Friday, December 28, 2007

Art and Life and Death

Ike Turner died earlier this month. According to ex-wife Tina, he beat her up and abused drugs. He denied the charges. Regardless, he was one of the inventors of rock and roll.

Phil Spector stands accused of murdering Lana Clarkson. According to the State of California, he killed her. The defense called her death by a shotgun blast to the face a suicide. Regardless, he invented the “Wall of Sound.”

Music and art is full of men who are abusive and otherwise despicable. But I’d be a hypocrite if I said their art didn’t make my world a better place; indeed, I’d have to give up all my records and books if I wanted to absent their influence. Many years ago, I recall having a discussion with another feminist about how I could like many of the artists who behaved badly or criminally. How could I like John Lennon, for example, after he wrote “ Run For Your Life” for Rubber Soul:

Well I'd rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won't know where I am

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end'a little girl

Well you know that I'm a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can't spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end'a little girl

Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I've said
Baby, I'm determined
And I'd rather see you dead

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end'a little girl

I'd rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or you won't know where I am
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end'a little girl


Pretty scary stuff. Pretty evil. Pretty amazing that the same guy late wrote “Imagine” and was hailed as a peace-loving anti-war hippie. Perhaps Yoko, that bastion of feminist ardor, reformed the bad boy.

It doesn’t matter that Lennon changed his tune. That was up to him, the artist, to do so. Did he make good art apart from “Run For Your Life”? Yes. So did Phil Spector. I’d be a lying if I said I hated Spector’s influence on pop. The same holds true for Ike Turner. I have no doubt he assaulted Tina and abused drugs. But he made some great music. That doesn’t forgive him his trespasses, but music fans should not have to make a choice between good art and a bad person. That’s up to the individual. I’m not about to say I can’t like a record, but I can say I don’t like a person: I don’t ever want to be in a room with Phil Spector let alone have a beer with him.

If you really want to get angry about the war on women— and I do believe one rages—think of this: more women were killed by their spouses than US soldiers were killed in Iraq (see War on Women by Brian Vallee ). One teenage girl died in Toronto as a result of disobeying her father. Hundreds if not thousands of women are murdered by male family members because they “dishonour” the family by refusing to marry against their will. That has nothing to do with culture. That has everything to do with hate.

I read somewhere that women are a little safer now that Ike Turner is dead. What na├»ve simplistic shit: we are no more safe now than we were yesterday. And we won’t be safe for a very long time. There isn’t one cause that can be rectified to guarantee our safety. It’s complex and wrinkly and multifaceted. Like people.

I believe that Phil Spector killed Lana Clarkson, and he should be found guilty and locked up for life with no chance of parole. I believe that there must be more shelters for women seeking refuge from potentially deadly spouses.

And I believe that good, even great art, can be made by fatally flawed people. And I can still appreciate that art as a part of the human condition.