THE HARD CHOICES WHEN OUR HEROES LET US DOWN

On Saturday 3rd September the Canadian band Arcade Fire played Manchester Go Arena as part of their world tour to support the release of their new album ‘We’.

As a fan of the band for 14 years I had a ticket for the concert; having seen them previously I consider them to be one of the elite live rock acts on the planet. Although fronted by lead singer and songwriter Win Butler, the band are very much an ensemble outfit, no-one greater than the sum of its parts.

ARCADE FIRE

Arcade Fire observe and reflect through their quirky, individual and strongly melodic songs that are never predictable whilst constantly evolving. They sing of the downbeat humdrum of the everyday, the fears of the everyman in a world where individuality becomes homogenised, as the distance between reality and aspiration grow wider.

In short, they feel like they get it. The pain and the hope, the angst and the liberation of the individual, and this forms an integral part of their strong, dedicated following.

So it was an unexpected body blow when on the eve of the UK leg of the tour allegations of sexual impropriety by Win Butler towards four women were revealed. Butler has admitted to the sexual conduct alleged whilst insisting it was consensual; a claim in part at least not denied by the women concerned.

WIN BUTLER

But it seems apparent that Butler used his power as a rock ‘star’ to foster these incidents, citing depression following a recent family miscarriage and abuse as a child as the driving force behind his behaviour. Whilst deeply traumatic incidents in his life, these can be judged as thin excuses for such sustained behaviour over at least a three-year period with women up to 18 years his junior.

Support act, Canadian singer-songwriter Feist, for whom this tour would have represented the biggest audiences of her career, decided to pull from the tour, explaining she was ‘claiming her responsibility now and going home’.    

Where then, does this leave the fan with a ticket, a no-refund policy from the band and Ticketmaster? And, more pointedly, their relationship with the music?

This is what I pondered painfully throughout Friday and Saturday in the hours leading to the concert. And I was far from the only one, going by the outrage and confusion splashed across social media from long-time fans across the UK and beyond. One couple announced on Twitter that they had cancelled their Manchester hotels rooms and had decided to go home, leaving their tickets unused and their seats empty.

Butler’s wife Regine Chassagne, a tour de force of electrifying energy and founding member of the band, publicly forgave her husband, stating that Win is ‘her soulmate’ who ‘lost his way, and he has found his way back. I love him and love the life we have created together.’

REGINE CHASSAGNE

If Regine, the one probably most hurt by Win’s actions could forgive and move on, surely that should be enough for the rest of us. Or is it?

My decision about whether to attend went back and forth throughout the day. It hung over me, knowing I should make a stand, even if I was the only one who probably would be affected by or aware of that stand.

My ticket had been part paid for by relatives for my recent birthday. Do I let their hard-earned money just go to waste? I was angry that myself and many others had been handed this dilemma by Butler, but four hours before the gig, I decided to go. The very least he can do, I decided, is sing for his supper.

And the show itself, of course, was brilliant. But throughout my enthusiasm felt muted. The two seats next to me were empty. I knew whatever decision I had made, would have felt like the wrong one. And where does this leave my relationship with their music from now?

Only recently that ultimate bastion of creative integrity, Bruce Springsteen, was heavily criticised by allowing Ticketmaster to employ ‘dynamic pricing’ that allows tour ticket prices to rise dramatically and in real time according to demand. Should a man who recently sold his song catalogue to Sony for a record 500 million dollars look to make extra money due to fan’s demand and dedication? Or should he be allowed to sell his art and hard work over fifty years for whatever price he chooses?

But charging extortionate ticket prices is one thing, cheating on your wife, and on multiple occasions, is another.

For an artist like Rod Stewart or Mick Jagger these principles would not apply, indeed such behaviour has enhanced their appeal. For someone like Butler however, particularly in today’s more enlightened age, he has chosen to stamp over somewhat hallowed and dangerous ground.

It’s hard when the creative people we look towards to help make sense of a confusing world let us down. Are we setting them up on too high an idealistic pedestal? Does it really matter at all?

It does matter, very much so. But how we deal with that disappointment is really down to the individual, whether to forgive and keep listening, or whether to close the conversation with that artist once and for all.

11 thoughts on “THE HARD CHOICES WHEN OUR HEROES LET US DOWN

  1. A really hard choice for you to make, Paul, and as you say whatever you decided would have felt both right and wrong. I’m glad you enjoyed the concert nevertheless. This whole episode does raise the question for me of whether we should consider someone’s beliefs and behaviour when we enjoy their music. Take Eric Clapton, for example: I still enjoy his music but his political views are appalling!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s right. I just think that some artists have a certain ethos that help us relate to them, and when they do something against that ethos or virtue it makes it harder. Maybe it’s not fair to hold them on a higher moral plane. These were the things I was wrestling with on Saturday. If I’d known beforehand I wouldn’t have bought a ticket. But we all fall from grace sometimes, so I will keep listening to their music.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think we expect our heroes to be perfect, and it comes as an unwelcome surprise when we find out that they aren’t. I agree, if you like their music you should keep listening to it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad you chose to go. I am struggling with cancel culture as well. If a musician did something morally or criminally wrong then they do need to suffer the consequences especially if it means jail time. Does it mean though that I now have to throw aside the music they made that form part of awesome memories? I don’t think so. We are all human and we all make mistakes. Take responsibility for yours and submit to the consequences but I won’t stop listening to the music that was made previously in paeticular

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, neither will I, most people deserve forgiveness. If he continues doing it, which I very much doubt, people will move away from the band in large numbers but as I say, I don’t think that will happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love that you wrote this post, Paul. These are decisions we shouldn’t take lightly. It’s hard to describe why we as humans can overlook some things and others are dealbreakers for us. Politics has given us plenty of examples of leaders who say one thing but aren’t principled in their actions.

    I was unaware of dynamic pricing, but that is pretty offensive too. I don’t mind entertainers making large amounts of money from their shows, but there is something about raising the prices ahead of time that is pretty offensive. If a singer/group gives a half-assed performance, they don’t refund part of your money.

    I can’t explain where that land in the sand is either. After Michael Jackson’s transgressions against children, I could barely stomach the guy. Tiger Woods was a serial womanizer, and yet I still find myself rooting for him, though I detested his behavior. Even now, I realize my two sets of rules seem wrong.

    Thanks for writing such a thought-provoking piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Pete.

      You’re right, it’s a grey area partly of our own creation as to where the line is drawn, and why. I felt let down, even though I’ve never met the guy and wasn’t directly affected. It was very telling that the support artist dropped out, and I thought if she is making such a stand, then I should with only a ticket to lose out on.

      I don’t have any answers, unless I’m completely puritanical. But there’s such a thing as forgiveness, and a recognition of our own failures. In the case of Bruce Springsteen in particular, he’s always writing about people’s fights with their own personal demons, and the inner battles to do what is right. He is by all accounts a very gracious guy who is out and about in his community and always makes time for the fans who stop him no-matter what and where, and his music has deeply enriched my own life. I think with the dynamic pricing it was partly a 72 year-old with a 75 year-old manager not quite getting getting how the ticket market has recently changed – Ticketmaster have created this as an apparent way to beat the touts at their own game, but in doing so have become official touts themselves.

      Thanks for reading and responding to the post.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Springsteen has always struck me as a guy with principles. Though I’ve never seen him in concert, I’ve heard many others state he puts on a great show. I think your read on Ticketmaster and other companies like them is probably right on the money. Where can we squeeze some extra dollars?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, it’s always hard when the people we look up to disappoint us but hey we’re all human right? While it was morally wrong there were no laws broken as it was all consensual. This is between him and his wife and she says she has forgiven him. Hopefully he has learnt his lessons and changed his ways so you can continue enjoying his music without feeling like you are compromising your values by continuing to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janice, you’re right, there are always lines that cannot be crossed of course but if his wife has chosen to move on then that should probably be good for me. I will continue to listen to their music.

      I think there are some artists who have music that is underpinned by a certain code and AF are one of those bands, and that is a significant part of what we invest in. When they suddenly operate outside of that code and for a sustained period we are thrown by it.

      But forgiveness is all powerful, and with the dust settling a little I feel I did the right thing by going.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Like

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