Pop Rocks

Pop Rocks: Sting, Stank, Stunk

Sting. He's the artist we love to hate:

Sting, everyone's favorite somnambulant acoustic pop star, has developed a somewhat checkered experience in Central Asia. In 2009, Gulnara Karimova--herself a fledgling pop singer under the name GooGooSha and daughter of Uzbek president-for-life Islom Karimov--paid him $1.6 million to perform at a government-sponsored arts festival in Tashkent. Tickets to the concert were priced above $1,000 in the impoverished Central Asian country, and Sting later claimed, falsely, that the concert was co-sponsored by UNICEF.

One reason for the controversy is Sting's position as a spokesman for Amnesty International, contrasted with Uzbekistan's position as one of the world's worst human rights abusers. The clear hypocrisy of speaking for a human rights organization while performing under contract for a human rights abuser was, apparently not an issue for Sting, who declared that "cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive."

This was all offered, of course, in contrast to current events:

Sting has thrown his support behind striking oil workers in Kazakhstan, abruptly canceling his concert that was scheduled for July 4 in the capital, Astana, after he learned of a government crackdown on the strikers.

"Hunger strikes, imprisoned workers and tens of thousands on strike represents a virtual picket line which I have no intention of crossing."

Taking his marching orders from Amnesty International is just one of the reasons people like to pile on the former Gordon Sumner (the others being his audacity to mouth occasionally ill-informed opinions and have sex for eight hours). I'm not going to make this an arena for debate over why I still enjoy the "somnambulant" singer's music - masochistic as that would be - but rather open a forum to discuss what sort of behaviors we consider non-starters when it comes to our musical entertainers.

Chances are you're favorite singers suffer from a variety of what we could charitably call "character flaws." Some are merely immature assholes, which often results from heaping huge amounts of wealth on undereducated post-adolescents. But let's face it, if we avoided every musician that behaved like a shithead, our CD shelves would be stacked with nothing but Amy Grant and Moby. Besides, in many cases it's the very asshole-ness of musicians that makes them interesting. Plenty of people first became aware of Oasis after reading about the antics of Liam Gallagher, and only checked out their music afterwards.

They certainly weren't drawn in by the band's lyrics: "Walking slowly down the hall/Faster than a cannonball?" Noel needs a better rhyming dictionary.

Gallagher's behavior, like countless of his predecessors and contemporaries, was probably only a dealbreaker to those unaware the Beatles wannabes were a bunch of drunken yobs. This "surprise" aspect of finding out an artist you previously enjoyed may not be what you expected is probably best demonstrated by the Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, who famously told a London audience on the eve of the Iraq War they were ashamed President George W. Bush was from Texas. Their career has never recovered, demonstrating that certain audiences definitely prefer their artists to "shut up and sing."

But while thousands of former Chicks devotees turned their backs on the band after their comments, the outcry against Guns N' Roses for the lyrics to the song "One in a Million," with its condemnation of (among others) blacks and gays, seemed to provoke a less negative reaction among fans. Indeed, the band's next albums, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II debuted in the top 2 spots on the Billboard charts. The easy conclusion to draw is that country fans love George W. Bush and hard rock fans are homophobic racists. Wait...

And what about alcohol or drug use? Ha ha...no, really. Fans over the age of 12 have probably come to realize music and mind altering substances often go hand in hand. As a result, it only really becomes significant if said substances have a negative effect on performance or someone ends up dead. If this blog entry were a book, we'd just call this the "Motley Crue Chapter."

Commission of an actual (non drug-related) crime would be something I'd assume would cause folks to delete an artist from their playlist, but even that isn't a given. Indeed, in some circles there's a healthy amount of cred that comes from getting sent up, as Snoop Dogg and Merle Haggard could tell you.

Hell, even murder doesn't kill (heh) one's musical career. Lead Belly served time for killing a man with little damage to his (admittedly obscure) legacy. Sid Vicious may or may not have murdered Nancy Spungeon - if he didn't, he's the most sainted man alive, most people would've knifed her themselves after five minutes in the same room with her, but he still sells tons of t-shirts.

Child molesters? I don't see Ted Nugent, Jimmy Page, or R. Kelly crying in their beers. Oh sorry, Kelly was never convicted.

About the only person I could find whose career suffered irreparable damage for his crimes is Gary Glitter, and that's not just because of the discovery of child porn, but because Glitter continues to demonstrate he will not stop trying to have sex with children. Not even after the NFL stopped playing "Rock and Roll" during football games.

Even the Nuge eventually moved on to age appropriate women eventually, Gary.

So what it comes down to is: people really don't seem to give a rat's ass if their favorite artists are scumbags. At least all my boy Sting is guilty of is excessive egotism and making Jaguar commercials.

Oh, and that horrible Police reunion tour. Maybe you guys are right about him after all.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar