I remember attending a KISS concert several years back at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Ted Nugent was the opening act, and by the early 2000s, he already had a well earned reputation for saying terrible crap at least as often as playing he played "Cat Scratch Fever." On that particular evening, the Motor City Madman made a comment insulting Hispanics, saying that immigrants who didn't speak English should go back to wherever they'd came from. I remember thinking that was an odd and ugly bit of crowd banter from a man who'd penned such romantic ballads as "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang." Apparently others did too, because it resulted in him being temporarily banned from playing the venue.
Ted Nugent is probably more famous for being a vocal right wing commentator these days than a rock star, but at one point the guy was one of the most popular musicians in the world. I like his first solo album, and consider it a high point of early '70s hard rock. Although that's about the only music from Nugent that I really enjoy, it's hard for me to listen to it today, and not also wrestle with conflicting feelings about who he seems to be as a person.
He's not the only famous artist I have that conflicted feelings about either. It's sad, but LOTS of people whose artistry I love, have done some really horrible crap over the years, and some of it is impossible for me to just rationalize away. This isn't a case of some famous person caught being rude, or acting like an entitled prick. Sadly most of them seem to act that way from time to time. Here are a few of the artists who have done some horrible things in their personal lives, but who still have fans and defenders because the music or movies they've created are great.
4. Jimmy Page
Jimmy Page was in Led Zeppelin, one of the bands that has shaped the basic fantasy of what many think of when they visualize hard rock excess. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll may have been the expectation from most hard rockers in the late '60s and early 1970s, but Jimmy Page knowingly carried on a "relationship" with a 14-year-old girl named Lori Maddox when he was 29. In "Hammer of The Gods," the unauthorized biography of the band, Maddox recalled being approached by the band's manager Peter Grant, and being kept at a hotel for several days, for Page to enjoy. Maddox was what some people called a "baby groupie" - really young teens who were actively trying to hook up with older rock stars. The fact that Page was willing to pursue her is pretty horrible, and was definitely against the law in 1973. Sadly, he was far from the only star up to that kind of thing.
3. Ted Nugent.
I couldn't let the Nuge off with just the anecdote in the intro to this article, because long before The Motor City Madman had reinvented himself into some sort of conservative commentator, he was a huge star and up to all sorts of creepy and possibly criminal behavior. The same man who once written a song called "Jailbait" seems to have had some first hand knowledge about the subject. When he was 30, Nugent talked the parents of a 17 year old girl named Pele Massa into allowing him to become her legal guardian, presumably so that he wouldn't get into any legal hot water for having a sexual relationship with her. More horrific is the revelation that he may have received oral sex from none other than Courtney Love when she was 12 years old. Love made the accusation in an interview, disgusted by the idea, and noting she hadn't even developed breasts yet. Of course, an accusation isn't evidence or proof of anything, but when asked about the incident, Nugent notably said he didn't remember it happening, which seems like a weird way to sidestep a question about sexually abusing a girl, and isn't exactly a denial either.
2. Roman Polanski
There is little doubt that Roman Polanski is a genius filmmaker. With movies like "Repulsion", "Rosemary's Baby", "Chinatown", and "The Pianist" under his belt, he deserves the adulation he receives for his films. But, in 1977, the director was arrested for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old model, and after initially complying with the legal process, he fled the United States after learning he might receive more jail time. He has lived in exile in France and other countries, avoiding arrest while still making films up to the present day. Polanski is indeed a brilliant filmmaker, and a lot of time has passed, but raping a 13 year old really isn't the sort of thing that people should conveniently forget.
1. Eric Clapton
For a guy who owes his entire career to a whitewashed repackaging of a musical style created by African-Americans, Eric Clapton has said some horribly racist things in the past. In 1976, a heavily inebriated "Slow Hand" took the stage at a concert in Birmingham and broke into a nasty and vile rant against immigrants in England, with a liberal use of racial epitaphs I won't quote here. At the time, Clapton supported an anti-immigration politician named Enoch Powell, and later attributed his racist meltdown to years of drug abuse, claiming he was an opponent of large scale immigration, but not racist. The incident was also partially responsible for the formation of "Rock Against Racism," a large concert event created as a response to what many felt was a rise in racist support among young people and some rock stars. As recently as 2007, Clapton still professed his support of Powell.
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The sad thing is that researching the personal lives and backstage antics of various famous people quickly makes it seem like every rock star in the '60s and '70s was knowingly chasing girls who were practically still playing with Barbie dolls. The list of famous musicians, movie stars, and film makers who have been linked to that sort of serious criminal behavior makes it pretty clear that, when money and fame walks in the room, a lot of people just look the other way. It also makes it pretty obvious that many of these folks were involved with some pretty awful activities, and never really suffered any serious repercussions for them.
Personally, my problem is that I still like Led Zeppelin, I still enjoy Woody Allen's films, despite some really troubling accusations against him. I will always enjoy Roman Polanski's movie and that stirs up some conflicting feelings in me.
Is it possible to truly enjoy the great things a person has created, while also understanding that they were responsible for awful actions in their personal lives? I'm not sure I can rationalize that in a way that is really satisfying or seems fair, and instead find myself with the uncomfortable conclusion that great art is often made by terrible people.
It's also something to remember when someone from the classic rock era is criticizing modern hip hop artists or rock stars for being criminals or immoral - a LOT of their musical idols were doing the same thing or worse.