Common belief holds that an artist has to necessarily invest a lot of himself in his art for it to acquire true meaning and depth. Good art, as much as it may seem to be motivated by an otherworldly genius at times, appeals to us chiefly because it captures ideals that resound across cultures, space, and time; self evident truths, having their origin in a mutually evolved and shared, abstract mindspace, that are tapped into and eventually substantiated by the artist as vessel. The act of creation is really a kind of magic, bringing into existence something out of nothing; as conduit to this act, the artist is to be lauded, no doubt, but does this also mean that the art is incapable of standing alone and of itself, separate from the artist and deserving of critique on its own terms? While a phantom limb connection is likely to remain between the two for all time, it is imperative that the audience begins to dissociate artist and art so that neither is slave to the other and can be a standalone entity in its own right.
Far too often, however, it is seen that the audience prefers to keep this metaphorical umbilical cord in tact, making artist and art interchangeable. Heavy metal, a form of music that finds its roots in popular, blues-based rock n’ roll but has long since diversified to become its own, individual expression of will and thought, remains prone to this confusion, insisting on placing its musicians on pedestals, and treating them as demigods able to grant the kiss of life and death. While role models can certainly act as guiding lights in one’s life, idols only aid in stifling objectivity. Music, as an idea, is inherently pure and indivisible, but contaminate it with hero worship and one risks devaluing what previously seemed unimpeachable. Unfortunately, in the case of heavy metal, this form of idolatry is built on the kinship it shares with the rock music of its infancy and its debauched excesses. Too common is the sight of metal fans being reduced to giggling cheerleaders in the presence of their heroes, or, worse yet, plumbing ever-new depths of sycophancy and servile head-nodding. A kind word for them is enough to set their fluttering hearts at rest, validated as they are in having chosen just the right superhero. Or conversely, a musician caught in a bad mood is enough to offset all previously credited goodwill, their fickle minds ready to cast aspersions on his once redoubtable music.
It is a hard thought to digest that the creators of music that means so much to us can in fact be fallible, whose actions may not tally with the impressions we’ve let the music build inside our mind. But that shouldn’t detract from the music itself; the understated John Frusciante, former guitarist of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, admitted with humility in an interview that as a musician, he didn’t consider his station an exalted one, simply because all he did was give shape to ideas that have always existed in human consciousness, likening himself to a modeller of clay of sorts. Not a new thought, certainly, but it does help put things in a better perspective and in their natural order of priority.
Again, this is not to short sell the talent of the creators themselves; without them, this wouldn’t even be a subject for contention. Nor does it mean that there isn’t anything of worth to be gained from an honest interaction with them, provided both parties are mature enough and respectful enough of each others’ boundaries. But an appropriate segregation between the musician and his art must exist in the mind of the listener because, ultimately, the only thing worthy of worship, if at all, is the music.