The other day, I wrote a post about, among other things, Dolly Parton, and cloned sheep, and being judged by one’s appearance, and our appalling inability to look beyond the physical. I blew about a thousand words out my nose for that particular blog last Friday, and later that afternoon, remembered something. I’d forgotten to share with folks the reason why I was writing this.
I was listening to 1960s Girl Groups and ran into this song:
I knew about it before, and had forgotten it existed.
My God, what an awful slice of tripe. Even for 1962, which was two years before Henry Higgins announced to the world “Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man?”
This Phil Spector song received very little airplay. I know the history of the piece. It wasn’t condoning violence. It was written by Carole King and her husband Gerry Goffin, when they discovered that R&B starlet Little Eva was being regularly beaten by her boyfriend. When King asked her why she put up with it, she replied “Because he loves me.” The song is written in the first-person perspective of a girl (maybe Little Eva?) who is suffering domestic abuse by her lover. Goffin/King were not condoning abuse, but bitterly allowing the pain of physical and emotional bruising to be put to music.
Spector heightened the experience, and, in my opinion, did not do a good job with it. The public agreed. Even in 1962, people thought Spector had crossed a line, and believed that the song celebrated spousal abuse. It’s ironic, looking back, since the piece is eerily prescient to Phil Spector’s relationship with Ronnie Bennett. If you don’t know that story, here’s the not-so-brief Wikipedia account:
Phil kept Ronnie a near-prisoner and limited her opportunities to pursue her musical ambitions. … She said that he would force her to watch the film Citizen Kane to remind her she would be nothing without him. … Bennett was forbidden to speak to the Rolling Stones or tour with the Beatles, because Phil Spector feared that she would be unfaithful. Bennett claims Spector showed her a gold coffin with a glass top in his basement, promising to kill and display her if she left him. During Spector’s reclusive period in the late 1960s, he reportedly kept his wife locked inside their mansion. She claimed he also hid her shoes to dissuade her from walking outside, and kept the house dark because he did not want anyone to see his balding head. Spector’s son later claimed that he was kept locked in his room, with a pot in the corner to be used as a toilet. Ronnie stated in her autobiography that she walked out of the house through the closed and locked rear sliding glass door, shoeless, shattering the glass as she left, and feet all cut up by the time she got to the gate. She never returned.
Spector is serving 19-to-life for second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson.
I constantly struggle with this: do I listen to a song if I despise lifestyle of the artist? Spector is known for an amazing stream of hits from the early-mid 60s with Girl Groups, late 1960s with the Beatles’ Let It Be, and even into the 80s with The Ramones. He is famous for the famed Wall of Sound production, with its high treble output made perfect for transistor radios. And he is, and perhaps remains, a horrible, horrible person.
Ike and Tina made amazing music during their time together. We most of us know the story of Tina Turner. James Brown beat then-girlfriend Tammi Terrell so badly, she had to leave a tour season on a bus (yet we seem only to remember James Brown as “The Godfather of Soul.”) Even John Lennon wrote a song called “Run For Your Life”, which contained the lyrics
You Better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the Sand, little girl
If I catch you with another man, that’s the end, little girl.
I’ve enjoyed James Brown over the years, and any readers of my blog know my feelings about John Lennon. Yet violence toward women shouldn’t be condoned or tolerated. I like much of Spector’s work. Who doesn’t enjoy The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”?
Is this behavior an artifact of the 1960s that should be overlooked?
But how does one draw the line between appreciating a deep cultural history of music, and fandom, and downright excoriation and blacklisting of an artist? Christians like to say “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Can we hate the actions of the musician, but love the music? Or are we moral sellouts the moment we find ourselves enjoying “He Hit Me”?
What about “fallen” Christians? When the guy from First Call cheated on his wife, should we have stopped listening? First Call was possibly the best, most original sound Christian Music had going, in the 1980s. What about Mike Warnke? He fleeced millions with his “I was a satanist” comedy routine, and sold loads of records. Lines from his comedy act still come back to me.
So, folks, where do we draw the line? We’re all “sinners.” Much of what we do is abhorrent. Do we forgive and move on? or do we stop listening to music altogether?
I’m not providing answers. I just wanted to bring up the question. In the meanwhile, I will probably keep listening to “Get On Up,” and “Proud Mary,” and even “He Hit Me,” when it comes on the radio. Unless somebody has a better answer than the one I just muddled into.