people who talked during his performances?

The man was a deaf composer, which is an amazing feat, and throwing chairs isn’t the worst crime in the world, so we can gloss over this imperfection and leave him in his place as one of the greatest composers ever.

Let’s move on to Eric Clapton. Now, I’m a big fan of ol’ Slowhand. One of the first songs I taught myself on guitar was “Tears in Heaven.” But back in ‘76, he said this about immigration:

“We should send them all back. Keep Britain white!” he was quoted in a Guardian article.”

I’ll be honest, I don’t put on much Clapton anymore. He hasn’t really apologized for it either, despite having plenty of time to do so. The man starred in an album with B.B. King, half of his music is influenced by African American artists, and yet he still holds this racist view. It certainly makes me lose some respect for him.

Then there’s the aforementioned Kanye West. He writes some catchy songs, a few that make me hit replay the moment they’re over. I would be a pretty big fan, but it seems every time I hear about the man in the press, he won’t shut up about how awesome he thinks he is and how he should have won that award.

He reminds of that annoying friend you invite over to your place to hang out and play video games, but won’t shut up with excuses about how the controls are weird or how he’s so much better at another game when you start beating him. That’s why I haven’t bought another of Kanye’s albums since Graduation or invited him over for a round of Smash Brothers.

So, in the fairness of science, let’s examine the opposite of jerk artists. What about musicians that are extremely good, caring people – does that make their music better?

Some of you may not know this, but The Who’s frontman, Roger Daltrey, organizes yearly concerts to benefit the UK charity Teenage Cancer Trust. In 2000, The Who raised over $2 million to build cancer units for teenagers.

The Who were already pretty far up there on the list of awesome musicians, but knowing they donate their time and talent to further causes like this bumps them up a few slots.

I suppose what I’m asking is should we separate the person from their music? We put talented musicians up on a pedestal, categorize them as better than us because they can write such great music to which so many people can relate. But in reality, they’re just regular people, and sometimes regular people can be jerks.

So I think we can’t separate the person and their music – an artist’s personality does have an impact on the quality of his or her music. If a singer attempts to put forth a message or impart a feeling via song, I need to believe that artist is genuine for it to work.

Perhaps Frank Turner put it best in his song “Try This at Home”:

“And there’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music, and some of them are just like us, and some of them are d***s.”