Last week, the NFL asked its teams to no longer play convicted pedophile Gary Glitter’s “Rock And Roll Part II” at its games. This has prompted a lot of great debates, and it’s an issue I find myself a bit torn on.
On the one hand, I believe in separating the artist from the art. The ugliest souls can produce the most beautiful works. Richard Wagner was, by some reports, a virulent anti-Semite. Picasso had some extremely unsavory personal habits. Hunter S. Thompson had some astonishingly anti-social habits. Yet all three produced some remarkable works.
On the other hand, Gary Glitter is still alive, still around, and will forever be associated with that single remarkable piece of music. It’s become an anthem for many sporting events, and justifiably so. It has a driving beat, an instantly-recognizable theme, and no real lyrics (I don’t count the oft-repeated “Hey!” shouts as lyrics) that could get in the way of its use. Pretty much once someone hears it, they’ll always recognize it. It’s just that good. And it was created by a guy who was convicted of kiddie porn in England and fled to Viet Nam, where he’s now in jail for molesting two girls, ages 12 and 14.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I think I can safely pull a John Kerry and have it both ways. We should separate the art from the artist whenever possible, and judge the work solely on its own merits. But when the artist is such a vile and despicable human being, we should shun the artwork for as long as the artist can still directly benefit from the artwork.
Once Gary Glitter dies, or sells off the rights to “Rock And Roll Part II,” then we should once again accept the song on its own without the baggage of his misdeeds. But as long as he gets one penny of royalties from its use, let it stay cast aside.
Gary Glitter could do the world a huge favor and hasten that day, but I doubt he will. One of the key elements of pedophilia, as I understand it, is intense narcissism, and those people tend not to think of anyone but themselves.
(Update: some have asked for a link to the song. Trust me, it’s one of those songs that the instant you hear it, you know it. Amazon has a sample of it.)