First Posted: 6/3/2013
It’s always disconcerting when you read about a celebrity you enjoy or look up to acting like a jerk or doing something stupid, but when they’re arrested and charged with serious crimes, that really forces you to question your loyalties, or at least it should.
I’ve been an avid listener of Welsh rockers Lostprophets since “The Fake Sound of Progress” was released in the states in 2001. The four subsequent albums were all solid, improving on their progressive metal/punk/post-hardcore sound, and they’ve sold over 3.5 million records worldwide, though they’re more well-known in the U.K.
Rarely touring on our shores, my one and only chance to see them came at last year’s Vans Warped Tour in Scranton, where I had the pleasure of interviewing drummer Luke Johnson. Unfortunately, their set was cut short due to the stormy weather, but I figured that I would catch them again as they continued to promote their latest release, “Weapons.”
On December 19, however, singer Ian Watkins was charged with 24 sex offenses, including the alleged rape of a child under 12 months old, aiding and abetting the sexual assault of another child who was only one year old, conspiracy to rape and sexually assault the same child, and possession of indecent photos of children and even an image featuring bestiality. Two women were also charged along with Watkins; all three appeared in court Monday via video link to plead not guilty.
The band was apparently just as shocked as its fans, releasing this statement on their website last year: “Following charges made today against Ian Watkins, we find ourselves in a state of shock. We are learning about the details of the investigation along with you. It is a difficult time for us and our families, and we want to thank our fans for their support as we seek answers.”
Watkins denies the charges and says his name will be cleared, of course, but since he’s facing so many, it’s hard to imagine that he truly did nothing wrong. He’s innocent until proven guilty, of course, but there must be boatloads of evidence against him for it to get this far. It makes me absolutely sick to even think about it.
As a fan, you feel betrayed and lied to – one minute you’re relating to his lyrics and cheering for him at shows, and the next you’re wondering if you can ever listen to those CDs again without feeling ill. It’s like a friend who stabs you in the back, and while I’m not a fan personally, I now know how As I Lay Dying fans must have felt when vocalist Tim Lambesis was charged with attempting to hire an undercover detective to kill his estranged wife last month, though Watkins’ crimes may be more akin to those that followed Michael Jackson throughout his life.
As virtually everyone knows, Jackson was accused of sexually abusing several children, though none of the charges ever stuck. Considering his strange behavior and his own history of abuse, it’s likely that at least some of those stories were true, but for some reason, more fans stood by him than abandoned him, and when he died in 2009 at age 50, he was praised so frequently as a musical genius that it seems his legend could barely be scratched by the scandals he was so infamous for.
What Watkins is accused of may be even worse, yet I wonder how many fans will stick by him, exonerating him in their minds immediately simply because they like his music and just don’t want to believe that it could be true. For some, it’s easy to separate the art from the artist – it’s not like bad people can’t make good art. But when it involves something this horrific, I can’t simply turn up the volume on my headphones. I’m not sure if I can play those five albums as easily as DJs spin MJ’s singles, and I may just give those two t-shirts in my closet to the Goodwill. The whole thing just makes me uncomfortable, regardless of the music itself.
Just days ago, I was nose-deep in a great music history book. I was reminded that rock stars, while larger than life, are human and make mistakes – not everything they do is worthy of praise or adoration. Idol worship can be inspiring, though I don’t recommend downright devotion, as you’ll uncover flaws you wish you had ignored. If there’s one thing music should teach you, particularly rock music, it’s to be your own person, so either be your own guitar hero or prepare for disappointment.
Or separate the artist from the art – easier said than done in this very personal business.