Can You Separate “Art” From “Artist?”

Not too long ago, I wrote about the challenges in raising kids in a #MeToo era.

Photo by Thibault Trillet on Pexels.com

But those waters are not the only choppy seas kids today have to navigate.

Another example is something most of us are wrestling with at some level: How do you separate art from an artist?

The rise of easily-accessible information and social media have given us new visibility into the personal lives, political views, and questionable (or downright criminal) behavior of actors, musicians, and other entertainers – past and present.

Not that long ago, most people knew that Ted Nugent was pretty conservative while Eddie Vedder was quite liberal, and life went on just fine. Most people had heard rumors that, say, Michael Jackson, had some eyebrow-raising relationships with young children and that their favorite actor may not be as wonderful off-camera.

But today, we are inundated with information.

A documentary at the Sundance Film Festival produced by now-adults that claim Jackson abused them made headlines.

A TV series discussing allegations surrounding R. Kelly’s personal life stunned viewers.

Heck, even an infamous Playboy interview from the 1970s with long-since-passed actor John Wayne was trending on Twitter recently as if it was new material.

Actors like Alyssa Milano and James Woods rally opposite sides of the political spectrum on Twitter, while Kanye West has never been afraid to voice his views.

The question we all face is – how negatively do we have to feel about an artist to avoid their art? And how do we guide our kids to address that complex decision? Do we even attempt to shape their perceptions or just let them gravitate to entertainment that they like?

Artists are people and people are flawed. Which can certainly shape our habits – which can sometimes be inconsistent.

I still can’t watch new Mel Gibson movies after his drunken anti-Semetic rant years ago. But if the original Mad Max is on, I probably won’t change the channel.

Chris Benoit was my favorite professional wrestler – but after he killed himself and his wife and son in a murder-suicide, I haven’t been able to re-watch any of his classics.

After recent news about his alleged abusive behavior, I’ve debated whether or note to remove Ryan Adams from my iTunes playlists. I haven’t yet.

Does it matter? If the song or the movie or the album or the show resonates with you, should the personal life of the creators be a consideration on if you continue to consume it or be inspired by it?

Thus, parents, who ostensibly control media consumption habits of their kids, have to make some tough decisions here.

For example, my kindergartner had a recent school assignment to do a short presentation on a famous American. Since five-year-olds don’t know too many famous people’s names, he asked to research one he knows, Michael Jackson. I decided that it wasn’t a good idea, even though we play Jackson’s music in the house and car regularly.

I drew a line between celebrating the music and the artist in this situation, but I don’t feel great about that decision. I’ve second-and-third-guessed it.

How can parents help their kids sort through these situations when we are struggling with them ourselves?

I think it comes down to guiding them to control the things they can: how they act and how they treat other people. Fostering compassion, empathy, kindness, cultural and media literacy – these are hard things to do and there is no road map.

My son is really confused on why I said no to his Michael Jackson presentation. And I don’t blame him. We have regular dance parties – and Thriller is a favorite. I doubt that will change.

One day, maybe 10 years from now, we can have a tough conversation about this. Maybe we’ll have more facts. Maybe we’ll have more perspective. But, thanks to The Best Mom, he’ll be doing his “Famous American” presentation on Jonas Salk, who created the cure for polio and gave it away for the good of public health when he could have sold it.

Which brings us back to the original question – can you separate art from artist?

For me, the answer is, like so many things in life, it’s complicated.

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Boyce Avenue Concert

Goodnight, Boyce Avenue

People ask me all the time the bedtime routine in our house.

[Just kidding, literally nobody has ever asked me about that outside of babysitters.]

The goal of any bedtime process is to transition the kids from the insanity of their days at school and on the playground towards a state where they may consider the possibility of relaxing for +/- 10 hours.

For us, that begins with chasing the monsters all over the house.

“If you don’t brush your teeth, you’ll get holes in them!”

That usually leads to giggles, the opposite of the intended reaction.

“If you don’t brush your teeth, you won’t get cookies in your lunch tomorrow!”

There, much better.

Teeth brushing, trip to the potty, get in pajamas – accomplishing any one of these with three kids 7-and-under is enough to get me ready to hit the hay.

After allllllllll of that is done, a maybe a book or three is read, it’s my favorite time.

Time for quiet snuggles.

The kids get under the covers, and I lay down beside them and scroll to the bedtime playlist on my phone. Note, “bedtime,” not “lullaby.”

It’s a long playlist, with soothing selections from Elton John, Loggins and Messina, Amos Lee, Ryan Adams, Tracy Chapman, Willie Nelson, and others.

The band with the largest representation on the list: Boyce Avenue.

Boyce Avenue Concert
By Andy Rennie [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
One of the most successful “Internet Bands” ever, the Manzano brothers (Alejandro, Daniel, and Fabian) have – as of the time of writing – over 10 million subscribers on YouTube and over 3.4 BILLION total video views on the platform.

[EDIT: Make that 11.6 million YouTube subscribers and 4.2 BILLION views!]

I first discovered them almost 10 years ago on iTunes – and vividly remember seeing a MySpace-sponsored interview with them while we were on our honeymoon in Thailand.

A few years later, my wife was shocked when their show at the iconic 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, was sold out. She thought I was their only fan!

But why are they so prominently featured on this bedtime mix? [Especially when they can ROCK HARD live?]

Because they transform pop and rock and R&B hits into beautiful acoustic masterpieces, overflowing with unplugged soul.

It’s important to me to raise my kids with REAL music in addition to kid songs, like, y’know, Baby Shark. My daughter was walking around the house humming “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and I just about fell over. She also has started writing songs, churning out 10 or so ballads in the past few weeks. The plan is working!

So every night, my kids and I have our quiet little time, lights dimmed, sometimes singing along quietly to iconic songs made a bit more accessible for the go-to-bed crowd.

And I watch them unsuccessfully fight against sleep once again, yawning big, eyes closing shut, starting to dream, thanks, in part, to Boyce Avenue.


Never heard of Boyce Avenue before? Here is your six-pack starter kit:

Umbrella (Rihanna)

Thinking Out Loud (Ed Sheeran)

Lights (Ellie Goulding)

One / Let It Be (mash-up) (U2/The Beatles)

Hemorrhage (Fuel)

Rolling In The Deep (Adele)

Prince and Kids: Music is Immortal

Prince_at_Coachella_001When the news broke yesterday that music legend Prince had suddenly passed away, the last thing I thought about was my kids.

I thought about growing up in the 1980s, listening to his music on the radio every day. I rewatched his magical Super Bowl halftime show performance.

I looked back on Dec. 31, 1999, celebrating New Year’s with friends, really unsure if “oops, party’s over…out of time” was going to happen.

To be honest, I also debated the slotting of 80’s music superstar deaths: Prince. Michael Jackson. Whitney Houston. [Prince’s was the most shocking. Whitney’s was the saddest. Michael’s was the most tragic.]

Several radio stations started playing tributes to the Purple One all afternoon. Thankfully, I had to be in the car, so I got to flip around the channels and hear his greatest hits and heartfelt tributes from fans and DJs.

Prince was iconic. But not really an artist we frequently played around the kids. Or so we thought.

*********

After picking my daughter up from school and strapping her into her car seat, I turned the radio on so she could at least hear some of Prince’s songs. I wasn’t going to talk about death. The car ride home is nowhere near long enough to broach that topic and this was not the situation to discuss it.

“Kiss,” probably my second-favorite Prince song (behind “When Doves Cry”) began playing.

“I know that song!” my four-year-old screamed out. “It’s from the penguin movie!”

Of course she knew that song. I had completely forgotten that “Kiss” was featured in the opening medley in Happy Feet. We watched that movie at least a dozen times.

Check out the scene here:


My daughter being familiar with this song is another reminder that music is immortal.

Prince created such an amazing song that it made a little girl ridiculously happy to hear on the radio 30 years later.

The song is bigger than the artist, which is what makes the artist so special.

Prince lives on because his music will.

That’s a pretty amazing legacy.

Photo Credit: Micahmedia at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons