I still vividly remember when Sticky Fingers announced their ‘indefinite hiatus’. You couldn’t catch a train anywhere in Sydney without overhearing a gang of teenagers passionately discussing it. The rumours swirled around in the days following the band’s announcement, talks of alcohol and substance abuse soon escalated to allegations of racism and violence.
I remember not knowing what to think about it all. Here was a band whose music had brought me so much joy, and whose albums I had proudly bought. It hurt to think that my money was supporting people who were, at best, brats trying to live the ‘rockstar’ life. Or, if the worst of the rumours were to be believed, racist misogynists. I felt betrayed. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to their music anymore.
Now, the band are back. After nearly two years of complete silence, they have addressed the allegations and attempted to rescue their reputation. While not everyone is convinced, the band profess that stories surrounding their breakup have been greatly exaggerated, and admitted to struggling with addiction and mental health issues. They have made a concerted effort to atone for their mistakes and prevent them from happening again. So, everything is fine now, right?
Well… it’s hard to say. I respect them for admitting their own faults and making the effort to change. That’s always commendable. But their resurfacing has brought back a more complex issue. Does listening to an artist’s music equate to an endorsement of said artist’s actions? Is it wrong to listen to music if you know (or think you know) that the person who made it has done the wrong thing?
I’m of two minds. I would like to think that I can recognise musical talent, or the importance of someone’s work regardless of who they are as a person. After all, I don’t know them. I mean, it’s hard to deny the impact Sticky Fingers have had on Sydney’s music scene. Surely that shouldn’t be clouded by any person’s actions offstage.
But then, am I more willing to forgive these actions because I was already a fan of the music? What if the same thing happened to a band that I didn’t like. It would be easy to write them off for their actions, even use them as further justification to not like them. So maybe it’s best to remove this scenario from the realm of music in order to gain perspective.
How have, for example, the recent string of sexual assault allegations in Hollywood influenced how I see the work of actors accused of wrongdoing? I couldn’t imagine buying anything with Bill Cosby in it, for example. I wouldn’t want to support his actions. So should the same be said for music?
Here’s another example: It’s common knowledge that John Lennon beat his first wife Cynthia. Obviously, domestic violence is unacceptable, but it hasn’t seemed to diminish our society’s love of the Beatles. Maybe the key to this can be found in the lyrics to their 1967 song ‘Getting Better’:
“I used to be cruel to my woman
I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved
Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene
And I’m doing the best that I can”
Once again, it’s this admission of wrongdoing and a commitment to change that we see as redeeming. But how do we really know that anything has changed. After all, it’s not like I’ve actually met him. He still did something terrible, and his talent as a musician shouldn’t equal forgiveness.
At this point, you may have noticed that I haven’t really provided an answer. And that’s because there isn’t one. Is it wrong to support the work of a musician who has done the wrong thing? Should we separate the artist from their work and stop trying to discern the character of people we’ve never met? Or is the act of listening to music an endorsement? After all, buying someone’s music is a pretty powerful sign that you want to support them. It’s something I’ll continue to struggle with for as long is there is music to listen to.