Separating art from artist isn’t always easy

As I’ve become more aware over the decades of not just art but the artists who make the art, I’ve noticed that there’s inherent baggage that comes with that knowledge that I can’t ignore. But what I find interesting is that I can separate the two with music more easily with than any other art.

Award-winning author Orson Scott Card is clearly homophobic? Well, no more of his books for me, then. And oh, by the way, let’s ditch his books from our collection while we’re at it.

Woody Allen? An objectively brilliant director, but beyond the whole marrying-his-own-adopted-daughter thing that in itself is understandably a bridge too far for many, there’s the allegations of molesting his seven-year-old step-daughter as well, and I lean hard to the “believe the victim” side on the spectrum of such issues. So, no Woody Allen films for me, thanks.

The list goes on.

And yet, I don’t find that as clean-cut or easy to walk away from when it comes to musicians. I’ve written about how important music is to me. But come on, more important than movies, which I love and still hope to get some traction writing for? More so than fiction, which trumps even that?

Morrissey’s racism is of course untenable.

Josh Homme kicking a camera from a female photographer’s hands (and damaging her face in the process) during one of his performances is, fuelled by alcohol and drugs or not, disgusting.

… and yet, while I of course stand against those beliefs and actions, their music still appeals. Why can I entirely cut out a writer’s books and director’s movies without a care, but have a harder time doing it with music?

This issue brought me to a crossroads yet again yesterday.

I get the newsletter from Bandcamp, a organization that helps broadcast musicians who may not (yet) have made it to more mainstream broadcasters, or those who want to keep a more grassroots approach to their distribution methods, as Bandcamp also sells music as well as streaming it. At the bottom of the newsletter was a group pic and a quick note from a band called Nothing, saying why they’ve always stuck with Bandcamp.

I’d never heard of the band, and I’m always looking to check out music that’s new to me, so I gave them a listen and… they’re pretty good. Not nearly everything of theirs is my speed, but I found myself going through some of their top tracks and adding nearly ten songs of theirs to my playlists, just for starters.

Then I found out from their website that frontman Domenic “Nicky” Polermo formed the band after a two-year jail sentence for stabbing a man.


Polermo has always maintained it was in self-defence during a brawl between gangs. In an interview, he said in reflection of that time, jail didn’t straighten him out so much as teach him to be a better criminal, and soon after being released he went back to selling cocaine.

Double ugh.

But then he had something of an awakening and realized that wasn’t what he wanted to keep doing. He formed Nothing and started advocating for inmates’ rights, working with a District Attorney dedicated to fighting against mass incarceration and the revolving door prison system.

So the initial question is, can I support a musician who stabbed someone? But as with so many things in life, it’s of course not that simple. Because what if it was in self-defence? What if he was deep enough into gang lifestyle that he carried a knife for literally defending his life? Could anyone in that situation be blamed for wanting some means of self-defence?

Well he shouldn’t have been in a gang, some may say. But that’s an easy conclusion for people who grew up in relative privilege and who look at the oversimplified issue from the outside. For far too many people, living in gang territory is just how life is, and once you’re in it, it’s very hard to get out of.

And then there’s the redemption of it all. Polermo was able to objectify what was happening and had the exceptional strength and determination to get himself out of it and do something positive with his life, instead. And beyond that, dedicate his time to helping others. Do those actions not make him worthy of supporting?

As was explained to me years ago by my best friend, who tends to think more critically than emotionally (at times I’m still more the latter), if we don’t give people another chance when they’ve sincerely demonstrated they’ve changed, what’s the incentive for anyone to ever bother trying to be better?

That isn’t the answer to everything, mind you. On the one hand, absolutely, support people who’ve done wrong in the past but recognize that fact and demonstrate they’re changing. On the other hand, there are of course limits. If Woody were to admit he’d molested seven-year-old Dylan Farrow but he’s working at being better, he’d still forever be a child molester.

My compartmentalizing art as separate from artist works in some cases and doesn’t work in others.
I don’t know why that is.
But I’m trying to figure it out.