Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lou Reed

Lou Reed has died, having surprisingly lasted until 71. Andy Warhol liked him, and that is to his credit. But he always struck me as a poseur, someone who acted the part of the artist as opposed to getting down to doing the hard work. If indeed he was capable of it. He cannot have had much of anything to say, since he often contradicted himself. Over a 40-50 year career, he turned out maybe three memorable songs. This is not impressive in the rock medium, where you need three chords and three minutes and you're good to go.

On top of that, he was an artistic bully. He played snob, trying to build himself up against other artists through scorn. He talked down punk; he talked down West Coast bands. To my mind, he talked down anyone more successful than he was. To be popular was, for him, an artistic sin. This is always, in the end, an appeal to class. Appeals to class are intrinsically offensive. But they are especially so when you are trying at the same time to portray yourself as an oppressed outsider. And they are an easy refuge for someone who is, simply, a bad artist.

And of course, on top of that, his personal life and behavior certainly did not speak well of him. Much can be forgiven of someone who is struggling with depression, and perhaps he was. But that cannot excuse marketing his immoral behaviour as glamorous and the cool thing to do.

Lou Reed was a good example of my thesis that art divorced from religion is a bad idea. Beauty without truth and morality is a monster, a thing without either a brain or a skeleton.

Much as I love art—I consider it one of the three essential goods of life—one must face the truth that both Hitler and Mussolini were artists, with an artist’s sensibilities. The former was a painter and amateur architect; the latter wrote short stories. Fascism in Italy owed much also to the rather good poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. Mao Zedong too was at least an adequate poet; Ezra Pound, Fascist, an extremely good one. Art can go well with Fascism, because the latter tends to conceive the state as a vast work of art.

Of course, Vaclav Havel, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, and Ronald Reagan were also artists. Artists in power are not a bad thing; more often a good thing. But art without a moral and ontological compass can be massively destructive.

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