This isn’t really about R Kelly, because R & B has never been on my radar and of R Kelly’s vast catalog the only one I can remember by him is I Believe I Can Fly. And I guess he’s on that new Lady Gaga song, but I didn’t even realize that until the other day- my son asked who that was and I said Miguel.
I honestly couldn’t care less about R Kelly but the recent revisiting of his days of being an (alleged) serial rapist in the 90s got me thinking.
The Village Voice article that started this all is devastating. Again, I barely knew anything about him. I know he married Aliyah when she was 15. I heard that he urinated on an underage girl. But I didn’t know there were dozens of horrible accusations made against him. How he escaped conviction is beyond me. The article suggests he scared many of his victims into silence and bought off the rest. It’s a pretty shocking read.
As you can imagine, it’s prompted a lot of soul searching, especially since R Kelly has gone back to making nastier music after a long period of I guess more straightforward R & B (I’m just repeating what I read here, again I don’t know shit about the guy). This gets to the most interesting, for me, passage of the article:
A lot of art, great art, is made by despicable people. James Brown beat his wife. People are always, “Why aren’t you upset about Led Zeppelin?” I got the Bonham three rings [tattooed] on my foot. Led Zeppelin did disgusting things. I read Hammer of the Gods, I’m disgusted by the group sex with the shark. [Note: it was actually a red snapper! Still gross.] I have a couple of responses to that: I didn’t cover Led Zeppelin. If I was on the plane, like Cameron Crowe was, I would have written about those things if I saw them. The art very rarely talks about these things. There are not pro-rape Led Zeppelin songs. There are not pro-wife-beating James Brown songs.
I know in this day and age it’s rare to actually buy music, and I doubt most of the artists with music on Youtube are getting rich that way, so we can pretty much listen to things guilt free. We’re not actually supporting the artists whose music we click on. In that way, maybe it doesn’t matter that Phil Spector killed someone. I can listen to Baby I Love You guilt free. But boy does it suck to have someone rubbing their awfulness in your face.
I remember hearing this song and going, what the fuck were the Beatles thinking? Who gave the green light to this creepy song?
It’s an awful song in its own right and it’s pretty much on permaskip, but it didn’t get really creepy until I read about how John Lennon admitted to beating his first wife, in interviews after they divorced.* Yikes. The song is a wife-beater anthem.
But I still listen to the Beatles and other than this song I don’t think too much about how much of an asshole John was at the time. There’s one guy whose music is forever ruined for me.
I love the glam rock era in early 70’s UK- possibly no era of music better fits my perfect ideal of what rock and roll should be- campy, slightly ridiculous, raw, nasty, fun. Most of my favorite bands are from that era- Sweet, Slade, T-Rex, the era of David Bowie I like, Suzi Quattro. If you include the USA there was The New York Dolls, The Stooges and Alice Cooper too. I heard this Gary Glitter song and I liked it a lot. The production is kind of muddy, but it’s a catchy, energetic tune.
Right around that time I remember reading that he was arrested in Cambodia for statutory rape with a teenage girl. That was creepy. But I kind of wrote it off, thinking, well it’s in a developing nation, he’s a rich rockstar, who knows what the truth is. I’m not proud of that. It was a stupid thing to think. But I did.
But I shoulda known better. The song has this line in it-
I’m the leader, I’m the leader, I’m the leader of the gang I am
I’m the leader, I’m the leader, I’m the man who put the bang in gang, hahahahaha
Woah, fucking rapist hiding in plain sight right there. This next song Do You Wanna Touch?, famously covered by Joan Jett, is probably the most rapey song in the history of rapey songs, with a special element of statutory rapeyness-
And here’s where this story gets really not funny.**
Jimmy Savile: Gary Glitter arrested over sex offences
If you’re not familiar with Jimmy Saville (because you’re American like myself and why would you be?) he was, I gather, some sort of TV host. I remember him giving introductions in some of the old glam videos on Youtube, but I suspect people started editing him out.
Jimmy was a prolific child molester, with victims coming forward in the hundreds after he died two years ago. Gary, allegedly, was in-cahoots with him.
Yeah, there’s really no going back to listening to Gary for me.
I’m not trying to excuse people’s behavior and I’m not trying to makes excuses for the music that I continue to listen to. Some of my favorite music is made by some pretty terrible people. I don’t always think it’s wrong to overlook some things. But it does say something about ourselves if we can enjoy listening to someone glorify their terrible behavior. I guess some R Kelly fans are coming to grips with that.
*I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that he was actually telling the truth with Getting Better-
I used to be cruel to my woman
I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved
**Not that it was funny before, but when you cross the line from just singing a creepy sing, like the Young Girl guy, in being an actual rapist then it’s not even something I feel like snarking on.