When you think of Pink Floyd, what specifically do you think of? The Wall, some will say, or Dark Side of the Moon. Few will say Syd Barret’s illness and death, or anything other than the music.
With Harper Lee or J. D. Salinger, you think of their single books and their reclusive images, not some party they threw or some talk show interview they gave.
With others, it’s not so clear cut.
Do you remember Prince for his musical genius or for issues peripheral to his music, such as abandoning his name for several years, or his aggressively sexual imagery in his work, or his all-female backup band when he couldn’t play all the instruments himself?
I’m not familiar with Lady Gaga’s music; I haven’t heard most contemporary music. I am, however, familiar with the phrase, “meat dress,” as well as a probably-manufactured controversy about if she was a hermaphrodite or androgynous or what.
I don’t watch much football any longer, so maybe there’s a beauty to Cam Newton’s play that I haven’t seen, but I can’t help but see his pitches for a Greek yogurt brand.
I’ve seen some basketball, so I know LeBron James can play, but I also remember a less-than-humble announcement that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami, and I still wince whenever someone refers to him as “LBJ.” Maybe no one whose lifespan overlapped that of Lyndon Baines Johnson refers to James by those initials, but letting that use go unchallenged, as James seems to, reeks of hubris.
Actions should speak louder than words. Skills and art should negate any need for self-promotion. We should be known for any skills we have that are outstanding, not merely for being willing to be outlandish until we earn our fame.
Maybe Gaga, unlike Prince, has mellowed as her art has become recognized and has let her music speak for her. Maybe James deserves credit for learning a lesson and being more reserved as he left Miami to return to Cleveland. Maybe in ten years, Newton’s leadership of his team will dwarf any endorsements he has done. Maybe, to some, it already does.
I’m painfully aware that segments of our society watch the spectacle more than the art; that’s why someone like Stefani Germanotta has to take a name like “Lady Gaga,” even to get her music heard in some quarters. Wishing it wasn’t true doesn’t make it so; I have no idea how many flawless performers are outshone by auto-tuned publicity seekers who will do anything to attract our attention and then convince us that we’ve found something great, regardless of merit.
In the mean time, every time someone stirs up so much fecal material in an attempt to get my attention, they’d damn well better earn my respect or quickly fade away. Shit-stirrers who feel offended that I’m not impressed and not mesmerized will have no call to yell “discrimination” or otherwise take offense. It’s true of politics; it’s true of culture wars; it’s true of everything that clamors for my attention.