Thursday, September 5, 2013

Disconnecting Art From Action

For the most part I don't really dig emo bands. I find them kind of tiresome in general but moreover they tend to lack in hooks. Surfer Blood falls in the sort of emo, more indie rock kind of thing but has the pop hooks I hold near and dear to my heart.

Album opener "Demon Dance" gets things off to a rousing start before giving way to "Gravity", the best track on the record. It has one of those great 90s college radio choruses. Then there is a spectacular hook at the start of the chorus of "Weird Shapes" that soars up before doing a Walter Payton-esque stutter step. "I Was Wrong" bumps along like a harder-edge Shins track. The second side doesn't resonate as much as the first but it still bounces along.

Lyrically the record has familiar tropes of broken relationships and bad love. But it has an added element of real life that is potentially hard to disengage from. Before the record came out earlier this year, band leader John Paul Pitts was arrested for domestic battery, though charges were ultimately dropped. The interview I have read is admittedly one-sided to the artist, but it is also something he hasn't shied away from. He acknowledges it while not going into details. That's his right I reckon, but it provides a context around a song like "Squeezing Blood" that has lyrics like 

Damning allegations have come to light
Stapled to the background in black and white
That's the way it's always been
That's the way it's gonna end
All this world fell silent when I read the verdict

Steven Hyden writes about disconnecting art from the person much better than I ever could. He eloquently describes his challenges and dutifully brings in the likes R. Kelly and Chris Brown. He ultimately dismisses the record because the music isn't worth the guilt he would feel about liking it; the music isn't worth the hassle.

For me, I have no idea what went on in the world of this songwriter. I don't know the man, the woman, what the situation is/was/will be. Is he an asshole? Was he in a complex and volatile relationship and just snapped? Why were the charges dropped? Because there weren't any to press? Because the woman has her own issues to sort through? I don't condone anything here, but nobody knows the truth but them.

If he had come out and been all Sean Connery that would probably be one thing; or maybe not. Do I not watch James Bond movies or Indy 3 because Connery is a douche? If I equate morality with all the artists out there, then there probably won't be much to watch or listen to or read. J.D Salinger ran through girls like they were going out of style, does that make Catcher In The Rye unworthy of appreciating (or depending on my mood being exceptionally critical of)?

But what's the limit? If it came out that the lead singer of my favorite band murdered somebody in cold blood would I still listen to their records? Wow, probably not. If it came out that Pitts did assault his girlfriend would it change my view of the record? Maybe. Probably. Would I even remember five years from now any of that? Like Hyden I agree it isn't spectacular so as to remain culturally relevant because of any potential backstory, sordid or not. So I am left to sort out how I feel about it.

Interesting questions; a bit of heaviness to what is ultimately a lightweight yet enjoyable record. In Surfer Blood's case, I am in no position to judge anything but the music. In that vein let's just call the music what it is: a good indie rock record.

Anyway, here's the video for album opener "Demon Dance."


  1. A while back I made a similar decision with Orson Scott Card. After he actively took public stances against homosezuality, I stopped buying his books. Ironically I had a book of his on my shelf at the time that I had not read yet and it took me awhile to pick it up and read it. I did eventually. But I've not bought anything of his since.

    He used to be one of my favorite authors but I'd much rather support the excellent work of apparently fine men like Neil Gaiman or China Mieville instead of an admitted homophobe. (No, I will not see Ender's Game the movie, either.)

    But the thing that I think is weird about this kind of choice and artists is that their art is still there if you buy it or not. Especially past art from before you knew what you know.

    My feelings about Ender's Game the book have not really changed. I still think it was a very good book. But I would no longer recommend anyone read it. There are a lot of other good books out there I'd rather recommend instead.

  2. The quesstion really is how Steve titled the post. It's about action. I think there is a significant difference between someone's political positions and actual bad physical actions.

    For example, I think that John Scalzi is one of the better SF authors of the last 20 years. His "Old Man's War" series was highly entertaining and interesting - I have recommended it to many people over the years. That said, if you read his blog "Whatever" and/or follow him on Twitter you quickly find out that he is an unashamed liberal who takes positions that I often find ignorant and offensive. That doesnt change my opinion of his work or prevent me from recommending his work. If it came to light that he was arrested for assaulting his wife or daughter? Totally different story. All of the would end immediately and I wouldnt purchase any future works.

    But I would have no issue with his art's continued existence. This isnt the era of Stalin - we dont declare people "non-persons" and erase them from society.

  3. I neglected to mention that I agree with you and Steve Hyden that this record likely isnt worth the concern. Fairly standard, garden variety indie-rock...perhaps a more intersting question would be if this record would have merited a post if the band leader didnt have any of the issues referenced above?