A few months ago I wrote about how we sometimes give artists a free pass for transgressions or crimes because of how talented they are. And we sometimes feel compelled to defend them, because we can’t divide the art from the person. Or because having to accept that someone whose art is so wonderful happens to also be a pretty terrible human being is too hard to bear.
Obviously “criminal” is a word with many branches. A charge of cocaine possession is very different from a string of sexual assaults and/or murder. And in the end you choose whether you can divide the art from the crime and continue to support the artist in all of their endeavors, or that you don’t want to have anything to do with them anymore. Or, more likely, you probably find yourself in that grey area in between those two options where you acknowledge that what they did was fucked up, but you also acknowledge that you don’t want to stop listening to them or reading them or watching them. I think it’s basically up to us what we do, in the end I’m not going to condemn someone for watching a Polanski movie, or for reading Ted Hughes. I just don’t want to hear people excusing their violence against women.
Back in 2003 I was horrified when I heard that one of my favorite artists had killed someone. I remember hearing the news and sitting there in shock. It couldn’t be possible, could it? Turns out that this artist literally beat his girlfriend to death. Her head injuries were so bad that her brain swelled and she died a few days later. The artist was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to 8 years. He was released after 4 for good behavior.
You may or may not have heard of this artist, his name is Bertrand Cantat and he is very famous in France. The woman he killed was Marie Trintignant, a French actress. His band, Noir Désir, is an intricate part of my teenage years, and I can still sing every single one of their songs from every single album off the top of my head. Cantat’s words and voice have followed me everywhere I have gone in the world. You probably even heard them playing them while I tended bar in NYC. I love Noir Désir. I will always love Noir Désir. Would I go to see Noir Désir if they still existed today? No (but I would probably think about it for a few minutes). Would I spend money on Noir Désir’s music now? No, but I already own anything I would want to own by them. Would I have bought it if I were a teen now? Who knows. Would I buy Cantat’s solo work? No, but it’s also freely available on Spotify, and when I listened to it, it made me so sad that so much talent lives in the same body as someone capable of beating someone to death. And it also made me nostalgic for a time when I could still love Cantat’s voice without having to think about him also being a murderer.
I felt compelled to write about all this right now because I’ve seen so many comments go back and forth on my social media feeds this week about him. He is supposed to be playing two nights in the city I grew up in, Grenoble, and I’ve seen so many dismissive, angry, and heated comments and posts on the subject. A lot of people have been so dismissive of his crime, which I will reiterate was murder, saying that he “did the time”. Even Cantat says that he has “paid his dues”. I don’t know, does 4 years sound like its enough prison time for beating a woman to death? How does one “pay one’s dues” for murder? In my opinion he can do what he wants in terms of releasing music and touring, but he can’t get upset when people resent that he’s free and allowed to do whatever he wants while Marie lies six feet under. True to French form unhappy people stood up and went to the streets to protest his concerts and instead of ignoring them he went out to practically provoke them... In my own personal opinion the fact that he only served 4 years for killing someone, premeditated or not, just makes a joke out of the absolute horrors of domestic violence. But that’s my opinion. He’s free and therefore should be allowed to reinsert himself back into society in any way that he sees fit. We don’t have to be silent about it though.
I just wonder if Marie has been murdered by someone less famous, would he have served the same sentence. Or if someone who wasn’t famous had beaten another non famous person to death, how would we feel if that person kept clamoring to the press that he had “paid his dues”... I don’t know, I’ve seen domestic violence first hand and there is no excuse for it. He killed someone with his bare hands, according the medical team Marie received at least 19 blows to the head and face. I personally just wouldn’t be able to stand in a venue and watch him sing without wanting to vomit. And my money doesn’t need to go into his hands either. Not anymore.
I don’t think there is a definite right or wrong side to this. I do however feel that it’s a pretty distasteful to let someone’s art cloud your judgment on their character, and cause you to excuse a crime that you wouldn’t excuse if this person wasn’t someone you admired. Go ahead and support the artist if you like, but don’t dismiss those who have a problem with it, or insult them because they think differently. Yes, I’m sure I bump into people who have served time for crimes every day without knowing it, but I happen to personally not want to defend this particular criminal. I don’t see why anyone should.
In 2016 one women was killed by their spouse on average every three days in France. Catherine Deneuve may believe that #MeToo is irrelevant, but I think 123 women who are murdered by a spouse in a year goes to show that we need to rise up to the challenge rather than back down. And supporting Cantat kind of takes the candle away from the victim and shines it in a sympathetic light on the perpetrator.
So. I’m sorry people, attend Cantat’s shows if you want to, enjoy them, but please, please don’t defend or excuse his actions, or say that he served his time, because we all know that he didn’t.