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On Separating the Art from the Artist

Chuck Berry

On March 18, 2017 legendary singer/songwriter and guitarist Chuck Berry passed away. He was 90 years old. I grew up with only a passing knowledge of Berry's music, never really acknowledging it as something I liked. I played "Johnny B. Goode" on drums with my high school rock band, but otherwise, his music was just kind of in the background, drowned out by Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

As I got older my appreciation grew. Songs like "Rock and Roll Music" and "You Never Can Tell" were always delightful to hear whenever they'd turn up on oldies radio stations. The elements of what would become rock and roll where plain to hear, and for that Berry earned a sort of academic respect. He was an originator of the music I love and for that he deserved a place of honor.

That was of course until I learned that the dude was a straight up sex offender. Anyone familiar with Chuck Berry knows that he did a few stints in jail; once for armed robbery, another for transporting a minor across state lines, and a third time for tax evasion. But I'd never heard of the incident from 1990, in which (according to Wikipedia) "...a police raid on his house found videotapes of women using the restroom and 62 grams of marijuana." That's right folks, Berry (who owned a restaurant at the time) videotaped women using the restaurant bathroom and kept the tapes. He ended up pleading guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana and got a six-month suspended jail sentence plus probation.

Basically, Chuck Berry is gross. I'll never look at him the same way again. But if I'm honest, I'm still gonna listen to his music. Cause I still like it. I don't know what it is. Phil Spector was convicted of murder, but I'm still gonna listen to "My Sweet Lord" and "Be My Baby". Hell, Kanye West is the biggest asshole in the world and I could give a shit, cause "Ni**as In Paris" IS the shit. But then again I'll won't be buying Bill Cosby shit anytime soon. Fuck that puto.

I've heard this sentiment said many times before, but it's ubiquity doesn't make it any less true: once a creator releases something into the world it ceases to be their own. The art takes on its own life, sometimes even reaching immortality. At that point, it's extremely difficult for the art to be tainted by the actions of the creator. That makes sense I think. That's why I'm able to separate the art from the artist. The art becomes a living thing, answering only to itself, endowed with  the ability to flourish long after the creator has ceased to exist.

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