Monday, 12 May 2014

Murder, he wrote

MURDER, he wrote

Margarita dances in the background
And he wrote about it so well.

In fiction, villains provide thrills for great entertainment, but how do we treat real life villains who are also the artists who we admire? 
Do we stop reading their books and watching their movies? 
Do we take their work out of galleries and off radio playlists? 
Do we ignore their talents and their works?

March Madness bacchanal took over Kingston in 2014 when a popular entertainer and celebrity was found guilty of the murder of a man. It was not a crime of passion or an accident, it was murder as a part of business. His fans were of course distraught by the verdict, and even now, after the passage of three months, some are still in lamentation. They grieve not only because their hero is not with them, but that the justice system did him wrong; that the system put an innocent man in prison.

As the fans do this, others who are not fans wonder how their sensible family members and colleagues could ignore the compelling evidence. How can anyone allow himself or herself to admire a man's talent so far that it blinds them to obvious facts? It is indeed hard to turn away from things that we love.

What has happened to other artistic rogues of history - the ones who committed murder? Did the blaze of their talent put moral outrage in the shade?

These thoughts came to me as I watched a documentary about the life and work of the Italian artist Michelangelo Caravaggio (1590s - 1610). His contemporaries said that he was a man who walked and looked for trouble, and who loved weapons. Some of his best known religious works show the weapon in the act of, or immediately after being used in manslaughter. Judith Beheading Holofernes is typical of his grisly approach.

The artist killed a man during an argument then went on the run to avoid being punished. He did not need to hide too carefully as wherever he stayed, he received important commissions to paint altar pieces. His talent seemed to overshadowed his crimes, rich patrons ignored the wrong that he did.

On New Year's Day 1965 in Kingston, a great reggae trombone player killed his lover. He was found guilty and committed to a mental asylum. Poor fellow, he was mad, is the sternest reproach that we give to Don Drummond; and no one stopped dancing to his music.

The vibrant, macho writer, Ernest Hemmingway committed a different kind of killing, he killed himself. Why would a person who saw life so lucidly, who was able to draw friends into his circle want to end it all? The reasons put forward are still being discussed, but that is only of mild interest to his fans. 

Hemingway was influenced by what he saw of World Wars 1 and 11, the Spanish War of Independence, the bullfighting culture of Spain, and Caribbean deep sea fishing culture. Hemingway wrote about how closely life and death rub against each other.

In his book The Old Man and the Sea, he wrote of one man's epic struggle to catch a fish 
“Fish," he said, "I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”

So what of our local genius, the wordsmith, the lyricist; how is his body of work to be treated? 
Caravaggio's works were aligned with the religious culture and its goals. He illustrated scenes from scripture, which allowed people to separate him from his work. It also helped that he did not sign most of his paintings.

Don Drummond's work was integrated into his band, the Skatellites, so his work could blend in with the sounds of his his genre and his era. No effort needed there, no discord felt in either loving his music or not.

Of Hemmingway who killed himself, we say, "what a pity" and aside from persons writing biographies on him or literary criticisms of his work, his death is easily separated from reading his fiction and articles.

The points of view held in the work of our lyricist, our writer, are deeply accepted by many young people in our society as representing a truth that they somehow identify with. Then again there are many others who do not accept his thoughts as anything related to them, they just enjoy his musical flow.

For others who pay attention to his words, his thoughts are deeply offensive and are rejected. 

This artist is indeed a polarizing figure and it is only time that will be able to pass judgement on the artistic value, or not, of the body of work.