Sunday, 8 December 2013

Prophet and loss

So can I still play my Lostprophets albums? Is it OK to go on listening to songs such as ‘A Town Called Hypocrisy’ and ‘Everybody’s Screaming’, whose very titles have now acquired an unpleasant creepiness?
I don’t intend to dwell on what Ian Watkins may or may not have done with a one-year-old infant. Suffice to say his last-minute guilty plea spared a jury the ordeal of having to view video footage after which it was deemed they might need counselling.
The claim, apparently offered in mitigation, that he was on a “drug-fuelled binge” at the time of the offences takes away none of his responsibility for his actions. It is no longer a defence, even in Japanese law – as apparently it once was – to blame bad driving on being drunk.
But the question does arise how far it’s possible to separate the man from the work, the singer from the song, the artist from his art.
Until last week the Lostprophets’ Liberation Transmission was among my four or five favourite albums of the past 10 years. Every one of its dozen tracks has been a family sing-along-in-the-car favourite for years.
The critics who on its release in 2006 acclaimed its hard rock sound but dubbed it “lyrically absurd” missed the point of a sequence of intelligent pop songs woven together into an unusually satisfying whole. All the words of which were penned by Watkins. About whom we now know more than we might wish to.
The long-awaited follow-up album, The Betrayed, was a disappointment. Some of its song titles now have a bitterly ironic ring: ‘Dirty Little Heart’; ‘For He’s A Jolly Good Felon’; ‘Where We Belong’ (jail, Ian?); ‘Next Stop Atro City’. Perhaps most personally resonant of all, ‘It’s Not The End Of The World, But I Can See It From Here’.
A short while back legal considerations prevented me from writing about Watkins’s case. It seemed to me a pity that what might have been false accusations had interrupted – and probably permanently besmirched – a fine career.
Any sympathy for Watkins is now forfeited, his career history – while one can feel sorry for his former band-mates in their efforts to resurrect their own. They, it seems – along with the band’s many fans – were the eponymous betrayed.
The songs remain, in themselves as good as they ever were. But will one ever be able to hear them in the same way again?
It is, in essence, a variation on the old Wagner question: is it possible to enjoy Richard Wagner’s music, knowing he was a pompous, arrogant bully whose anti-Semitism inspired Hitler?
Daniel Barenboim is among those who believe it is. With reservations.
The great Israeli conductor is a sensitive and progressive man. The West-Eastern Divan, which he co-founded and directs, is a youth orchestra that brings together Israeli and Palestinian musicians with the aim of helping break down the barriers between the two communities.
A similar sensitivity appears in his approach to Wagner, whose music was for many years unofficially banned in Israel.
“Although Wagner died in 1883, he is not played [in Israel] because his music is too inextricably linked with Nazism, and so is too painful for those who suffered,” said Barenboim in 1989. “Why play what hurts people?”
He has since, however, performed the Prelude from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in Jerusalem, after asking the audience if they wished to stay.
“There are people sitting in the audience for whom Wagner does not spark Nazi associations,” he told them. “It will be democratic to play a Wagner encore for those who wish to hear it.”
They say it should be the work alone that matters, not the artist. But is that realistic? In Wagner’s case, the work itself can be troubling.
Had I been in Jerusalem in 2001, I might have been among those who left the concert hall early.
How much my response to Wagner’s music is coloured by what I know of the man is impossible to untangle. I rather agree with his rival Giuseppe Verdi’s verdict that “Wagner has some wonderful moments – and some awful quarter-hours”.
His harping on one musical theme until he has hammered it into the ground, then go on hammering, is what some critics admire and I detest.
That some people over-rate him to the point of idolatry – a habit he started himself – is off-putting too, though not as much as the bombastic nationalism of his interminable operas.
His words elsewhere, in person and in a series of pamphlets, were a constant stream of anti-Semitic poison.
He is credited – if that’s the right term – with coining the deadly phrase “the Jewish problem”. And neither the name nor the meaning of “the final solution” was original when Hitler used them. He took the idea, like a lot of his evil claptrap, from Wagner.
No doubt there are some lovely people whose music I can’t abide – and some other less-than-lovely ones whose works I enjoy.
Carl Orff, composer of the glorious Carmina Burana, was an allegedly enthusiastic Nazi and a favourite of Hitler. Productions of his work too have been banned in Israel.
Unlike Wagner’s, though, Orff’s music is not imbued with a racial superiority complex. It is politically neutral. It seems acceptable to enjoy it.
Just at present I’m not so sure about the Lostprophets.

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