Every Record I Own - Day 325: Disma The Graveless Remains
Sometimes bad people make good art.
As I mentioned in my last post, Disma makes exceptional sludgy death metal, but their reputation is tarnished by their singer having once been in a neo-Nazi industrial band. Whenever I make a post about problematic artists, I have to grapple with the question of where I draw the line with regards to separating the art from the artist. As a teenager, it felt easy to make it a black-and-white issue: Skrewdriver is bad. Public Enemy is good.
But Public Enemy wrote “Sophisticated Bitch”, so maybe they’re not entirely good. And what about Earth Crisis? How do I feel about a militant vegan straight edge band who sang about saving the environment but whose biggest hit was about unleashing “a firestorm to purify” on communities ravaged by drugs? How do I feel about David Bowie and his endorsement of fascism? Are Rolling Stones bigger appropriators of African-American culture than Led Zeppelin? Or are they given a pass because they paid the old blues musicians a cut of their royalties? Does it even matter considering both bands were notoriously shitty to women?
I generally have an easier time wrangling some enjoyment out of artists who have demons in their private lives than artists who use their music as a platform for shitty ideas. So while I don’t advocate giving Varg Vikernes any of your cash, I can still enjoy listening to my copy Filosofem because the content is relatively benign, whereas I’ve never been able to handle Guns n’ Roses because of Axl Rose’s lyrics about “immigrants and faggots” on “One in a Million”.
Similarly, I understand and back anyone that rejects the work of Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Ernest Hemingway, Knut Hamsun, Pablo Picasso, Alejandro Jodorowsky, or any other esteemed artist who was shitty to women or harbored fucked up prejudices. But you know what? I like Annie Hall. I like The Sun Also Rises. I like Growth of the Soil. I like Holy Mountain. Maybe the men behind these works aren’t worthy of your respect, but I also believe their work has retained its value for a reason—it speaks to people. The library of cinema, literature, music, and art is so large that you can decide not to give these problematic people your money or your attention, but do you also blacklist all the people who worked with these men? How far down the chain are we holding people responsible? I know people who won’t watch Meryl Streep movies because she’s friends with Roman Polanski. And I respect drawing that line, but I personally don’t see blacklisting Meryl Streep to be enacting any real kind of change. And ultimately I think Atlas Shrugged is far more toxic than Rosemary’s Baby, even though Ayn Rand wasn’t a sexual predator like Polanski.
Long story short, I don’t know where to draw the line. For me, Disma’s songs about ghouls and ghosts are far more benign than a lot of mainstream artists’ lyrical glorifications of climbing the ranks socio-economic hierarchies and gross objectification of women. The fact that they’ve disavowed their singer’s fascist past doesn’t necessarily absolve them of shittiness, but it makes them less problematic to me than, say, Death In June.