I haven’t written about this subject in a while, but a recent private exchange of messages on Facebook got me thinking about it again. The subject concerns music created by bands (or at least parts of bands) who embrace Nazi ideology or other similar racist ideologies and beliefs.
These thoughts are my own, not necessarily those of anyone else associated with our site. The issue may come closer to my consciousness than other writers here because I tend to write more about underground black metal and certain offshoots of it, which have tended to be a more fertile breeding ground for this kind of thing than other metal genres.
Here’s how I generally approach issues like this one: I really don’t want to know about the personal characters and proclivities of metal musicians.
Based on the musicians I actually do know, either up close or a little more remotely, they’re just like the range of everyone else I’ve ever known over an uncomfortably long span of years. Some of them are good people. Some of them are mainly good to people they think can help them. Some are shits to almost everyone they encounter — the kind of people you’d pray to whatever deity hovers in your neighborhood that your kids will never resemble when they grow up. And then there are the people who borrow your lighter to fire up their smoke and walk off with the lighter.
But the issue for me when I listen to music is not, “Would I like this person to marry my daughter?”, or even, “Would I want this person to spend a weekend at my house?” It’s certainly not, “Can we be friends?” Nope. The almost exclusive issue for me is whether I like the music and think it’s worth sharing with you here on our putrid site. With very rare exceptions, that’s really my only litmus test for what to write about.
And that’s because (duh) this is only a metal blog. We’re not vetting candidates for sainthood and we almost never stick our toes into the cesspool of gossip, scandal, and the cults of personality that are the bread and butter of certain other sites I won’t mention by name. We devote our energies to music, and that’s pretty much the beginning and end of the story.
The truth is, I usually just don’t care what most musicians I’ve never met think about when it comes to issues outside of music, any more than I care what actors or professional athletes think. And usually, the more I hear actors and athletes talk about anything other than what they actually do that makes them well-off and well-known (and sometimes not even that is very interesting), the more they turn me off, or make me yawn. For good reasons, no one is paying them to formulate great philosophical or political thoughts, or for talking about the thoughts they do have (which are usually not great). Same goes for musicians most of the time, though there are obviously exceptions.
Speaking for myself, I tend to focus first (and sometimes exclusively) on what people actually accomplish with whatever talents they have. Whether it’s worth going beyond that depends on whether you actually want to decide whether you want to be friends, whether you need or want to trust them, how you feel about them marrying your daughter, whether you’ll entrust them with your lighter, etc.
Approaching things from this perspective, I don’t investigate the moral qualities of the people in bands whose music I like before I write about their music. I don’t feel any obligation to do that, mainly because I don’t care about it (except in rare cases — which I’m about to discuss), and also because if I took the time to do that, I’m pretty sure I’d find the usual range of people — from gems to total shits — and I’d still try to come back to the music on its own merits. Basically, most of the time I think I’m better off not knowing more than that.
There’s one exception to this general approach, and that’s when bands use their music as vehicles for unambiguously espousing and shoving in my face certain points of view that turn my stomach.
Most of the time, I can’t tell whether that’s happening or not, just from listening. Lyrics may mean something important to the lyricist, but it’s a rare album when I can hear the lyrics at all, and it’s also pretty rare for me to take the time to hunt them down and read them (first, because it takes time I usually don’t have, and second, because most metal lyrics really aren’t very interesting). But sometimes you don’t have to decipher the lyrics because the album or song titles spell it all out.
I may not care enough to investigate whether bands whose music I like harbor repulsive ideologies, but when they put it right out there in a way that turns their music into a vehicle for propagating them — when you really can’t separate the one from the other — then that’s a different story. Then I’ve got to do some extra thinking, much as I’d rather not think about it. And with very few exceptions, I usually come out just ignoring that kind of stuff — not preaching against it, just ignoring it. There’s too much other good metal out there worth talking about that isn’t a billboard for white power or anti-Semitism or some other form of hate propaganda.
But it’s rare when I have to make that call in what I write about, either because the propagandistic stuff is just terrible music or because the music is good but doesn’t yell “Seig Heil!” right in my fucking face. I admit that in very rare cases I’ve turned a blind eye to obvious markers of hatefulness because I think the music is exceptionally good. I guess I assume other people can make up their own minds how much that matters to them.
To be clear, I’m not trying to convert anyone and I’m certainly not criticizing anyone who puts more weight on this issue than I do. I’m only explaining my own point of view in how I approach what I do for the site.
By the way, don’t take that as me trying to dissuade anyone from commenting. As always, comments are welcome.