The New York Times Thinks Classic Rock is Problematic
Because everything that’s fun is offensive now
I remember a time when liberals were trying to save rock ’n’ roll from the uptight clutches of conservatives. Oh, those halcyon days when the left cared about the freedom to offend!
Author, transgender activist, and Barnard College professor Jennifer Finney Boylan recently wrote an opinion article in the New York Times called “Can We Separate the Art From the Artist?”. However, the original title for the article was “Should Classic Rock Songs Be Toppled Like Confederate Statues?”, which was most likely changed by an editor smart enough to foresee the outrage it would attract, but stupid enough to not outright decline the steaming pile of elephant shit polished with an academic sheen.
The article opens with a sappy ode to Don McLean’s classic tune, “American Pie”, that’s filled with a trite reminiscence on the happy glow the song cast upon Boylan’s childhood. But this is the New Woke, er, YORK Times, and the banal reverie is quickly defenestrated and replaced by an ivory tower rant that could only come from someone with the comfort of being offended by a fifty-year-old song.
But what offense could be found in such a cheerful yet wistful tune like “American Pie”?
Why, in the artist who’s inextricably tied to it, of course!
You see, Patrisha McLean, Don McLean’s wife of twenty-nine years, had accused her ex-husband of subjecting her to years of emotional and physical abuse. Since she called 911 on him around five years ago, Don was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and was charged with six misdemeanors; he pleaded guilty to four as part of a plea agreement in which the domestic violence charge would be dismissed after a year, and, for the other three charges — criminal restraint, criminal mischief, and making domestic violence threats — he paid $3,000 in fines.
Of course I’m not going to take Don’s side in this; if he’s guilty of all of the things he’s been accused of doing, then he’s yet to finish enduring the punishment he deserves.
But Don McLean’s guilt is not the subject of this article nor Boylan’s — the subject of both is what is to be done with the music of McLean, as well as that of other rock and pop stars whose songs and personal lives wander into “problematic” territory.
For Boylan, the fact that great, even important art, often comes from bad, even terrible artists, is a hard pill to swallow. It’s an understandable conundrum to tackle, but she ditches the work needed to properly address the issue, and instead lets woke ideology take the wheel of her thinking, writing:
“The past several years have seen a reassessment of our country’s many mythologies — from the legends of the generals of the Confederacy to the historical glossing over of slaveholding founding fathers. But as we take another look at the sins of our historical figures, we’ve also had to take a hard look at our more immediate past and present, including the behavior of the creators of pop culture. That reassessment extends now to the people who wrote some of our best-loved songs.”
Ah, there’s the quote that justifies that hyperbolic original title. Glad you were able to put Chekhov’s Title to good use there, Boylan.
In Boylan’s mind, domestic violence is akin to buying, selling, and owning people on the basis of skin color. Both are wrong, obviously, but Boylan’s comparison is yet another example of the Woke Slippery Slope: because some important figures of the far past have committed atrocities and their actions condemned in the present, some important figures in the recent past who may have committed some horrible things should be given the same scrutiny.
“But what to do with the art left behind? Can I still love their music if I’m appalled by various events in the lives of Johnny Cash or Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis? Or by Eric Clapton’s racist rants and anti-vaccination activism?…Of course, there is no easy answer here.”
The descent down the Woke Slope continues.
Boylan acts like she’s been forced at gunpoint to decide which of her children should be killed in front of her. The question she asks is an easy one with an easy answer: Yes, you can still love the music of problematic musical artists.
Interestingly, this simple answer demonstrates more nuance than the righteous handwringing she does for the rest of the article: It’s the sign of a healthy mind that it can easily fit in its confines two conflicting thoughts, in this case that good art often comes from bad artists.
But by complicating the issue of condoning the art while condemning the artist, Boylan reveals herself incapable of keeping her emotions out of the way, and is more than willing to follow the new woke trend of immediately denouncing a dubious public figure along with all of the beauty they’ve given the world; that stuff, too, is contaminated by the stink of Privilege and Bigotry.
Hell, even Patrisha McLean, who supposedly experienced years of harm at the hands of Don McLean, is capable of the kind of complex thinking that Boylan isn’t when it comes to the topic of what should be done with the iconic song.
“Even Ms. McLean doesn’t think ‘American Pie’ should be banned from playlists, like some other pieces of classic rock produced by disgraced musicians…Instead, Ms. McLean told me, she feels we should reconsider how we elevate these artists. It’s the tarnished creators, she said, that we should not celebrate. In other words: The problem with ‘American Pie’ isn’t the song. It’s the singer.”
A measured opinion on the matter, but Boylan, like most of today’s progressives, isn’t satisfied with a preserve-what-works / fix-what-doesn’t solution. No, “American Pie” is just the first of many more targets that should be taken out of our cultural picture in order to correct some kind of…social ill, I guess. Second on her hit list is The Rolling Stones hit, “Brown Sugar”.
“Indeed, it would almost be easier if it were just the song. The Rolling Stones quietly removed ‘Brown Sugar’ from their current U.S. tour set list. The track’s racist lyrics, which refer to slave ships and rape, have been controversial since the song was first a hit in 1971 — the same year as ‘American Pie.’ And yet the guitarist Keith Richards, when asked about the removal, seemed a little uneasy with the decision: ‘I’m trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is. Didn’t they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery?’”
The upbeat swagger of “Brown Sugar” betrays the brutal content of the lyrics, which can be seen below:
Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in the market down in New Orleans
Skydog slaver know he’s doin’ all right
Hear him whip the women, just around midnight
Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good?
Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should, oh no
Drums beatin’ cold, English blood runs hot
Lady of the house wonderin’ when it’s gonna stop
House boy knows that he’s doin’ all right
You should have heard him, just around midnight
Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good?
Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should, yeah
Brown Sugar, how come you dance so good?
Oh, got me quittin’
Brown Sugar, just like a black girl should, yeah
Now, I bet your mama was a tent show queen
And all her boyfriends were sweet 16
I’m no school boy but I know what I like
You should have heard them, just around midnight
Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good? Oh, no no
Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should
There’s no denying the uncomfortable subject matter of the song, but like in stand-up comedy, the subject isn’t always the target; while the song graphically depicts the plight of black women in America’s racist past, it hardly trivializes it. In fact, “Brown Sugar” disturbs even Mick Jagger nowadays; in a Rolling Stone interview with Jan Wenner, he stated:
“All the nasty subjects in one go…I never would write that song now. I would probably censor myself. I’d think, ‘Oh God, I can’t. I’ve got to stop. I can’t just write raw like that.’”
But as expected, Boylan misses the point of the song and demonstrates the politically correct habit of taking everything hyper-literally.
“There are a lot of things I revere about ‘Brown Sugar,’ and Mr. Richards’s guitar riffs not least. But I can tell you that in 50 years, it has not once occurred to me that this song might even remotely be about the empowerment of Black women. If the Stones don’t know why the song has to go, does simply removing it from their tour sheet go far enough?”
For anyone not participating in the Pussy Generation, the Stones’ decision to remove the song from their set is too far. For Boylan, however, the creators essentially retracting their offending work is only only the first of countless steps on the path to redemption in the minds of Social Justice Warriors, who’d rather save the world from the wrath of troubling lyrics than take on a real threat like, say, homelessness or world hunger.
But that requires real work. The folks who have their brainstems connected to the woke hivemind would prefer it if all of society took on a problem that only the power of Righteous Introspection can fight. Look to that place where feelings live, and you’ll discover that the Sword of Social Justice was inside you all along, Timmy.
“For a lot of baby boomers, it’s painful to realize that some of the songs first lodged in our memories in adolescence really need a second look. And it’s hard to explain why younger versions of ourselves ever thought they were OK in the first place.”
Gosh. If only those rock ’n’ rollers from the cretaceous period had known that their bawdy lyrics would have the power to punch generations of listeners in the feels if they put their ears too close to the speaker, perhaps they would’ve quit the rock ’n’ roll business and become missionaries.
It’s a bitter circumstance we’re living in. Tough conversations will need to be held, and even tougher choices will need to be made.
We can wake up from the woke slumber the genderfluid royalty of the Pussy Generation induced in us, and realize that, while many iconic works of art and pop culture were created by damaged people, the extent of the damage they inflicted on society is little more than the cracking of a relative handful of porcelain sensibilities.
And why not make some room for wild rockers shooting blue lyrics from the hip? Life’s too dull and colorless for us to not enjoy a little bit of spiked fun, even if only in the form of a three-minute-and-forty-nine-second long song. Besides, most of us are more than capable of handling the rugged fiction of a tune about slavery, racism, and rape without freaking out like a church lady learning what premarital sex is at the age of 47.
But Boylan won’t stand for that, dammit. She wants us all to live in a land of bland perfection, completely free of the thorns of life that poke and scrape our egos from time to time.
“I want to live in a world where I can be moved by art and music and literature without having to come up with elaborate apologies for that work or for its creators.”
Who knew that a legitimate arcadia was well within reach? All we have to do is purge our society of aesthetic instigators and our enjoyment of them — simply trade in our outdated Good Times in exchange for some slick new Boring Times, right off the conveyor belt with the factory sticker still on them.
Ah, but towards the end of her article, Boylan seems to suffer from a brief bout of reason:
“It is hard to think of some of our greatest artists without also thinking of their messy, sometimes destructive lives. In so many cases, it’s the very chaos of those lives that has helped create the art. It’s easy to romanticize that chaos and to ignore the wreckage artists can leave in their wakes.”
What a strange infection this is, as it seems to suppress her notion that it’s just too fucking hard to separate the art from the artist. Why yes, Boylan, it is easy to romanticize the chaos of greatest creators and to ignore the wreckage they’ve left behind. Now you’re getting the hang of it! At this rate, you’ll be bobbing your head to the suggestive rhythms of The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in no time!
However, before Boylan can even take her first baby step on the wild side, she quickly recovers from her ailment of acumen, as her deployment of SJW terms in the final paragraph demonstrates:
“Maybe reconsidering those songs, and their artists, can inspire us to think about the future and how to bring about a world that is more inclusive and more just.”
Luckily for the New York Times’ audiences, Boylan’s condition is far from terminal, which means her woke-addled ethos lives on to fight the Forces of Fun.
This article wasn’t so much an opinion as it was an attempt to gently force a luxury worldview — that classic rock songs and their creators should be considered for cancellation — onto a mass audience that’s too busy worrying about how they’re going to pay their bills to care about changing the radio station when The Rolling Stones or Don McLean pop up.
It’s yet more proof of the Grand Canyon divide that separates the wealthy eggheads from the rest of us who have to put up with the constant grind of a workaday life that doesn’t care about feelings.
Who can blame us for turning blind eyes and deaf ears to those shouting at us to be offended like them as they cook up scholarly fuckery in the gilded and ivied halls of academia?
We’re too busy pumping our fists and banging our heads and shaking our asses and singing tunelessly to the wild and carefree choruses of the rock ’n’ roll of yore blaring at us from our stereos cranked to eleven to give any damns about the Paper of Record extolling the virtues of their Victorian taste in music.
I’m not faulting the personal choice of avoiding artists that someone considers offensive — I’m faulting the tyrant’s audacity to declare a piece of pop culture a public emotional health hazard that’s become so typical of the woke cult whose rallying cry is “If I’m offended, then so should you be!”
Remember that Boylan’s article was originally called “Should Classic Rock Songs Be Toppled Like Confederate Statues?” That title was not an accident of the writer’s process. Rather, it was a tender declaration of war on yet another domain that wokeness is looking to infect and render as drab and neutered as itself.
But the great irony of Social Justice Warriors and their crusade against anything even looking in the direction of moral ambiguity is that the world will be no better for their actions.
Dirtbag men will not stop beating their wives when Don McLean gets hauled off to jail.
The KKK’s numbers won’t dwindle because “Brown Sugar” is banned from the airwaves.
And applying warning labels to the works of edgy rock stars won’t swap out our admiration of them with the masturbatory sense of virtue that comes with killing fugitive fun.
For only an ideologue would fail to recognize the fool’s errand in holding rockers to the standard of social workers.