New Rules for Looking Past Your Favorite Musician’s Flaws

Since the day that I walked into the only music store near my small Midwestern teaching college campus in the late nineties and heard Brandon Boyd over the loud speaker sing to me, “Pardon me while I burst”, I have been a faithful Incubus fan. So much so that in the past 21 years, I’ve been to 17 live shows around the country. I have disc art from their Morning View album tattooed on my left shoulder. When a burglar who clearly knew me personally, decided to rob my second-floor apartment in 2002, everything was taken including my stereo, except for my Incubus CDs, which were neatly stacked, still in alphabetical order, swaddled in my bedspread, (the one in the CD drive back into its correct holder), protected from debris.

At a concert that was rained out in 2016 in Indianapolis, after the Deftones had opened for them, I nearly got into a physical altercation with a belligerent drunk dude three times my size, who quipped, “who the hell came here to see Incubus anyway?”

My love for the band, my reading friends, is very real.

On spring break just two months ago I ended up spending nearly a thousand dollars to stay one lousy extra day in Vegas because on a whim before I was due to fly out, I decided to check out who was playing at the Hard Rock and discovered Incubus was performing with no opening act. There have been a few times in the past two decades that just when I thought that I couldn’t handle anymore bullshit, Incubus dropped a new album with a sound a little different than before but perfect for what I was dealing with and like magic, all was right again in my world. I am riding with my favorite band until the wheels fall off, peeps, okay? And so far, they have yet to let me down.

So I get it, Kanye West fans and R Kelly fans and even Chris Brown fans.

I understand how difficult it must be.
I can’t imagine what I would do if I woke up to hear one morning on the news that DJ Kilmore said in an interview, “rape is a choice”. I don’t think I could manage my pain if Mike Einziger had to go to court to defend himself in a sexual assault and battery case or if someone had filmed Ben Kenney taking a shit on a

Cambodian school-boy’s bare chest and posted it on Instagram.
The shock and awe that a dedicated listener feels finding out that the people behind the music that moves them are just that, frail and disgusting people, can be quite disheartening- you can never get that money, energy or time back and what’s worse, the music just doesn’t sound the same if the contrast is too great.

It feels like a betrayal.

Well I’m working on my own coping plan. With so many talented artists stepping out of the studio and acting in ways that seem to contradict the buying power of their fanbase, I can’t be sure that some idiotic and malevolent secrets won’t fall out of the closets of my beloved band. I’m sharing my strategy with other musicophiles so that when the artist that they adore publicly loses their shit or turns out to be a human who sins too differently from themselves, they see that there’s hope for a slow but effective mental recovery.

Dua Lipa’s got new rules and so do I:

  1. Remember, you don’t have to love the gardener to appreciate the garden.
    In the past 60 years or so in America, musicians have jumped really high on the scale of relevance and social importance. That significance has increased tremendously by the growth of and never-ending access to their fans through social media and streaming platforms, 24-7. Because musicians have so many people’s hearts and attention, they feel obligated to step from behind the studio glass and talk to their followers about important social and legal issues as well as their personal failings because they are only carbon-based creatures, like us. And even if they chose not to do so, the paparazzi will go through their trash and their past and tell us every detail about every alleged crime that the person who wrote produced or performed our favorite top 40 summer smash was involved in. They can only can entertain us en masse because we pay them to, so what about that relationship makes you think that they wouldn’t do absolutely anything to keep our attention on them, especially before an album drops? The key is that just because they co-wrote and sang on the greatest compilation of your lifetime (so far) does not make them uniquely qualified to dole out any socio-political agenda to the public and does not guarantee that they aren’t a violent offender, drug trafficker, tax evasionist or pervert. Marketable creativity does not give musicians a pass on decency and ultimately until we all agree that professional artists only reflect what we are, we will continually feel bombarded by their personal opinions and bouts with the law.

It is my friends, a show.

Always has been, always will be.

But we, the audience- We are the boss. We decide if the ends justify the means and only we can pull the amp plug.

  1. Remember, as the song says, “You can get with this or you can get with that.”
    Music has influence on study habits, creative endeavors, moods, memory, pain relief and even perceptions. Because it is so powerful it also has a strong negative mythos around it; in Western Christian belief, although not evidenced by any religious text, the former Angel Lucifer is believed to have been the first Celestial Choir Director. That’s saying a lot about what our ancestors thought that music could do as a coordinated method of control. And we are all familiar on some level with the story of the colorfully garbed German rat catcher, who when he didn’t get his money after his pest control gig, came back to town with his infectious music and kidnapped a bunch of kids. Another allegorical nod from our forefolk to the dangers of programming and synchronized thoughts through sound. Their theories have some merit, in that we love congregating, especially with people who we think get us, and music has that connective strength. Be passionate about your tunes I say but “garbage in, garbage out” also applies.
  2. Remember the revolution will not be televised.
    Of course, my favorite profession to pick on, advertisers and marketers, bank on music pulling your heart and purse strings to meet their projected sales goals. (You know that you still remember all the words to the Toys r us store commercial jingle.) And there’s no way around it- we’re hardwired to a tune, our hearts “beat” even. In the States, we all learned to sing before we learned to read because the alphabet was taught to us in a song. We’re walking talking music if you really look at it, so it makes sense that anyone who can exploit the universal language for profit will probably do so. But we decide what carries weight with our wallets and actions. Musicians can only tell us about their opinions based on their life experiences and only act out in ways that we all could act out in if forced into similar circumstances. But they are not responsible for what we do. Vote if you have issues with our government. Teach your kids how to be respectful to everyone regardless of appearance if it matters to you. It’s our responsibility as consumers of the art to decide if the rhythm is going to get us, or if we are going to let a stunt from a popular entertainer worry us about the future of our nation. We have to take responsibility for where we spend our dollars and who we continue to support if they violate a social order that we uphold ourselves.

I would never discourage someone from listening to music that uplifts them, calms them, helps them do 30 more minutes on the treadmill or generally makes them feel relaxed or understood. But I would also never encourage fans of a singer, choir, rapper or smooth jazz cover band to lose any sleep over what comments the artist made during a slow news cycle or how many mugshots they have racked up. You know why nobody is buying Polka records anymore? Because the shit went out of style. So, if you don’t want to hear it, guess what? Turn it off and eventually it fucking goes away… along with the performer. This is how I will cope. I hope it helps you too.
And in the meantime, feel free to come on over to my side of the fence and Enjoy Incubus, the water is fine for now…

Featured image by Ultra 5280 — Flickr.