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Can you separate the art from the artist?
Am I a monster if I keep my Kanye records?
When Kanye West inspired an antisemitic hate group to post a sign on the 405 freeway, I thought, well, he's finally done it. He's finally alienated me — a Kanye superfan.
Okay, I wasn't really a superfan anymore. It was always about the music for me, and the music hadn't been good in a while.
I have two Kanye records on vinyl. 808s and Heartbreak and Late Registration. In October, when his Hitler-loving ways came to light, I thought I should throw them in the trash.
This was a new thing for me. I had never thought about getting rid of someone’s art because of who the person was. I mean, shit, I still have a whole shelf of Woody Allen DVDs. I could have gotten rid of them years ago. But I never even tried. Do I still watch them? Rarely. But his work was a big part of my creative life. And so, they sit on the shelf, collecting dust.
My Kanye records were destined for a similar fate. They sat in a box for months, waiting to be donated to Goodwill or thrown out.
It was pouring rain in Los Angeles, and I found myself home alone and mentally exhausted from a long writing session. I decided to put on 808s and Heartbreak for one last spin. A final fling before I sent it away.
This would be the ultimate test. Could I separate the art from the artist?
Maybe it was the rain or a recent death in the family, or maybe it was just the album. But, I immediately felt its melancholy pull.
I was transported back to the first time I heard it, struggling with a breakup, the album’s heartache, and bitterness, a welcome balm. I understand why some people hate the record, but it was important for me. (And I wasn’t alone!)
It was crazy to still feel moved by 808s, despite knowing and (and of course strongly condemning) his hate speech.
Was I a monster for still liking the record? I don’t think so? At a certain point the art is no longer owned by the artist. You put out a thing and the thing stands on its own. Maybe???
I wondered if this was a generational thing, a grey area for us older types. (And by old, I mean “elder millennial.”) Perhaps younger generations were more binary. IE. “This person said something bad; therefore, I cannot listen to or support their art.”
I was wrong, of course. A google search led me to a recent high school newspaper article. In it, the young writer drew a line in the sand. Purchasing new work from the artist was a bad look. But, enjoying their previous work, stuff you already paid for, seemed okay.
I could live with this logic. Lord knows I wouldn’t be attending a Kanye West concert again. And I had no desire to stream his stuff. Holding onto 808s and Heartbreak wouldn’t put new money in his pockets.
And while I might not be pumping the album loud enough for neighbors to hear, I would still cherish it for the complicated feelings it elicits in me.
As for Late Registration. I have no sentimental attachment to that one. So, look for it at a Goodwill near you.
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