In the aftermath of the loss of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, and also the loss of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, I have found it increasingly unbearable to be on social media. There’s something important here and I wanted to put it into words, even if it was met with disagreement or blank stares.
It seems to be repeatedly forgotten that musicians are human.
By way of ‘human’, I mean that they actually have feelings, histories, relationships, fears, all of these things that we have too.
Musicians seem to be drawn to express themselves outwardly; to take their inner experiences and bring them to life with sound, vibration, words, metaphors, beats and melodies. That’s why they are musicians.
For this courageousness of outward sharing, I have nothing but gratitude. To see Alpha Wolf share the pain of loss, Belle Haven share the shock of manipulation, Trophy Eyes share questions of mortality, Stick To Your Guns express their rage at the treatment of people by powers-that-be.. These are all important and meaningful and I hear beyond the structure and composition and timing and I hear heart and humanity. They want to process outwardly. They want someone else to feel supported in their own similar journey, never feeling as bad or alone as they did. They want to be heard. They want to close a chapter.
But this is not how everyone hears these songs/albums. The humanity gets lost when these songs are heard via a filter of comparison or judgement. Maybe Alpha Wolf is ‘too heavy’, Trophy Eyes ‘too depressing’, and these judgements become statements of rejection or criticism: This sucks.
The fact that these creations are human hearts, vulnerably beating in front of us all, should never be forgotten. Because without the humanity, these bands/musicians become these immortal and unbreakable entities that can take any harshness dished out toward them. Also without the humanity, these powerful entities don’t seem to need encouragement or support, they just exist for our enjoyment, in isolation of everything.
I see a flood of celebration of artists and their heartfelt creations after their death and it pains me. Because of the human factor.
I engage personally with musicians often and there consistently exists the same questions of doubt and uncertainty that all the rest of us humans have about the things we do:
‘Is this good enough?’
Despite seeming super-human, these are real people, putting their heart out into the world in mp3 format, compelled to do so through their own pulls to create, but it doesn’t make them free from vulnerability.
And so these apparently humanity-less entities get nothing but hard hits, with comments on social media or YouTube: “Your old stuff was better”, “Wow, this actually sucks”. Critical reviews expressing disdain take no perspective on the fact that the person that made it has an entire lifelong history that flows into this thing they’ve made. Barbed comments may hit directly into long-standing wounds that no one has any idea about, and an ‘innocent’ judgement may be enough to turn an artist away from creating again, or worse. We just can’t know.
Very rarely is criticism on music/bands actually valuable feedback or constructive at all. Criticism when done respectfully can be powerfully helpful. But the bulk of criticism seems to be (former) fans handing their frustration to the band, instead of dealing with their own discomfort in the band’s growth, choices, or changes.
Should artists be stronger if they want to be in the public eye? Only if the public eye insists on them being super-human beings, instead of embracing the fact that these are real people like the rest of us, who deserve nothing but respect in the brave act of openness.
And if people suddenly feel respect for them in their death? Where the fuck was the respect while they’re alive? It is far too late to celebrate an artist and their life’s creations when they are no longer around to hear it.
I have recently faced social media newsfeeds of Soundgarden and Linkin Park platitudes and quote/images. From people who never championed One More Light, never shared “Heavy”, barely even shared “Numb”! Their appreciation for these artists tucked away somewhere dusty that never got any light until it was prised open by something terrible. It disgusts me, this selective appreciation of these humans who are presenting their humanness to the world in musical form, and getting bombarded by harshness.
The humans behind the music deserve recognition and celebration NOW, before it’s too late; before they die, perhaps not fully understanding that their music DID touch people. If an artist inspires you, or a song inspires you, does the artist know? Did you do something to support them? Even if it’s just to share the song with a friend.
Too many musicians I speak with are lost in doubt, while silent appreciators don’t understand the great and meaningful value in acknowledging them. If you love music, love it proudly. Every day.