When Rape Culture Hits Home

Tonight the Swans are playing in Philadelphia. In protest, I won’t be attending.

The frequency at which men in power are accused of rape and sexual harassment is staggering. Athletes, politicians, executives. And musicians: James Brown, Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, Ian Watkins, David Bowie, Sean Kingston. All of this is very abstract if you’re not a fan; you know their name and a song or two, but the accusations and denials become just another headline.

I have followed the Swans since … 1995 maybe? My formative years played out in the crucible of The Great Annihilator. Two decades later, I still collect, listen and write about them because Michael Gira, the Swans’ nucleus, has maintained a fearless musical vision. I was proud to be a fan, as weird of a thing as that is to say.

Which is why the abstraction of “just another headline” evaporated when I read this:

Indie singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm has accused Michael Gira, longtime leader of the band Swans, of raping her while she was signed to his Young God record label in spring 2008.

Like seeing a family member’s name in the headline. Denial, anger, resentment — all within a heartbeat.

The disappointing, tone-deaf response from Gira was prototypical brostance:

This is a slanderous lie. I will respond vigorously to defend my name against this horrible slur.

Unfortunately, we know from painful experience that in our rape culture, a wisp of smoke means fire. And sure enough: Gira admits it was “a consensual romantic moment that fortunately was not consummated” and his wife lays out an incoherent, self-centered tirade that promises “proof” of innocence but an unwillingness to share it. Clearly, whatever happened was not consensual.

But what just sent me over the edge was Gira’s parting words:

My hope is that Larkin finds peace with the demons that have been darkening her soul since long before she and I ever met.

This thrown shade to discredit Larkin Grimm’s mental state and deliberately deflect blame is a vicious tactic. It immediately reminded me of this shrewd observation voiced by Louisa Curry in the wake of #brockturner.

I can’t un-buy my ticket to tonight’s show.

They have my $20. But I won’t help build the crowd, won’t cheer, won’t acknowledge them. I can’t undo the crime, but I can unsupport the criminal.

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