Kill Yr Idols

Well, let's get this out of the way: The Grovelers were promised to be an excellent opener for the free X show at Sprecherfest last Friday and they delivered the goods. The very goods. It's not like they're normally not on fire for a show anyway, but when you're opening for legends, that's going to pour a little more gasoline on things.  Rain didn't put this fire out, that's for sure: and maybe because they were opening for X, they pulled out their psychobilly roots and put them on display: the whole set felt very Cramps-like, like what if the Cramps were from North of the Mason-Dixon line, and what if they were Catholic instead of protestant, and what if the psycho part of their influences was psychedelic? Oh, and their version of "Do The Hammerlock" (which is getting to be sort of a Milwaukee standard on par with covering a Violent Femmes tune or even Mustang Sally at Summeriest) got people to close their umbrellas  and bring out their inner Crusher. They all stepped up to the task, and the albatross of opening for X seemed to float off their backs by the fourth or fifth song. The set got cut a little short, because the promoters saw more rain coming, and they wanted to get the LA team on stage before the rain might have even ruined things more.

This will have been my third X show. First time I saw them was at the Park West in Chicago, for the "Under the Big Black Sun" tour. They were loaded with energy and I spent a lot of time getting jostled in the mosh pit (I honestly can't remember what we called that then, I think it was just "getting tossed by the slam dancers"). We were all basking in the glow of young greatness. Then, about 10 years ago I saw them at the Rave on this reunion tour and I'm sorry to say the glow had faded. I'd written that it seemed Exene was phoning it in, but learned later that she'd been diagnosed with MS, and that might have explained things. This past Friday, though, they seemed to find their spark again, and put on a blisteringly solid show, despite the absence of Billy Zoom on guitar. Standing in for him was Jesse Dayton, who thankfully didn't hold back with some kind of false "I won't try to be Billy so I'm just going to be humble" bullshit. No, he didn't try to fill Zoom's shoes: he wore his own and he fucking rocked with X.

OK, if you love X as much as I did, and you particularly worship Exene (as I used to), you'd better stop reading now because I'm going to bum you out. If I were evaluating the band solely on the musicianship and the songwriting, yes, they were great. Yes, they fucking rocked. But I didn't have a good time. There was a nagging question weighing me down like that albatross that flew off of The Grovelers and landed on my back, and that question is this:

What kind of a bitch compounds the profound grief of a family who's lost their son in a horrible mass shooting by accusing the parent of faking the entire incident just to supposedly advance a political point of strengthening gun control?

Answer: the lead singer of the band I just wrote a glowing review for.

Normally, I can separate the artist from the art. God knows there's a lot of artists whose political views I disagree with. (And there's plenty, I don't even bother because both are wastes of time -- case in point, Ted Nugent). But I enjoy the films of Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis, both Republicans. And the Ramones were a mixed bag. And Alice Cooper's stuff is legendary. But here's the thing: they didn't get personal about it. They didn't single out specific people and hurt them. They don't lob personal insults that detract from the issue at hand. They are all simply fellow Americans with whom I disagree about the best way to solve this nation's problems.

Now, we are all aware that Exene's life has had its rough spots. And I know plenty of people who have stories about her drunken incoherence sometimes. And having MS (or maybe not) will take its toll on a soul. And there's a lot of stuff out there that indicates that, well, she may be just batshit crazy. Even when I interviewed her after that Park West show in '83, I came away thinking that maybe she wasn't the brightest bulb in the marquee, but god she had charisma and could write killer rock and roll songs. But while I can laugh at her when she goes all truther conspiracy theory on us, or sigh "oh really" when she gets all anti-vaxxer, (just that morning I'd taken my 12 year son for his painful tetanus booster shot) and even "Oh for cryin' out loud, first Moe Tucker and now this" when she gets all pro-gun bumperstickery and repeats "An armed society is a polite society" it gets a little hard to laugh or even feel sorry when she gets personal. When you accuse a grieving father of faking it, or accuse the parents of the Sandy Hook children of being privy to a conspiracy, you are now in Ann Coulter territory. Fuck that, bitch. And sorry, but your
"apology" doesn't fly. You're only sorry you used the word "hoax" and now you're shocked --  shocked -- that it generated such a negative response. What the hell did you expect, Exene?

Then again, it's not like we ever looked to X for political commentary. That's what the Dead Kennedys were for. No, X, was a band that was more about raw emotion, and they were great at it. She and John Doe opened up their relationship to the world, with its ups and downs and the emotional rollercoaster ride that it was. But you can't decide critical public policy based on emotion alone. And that's what her recent politics are based on: emotional reactions not based in fact. Consider her tweet about Obama: basing her opinion on her perception of his appearance and perception of Executive Orders.  Seriously, let me Google that for you: Obama's use of executive orders is less frequent than any 20th or 21st  century president. And you don't like his robotic eyes? Oh, that's a basis for sound public policy. I guess I shouldn't be surpreised. Again, her core competency has always  been expression of emotion, but that's inappropriate here.

So I woke up the day after, contemplating that feeling of letdown when you learn that an artist you admire is kind of batshit crazy, and I log onto the internet, and there's Chrissie Hynde: animal right activist, witness to the Kent State shootings (Hey, Exene, s'pose that was a hoax, too?) and rape apologist. "If I'm walking around drunk and in my underwear, who else's fault can it be?" Um, I don't care how vulnerable the victim is. The vulnerability of the victim is not the issue. The rapist committed the crime. IT'S THE RAPIST'S FAULT. DUH. Rape seems to be the only crime where it's acceptable to blame the victim. Hynde also tries to make a differentiation between the man-in-the-bushes kind of assault and the girl at a party who's in a vulnerable situation, the ol "Well what were you thinking going to a party with men there dressed like that" excuse. They're both rape, not to mention those rapes lots of people write off: marital rape, date rape, etc. Hynde defends her comments by saying there's worse issues in the world (she points to the refugee crisis) and why are we even worried about her asinine comments? Because I will submit that rape is ALSO one of the biggest humanitarian crises in this world, and if we're still having trouble in the United States getting people to understand that its not the victim's fault, dammit, we're a long way to solving the problem worldwide.

But here's the thing. Musically, I thought those first two Pretenders albums were great, and I thought Chrissie was a badass, but she kind of lost me after those albums, and after her hijinks.  And while I though she was cool, this didn't break my heart. No, it just pissed me off.

Now let's open up this institutional sized can of worms now. Because Chrissie Hynde wasn't the one that made me want to pick up a guitar and play rock and roll, and understand that women/girls want to ROCK. No, that would be Joan Jett.

Joan Jett. Feminist. Spirtual mother of the Riot Grrrls, and producer of half the albums put out by them. Intrepreter of rock and roll standards, including "You Don't Own Me" and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." Author of the Number One Badass Chick Anthem "Bad Reputation" and co-author of its predecessor, "Cherry Bomb." And a couple of months back, a story broke that she stood by and did nothing while her bandmate was being publicly and violently raped by Kim Fowley.  Ugh. Of all the women working rock and roll, Joan Jett did this? Say it ain't so, Joan!

Well, she did say it wasn't so. She denied remembering being there. She and Cherie Currie denied being there when interviewed for the story. God, we didn't know what to think of this. And of all the people I just wrote about today, I have to admit, she's the one I'm most willing to give the benefit of the doubt to. Maybe it's because she's the one who influenced me the most. Maybe it's because she's since done (and continues to do) the most for women artists in general. But maybe, it's because there's a possibility she's telling the truth. Let's face it, she was 15 at the time. And she was in a scene where there was plenty of alcohol and drugs going. It's entirely possible she genuinely doesn't remember being there because she was fucked up. And as badass and tough as she wants to be seen as (and I'd like to be seen as), if I'd witnessed something so fucked up at that age, I can't say I wouldn't do everything to block it out of my mind and tell myself it didn't happen, and tell myself enough times that I finally believed it. And remember, who was the rapist? Was it Joan? No, it was Joan's employer, Kim Fowley. It was the person who held the keys to 15-year-old Joan's career. It was a person in Joan's life who was older and physically stronger than her. It was a person skilled at emotional manipulation, and used it to turn bandmates and friends against each other.  Who had the power in this relationship? It sure as hell wasn't Joan, or Cherie, or the victim, Jackie Fuchs.   Let's not forget that it wasn't Joan or Cherie who raped Jackie. Let's put the blame squarely where it belongs, Chrissie, despite the fact that Jackie was dressed a little more revealingly than a Duggar Wife, that she'd been drugged before she was assautled. Jackie was raped. Jackie was a victim, and her bandmates were victims of a different sort too. KIM FOWLEY WAS the RAPIST. The end.

But the whole thing hammers home that our artistic idols cannot be held as human idols, or at least not all the time. The challenge comes in seperating the artist from the art: and if that's possible or even appropriate. I'm struggling with this. I'm even considering that my headline for this post is ripped from a Sonic Youth album, you know, that band whose guitarist cheated on his wife of a couple of dozen years (and a perennial nominee for Coolest Girl In Rock) in a mid-life crisis for a younger, cuter thing.  But I always thought Thuston Moore was a pretentious blowhard anyway. So, yeah. Kill yr idols.


You a Roamin' Cat, too?
There's hardcore, straight-faced,
no-bullsh!t Roman Catholics...
and then me as a Roamin' Cat:
who juss wanna have fun
without allah the proud contempt
you see almost everywhere...

Yes, earthling, I was an NDE
and I definitely know God
AINT like those proud, put-you-down
Thus, my penname.

God bless your indelible soul.
cya Upstairs someday, dood.

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