Separating The Artist From The Man: Is It Possible?

No One Except A Few, Isolated Idiots Disputes Michael's Musical Genius. But Is It Possible To "Love The Music, Hate The Man?"

Or perhaps the real question is; Should we?

It’s not often that I get inspired to post here just because of an issue someone brings up on a Michael Jackson discussion board, or because of my response to it. But every so often, it happens, and what starts as a routine response inspires me to come here and look into the question further.

Lately, it seems, there has been a lot of discussion about separating Michael Jackson’s music from Michael Jackson, the human being behind it. It’s a debate grounded in a very disturbing reality, but a reality that can’t be ignored. No matter how much sites like mine and the ones listed on the right strive to shed light on the truth of who Michael Jackson was, there will always be people who believe all the savory tabloid stories and, worse yet, believe he was a criminal. Yet they will still listen to his music, usually with some lame rationalization about separating the music from the man. By doing so, however, it’s obvious they are only contributing to their own sense of guilt, rather than allowing themselves to embrace what could be a truly rewarding and fulfilling experience.

There is even one disturbing faction of the hater community trying to encourage fans to embrace the idea of Michael as a pedophile, rather than fighting it. Again, their motto is based on the idea that one can “Love the Artist, Despise The Man.”  You can read more about that particular group and their agenda exposed here:

For the moment, I don’t want to veer too off-topic in discussing that group or their agenda, except to say that their agenda is an obvious one. They think that if they can somehow discourage fans from seeking the truth about the allegations, and discourage them from researching, discovering, and spreading  the evidence that supports his innocence, then the world will have no choice but to accept their version of history-which is a version they very desperately need to cling to, for whatever sinister reasons. They would like nothing more than for fans and truth seekers to lay down their arms and give up the fight to expose what was actually done to Michael Jackson-thus, their encouragement of  saying on the one hand, “Yes, it’s okay to be a fan of his music ” out of one side of the mouth, while saying, “We condemn Michael Jackson, The Man” out the other.

Michael Jackson, Most Beloved And Yet, Paradoxically, Most Maligned And Distorted Pop Figure In History

But putting aside the most sinister aspect of Michael’s “human” side-the allegations-there still remains a man who has been the target of endless tabloid accusations. I sat back for a moment just today and realized that over the past week alone, I’ve debated and battled every topic from drug addiction to “skin bleaching” to his sexuality to the never ending arguement over his children’s paternity. And I’m still finishing up Frank Cascio’s book, which I will review here in a few days-a book that has certainly opened its own can of worms insofar as this very complex subject of who “Michael The Man” was-and was not.

Depending on how gullible one is, there are a lot of aspects of Michael The Man one may not agree with. There are a lot of critics, cynics, and even outright haters  who question every aspect of his life and how he lived it, all while still insisting “But I love his music!”

This is my take on it: I think many use that as a sort of justification for continuing to like/enjoy Michael’s music even though they may not necessarily agree with all of the personal choices he made in his life, his lifestyle, or even if they think he committed unspeakable crimes.

I know for myself, there are many artists whose work I enjoy even though I may not necesarily agree with or endorse their personal lifestyles-heck, you could put just about every rock musician whose work I love into that category, not to mention almost every writer! I can, for instance, enjoy Van Gogh’s paintings even though Van Gogh probably wouldn’t have been someone I would have enjoyed hanging out with in real life.

When Life Overshadows Art...Oscar Wilde's Brilliant Work Was Cast Aside By A Media-Frenzied Public. Then As Now, Some Things Never Change

As an English instructor, it’s the same sort of thing I deal with almost daily with the writers we cover in class. I have to deal with student debates about why we should study and revere Ernest Hemingway even though he was a drunk, or Samuel Taylor Coleridge even though he was a drug addict, or Oscar Wilde even though he was gay (yeah, I live in the Bible belt, just for the record!). Perhaps the best answer to that ongoing debate is a quote contained in one of our texts, and it’s one I often refer back to: “If we waited for great art to come from perfect human beings, we would wait a long time indeed. We would be a world devoid of great art.” Indeed, great art comes from imperfection, and often, from a place of darkness (as well as light).  With the last few postings here, I realized I’ve been exploring Michael’s duality and oppositions a lot in the last few weeks. Maybe it’s something in the air, but the more I see discussions like this, the more I realize the importance of embracing that duality. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and all of the major Transcendentalists stressed that the divine within us is not a separate entity from our human flesh and blood.  We cannot separate our divinity from our demons. Yet, every day we live in a world that seeks to do just that! And additionally, insists  that our artists be mopped into corners where they are either demonized or lionized, and their wings clipped accordingly.

Jim Morrison, Who Wrote His Greatest Work Not In a Drunken Stupor, But "In The Clear Light Of Dawn, When The World Was Fresh And Full Of Hope"

I was thinking of something that Frank Lisciandro, a very close friend of Jim Morrison’s, wrote in his book “An Hour For Magic,” of which I still have a very worn and battered copy.  Frank Lisciandro wrote that people often think of Morrison as nothing but a drunk and an addict. But  none of Jim’s greatest work was written while drunk. Instead, his best poems and lyrics were always written, according to Lisciandro, “in the clear, bright light of dawn, when the world was still and full of hope. In these quiet, intense hours he spilled his poems out on the pages of dozens of notebooks…” Art often reflects not just who we are, but what we aspire to be; whoever we are in that  clear and “fresh  light of dawn.” But perhaps in that state we are closest to who we really are. It is not only the moment when we are closest to God, but also most in touch with the light within ourselves.

While I have always been personally attracted to art that is born out of darkness, it’s not the darkness itself that attracts me, but rather, the search for that clear dawn in the midst of chaos.  I hear this in so many of the songs from bands and artists I admire. Just for example, I’m also a huge Black Crowes fan (yes, I listen to a lot of music, from many genres!). What I’ve always loved about the work of Chris Robinson, whom I consider one of the most amazing and underrated songwriters of our time, is his ability to always find the redemption and salvation of Sunday morning even in what sometimes seems the blackest of nights, when all hope and love is gone.  

Similarly to Morrison always writing “in the clear light of dawn”, it was during many of those nights when Michael Jackson couldn’t sleep, and would walk out to The Giving Tree to meditate by moonlight, that many of his most well known songs were inspired. What he gave to the world were the songs that often came to him in those moments of midnight clarity.

Michael's Midnight Hours Of Clarity In "The Giving Tree" No Doubt Brought Him Closer To His True Self...Which He Then Converted Into Song

Michael would have understood perfectly the words of Arthur Rimbaud, words written over a hundred years earlier by a youthful poet struggling to deal with his own issues of inspiration and creation:

The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, vast and reasoned derangement of all the senses-every form of love, of suffering, of madness.-Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud, 16, Embarking On The Journey Of Self-Discovery And The Hell That Is Sometimes Creation

Through the years, Rimbaud’s quote has often been misunderstood and misinterpreted as a justification for artistic excess and debauchery (i.e, drug use). But that’s not really what he’s saying at all. He is simply saying that the artist must embrace every aspect of himself; every atom and particle of his joy and suffering, in order to create. If he denies his art the full encompasse of his humanity, then he denies himself.

And if we as an audience deny it, we deny ourselves.

So while I can kind of see how some might feel it is POSSIBLE to separate Michael the Artist from Michael The Man, I think they are doing a disservice to both when they approach it that way. As was pointed out by the poster who initiated the discussion that fueled my inspiration this morning, Michael’s music was inseperable from the man. The qualities in his music that bring us joy; that make us want to get up and dance, come from that inner joy of spirit he brought to it, just as his darker music came from his pain and anguish. Yes, the songs were inseperable from the man who wrote them. 

Michael said of his songs “We Are The World, “Will You be There, “Heal the World, “The Lost Children”-“These are the songs I write because I hurt.”


Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius”-William Blake

One could also look at songs like “They Don’t care About Us,”  “This Time Around,” “Money,” “DS,” etc and hear him say, “These are the songs I write because I’m pissed off and angry, and tired of being pushed around.”

Conversely, one can hear songs like “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” “Billie Jean” or “The Way You Make Me Feel” and hear him say, “These are the songs I write because, like you, I know the joy of falling in love, being happy, and wanting to dance!”

Maybe instead of thinking of it as seperation, people should look at embracing art as an extension of both the lighter and darker sides of ourselves; as it reflects the duality of our own humanity, for better or worse.

When We Separate The Art From The Artist, We Are Merely Robbing Ourselves


So yes, absolutely, those songs came from the soul of the man. And when we allow ourselves to enjoy them, we are partaking something of that individual’s soul and spirit, whether we like it or not. Enjoying a work of art is like being a desperately thirsty man or woman led to a drinking trough. When we sip that water, we are not only nourishing and replenishing our body, but also ingesting all that it contains. We cannot separate the bacteria from its nourishing qualities; we can only ingest it as it comes, impurities and all. 

This is also true whether we are listening to a song, reading a poem, or gazing at a beautiful (or even a disturbing) painting. If it moves us, it’s because we are being moved by the spirit, the heart and the mind of its creator. In the end, instead of trying to separate The Art from The Human Being, it’s much easier and much more rewarding to simply accept that there is no separation. Rather, art is the bridge that connects us to another human being,more completely than we will ever be at any other time-yes, even during sex or childbirth! I challenge anyone reading this right now to go to your CD collection, or to Youtube or anywhere where you can take a few moments and listen to a Michael Jackson song. Any song at all, it doesn’t matter which one. Go ahead…five, six, seven minutes, however long it takes. If you do this exercise, then congratulations. You have just connected to Michael Jackson’s soul in a way you will never get from any book, magazine, or tabloid story. For those five minutes or so, he has allowed you, the listener, a deeper understanding of him than you will ever get from any other source, even though we still somehow insist that all of these sources can provide us with more understanding of him than than the music itself.

As for whether we choose to accept or reject that connection, that’s a choice only the individual can make. But to accept the idea that we can somehow do both is to spit in the very face of what  art is. Art is a representation of our humanity.  Without humanity, there is no art.

16 thoughts on “Separating The Artist From The Man: Is It Possible?”

  1. To be honest, I don’t think it’s possible, we are speaking about child molestation here. To me, it’s like claiming you are a fan of Hitler’s art. There is a huge difference between being a fan of the work of someone you believe is a child molester (and supporting him by buying his disc) and being a fan of a drug addict.

    1. Yes, it’s a very big difference to continue liking an artist’s music and supporting them even if they are, say, an alcoholic or drug addict (which as I pointed out, would include just about every one in the music industry at some point or other) and a child molestor. The fact is, most of Michael’s fans-myself included-believe he was innocent. But then you have those doubters who will say, “Maybe he was or maybe he wasn’t; it doesn’t matter cause all I care about is the music.” Or the ones who will say, “Well, I hate MJ but I still like his music” (all of these being lines I’ve actually heard). I think it’s a barrier of separation they set up; a way of distancing themselves from the man when in reality, instead of setting up this barrier, they should tear down that wall and maybe allow themselves to know Michael Jackson the man a little better.

      But it’s also not “just” about the allegations. The fact is, there are simply a lot of people who have been so brainwashed by the media and the tabloids that even if they believe Michael was innocent, they still see him as a freak/addict/self-loathing black man, etc., etc (take your pick). How many times have you probably heard someone say something like this: “I really like his music, but man, that guy was weird.” I know I have, too many times to count!

      Just as an example, we all know about the comments that Gene Simmons has made. Yet Gene agreed to be part of the tribute show in Cardiff until the promotors rightfully caved in to fan pressure and axed Kiss from the lineup. When Simmon’s son was interviewed, he said his dad had no problem with the idea of doing the show, despite the things he’s said, because he still loves Michael’s music (actually, I suspect ol’ Gene was probably just desperate for the cash) but Gene Simmons is another one of those who goes around insisting that he “loves the music, but hates the man.” Now when you hear a statement like that coming from The (Forked) Tongued One, it really starts to hit home just how ludicrous and hypocritical it sounds.

      I used to like a lot of Kiss’s early stuff back in the day. But I won’t listen to them now. I can’t listen to them without thinking of how sickened I was by Gene Simmon’s comments; for me, my disgust with this man is now synonymous with the music. So there you have it. I can’t separate the art from the man behind it;therefore, I will never listen to another Kiss record again.

      Conversely, I have “liked” Michael Jackson’s music for most of my life. But I only came to truly “love” it when I discovered who Michael-the Man-was. I love the music precisely because I am able to love the man behind it. But yes, if I really thought he was guilty of molesting children, I know I would see it quite differently.

      That’s why I don’t quite get those who claim that they can believe he was guilty but still love the music. I mean, really…Heal The World, Man In The Mirror, We Are The World…could we ever really listen to those songs ever again if we knew in our hearts that this man had violated children? I know I couldn’t!

      But like you said, even if the VERY worst thing anyone can say is that he was a drug addict, or was eccentric, or had too many surgeries-etc etc-then, yeah, so what? None of that matters when we are talking about arguably the greatest entertainer and one of the greatest songwriters of our time.

    2. @shelly

      It not possible what exactly? For people to like Michael’s music without liking him or not carring about his personal bussines? Is very possible, actually. There are a lot of people out there who don’t like Michael as a person, find him bizzare and some of them might actually think that he may have done things to kids, but still like his music,still buy his cd’s etc. Let me give you an example:Roman Polanski, contrary to Michael, was guilty of child molestation. People still watch his movies, still cite him as one of the greatest directors of all time. Shall i give other examples? Elvis Presley? R-Kelly,etc etc?

  2. I, too, have always liked Michael’s music. But, knowing about the man behind the music makes me love Michael’s music. Michael = Music. Many times, Michael could not adequately verbalize his meaning in an interview. I always say to people that Michael spoke the best through his music and lyrics. If you really listen to both, you will never misunderstand who he really was. It is all there if you open your mind, ears, and, above all, your heart. And, sometimes I think that is at the heart of it: Was Michael to good to be true? Not possible? But, he really was.

  3. I can’t speak for anyone but myself but I wouldn’t know how to separate Michael the artist, from Michael the man. What lived inside Michael–a deep and intense sensitivity, uncanny timing, appreciation for beauty in all things, and the ability to feel and express music and rhythm with such freedom and joy, etc., IS Michael Jackson, the man, the flesh and blood human being. While it is understandably impossible for the truly educated and steadfastly loyal fan to ever imagine him committing any wrongdoing as vile as what he was twice accused of, our inability to believe that is not enough to sway the haters. Many of them would never concede they were wrong because it would involve too much embarrassment and fear of being closed-minded.

    I just started chapter 5 of Joe Vogel’s book. It’s about the HIStory album. The quote Joe used to begin the chapter expresses with such clarity how people could understand who he was and what he ws feeling when he created his music…”I’m not planning to write another book anytime soon. If you want to know how I feel, you can check out HIStory. It’s a musical book.” ~ Michael Jackson, Simulcahat, 1995

    Michael was complex, eccentric and utterly fascinating. And when you really listen to his music, it’s impossible to separate the artist from the man. How do you separate the wave from the ocean?

    Intriguing topic!

  4. “Well, I hate MJ but I still like his music”

    Yes, but usually except for Thriller they know nothing about his music. They aren’t fans of his music.

    As for Gene Simmons, his son said his father was judging MJ with what he saw on TV and I think he had to justify why Kiss was doing the tribute. Kiss did a terrible video about MJ a few years ago.

    1. Yeah, that vid was what really motivated me to get behind the boycott of the Cardiff show (at least until Kiss was removed). It also showed that it wasn’t just Gene but the whole band who felt that way (obviously, or they wouldn’t have participated in it). I know that in the heavy metal community there was always some gentle ribbing when it came to Michael Jackson, but generally, most of them when you got right down to it respected Michael’s artistry. I think Kiss did this video primarily in an effort to appeal to the macho faction of their audience, but it really backfired because it just made them look like immature A-holes.

  5. Hi Raven:

    Very interesting post as usual. Personally, I cannot separate the man from the artist. Each of us are different, of course, so I guess it’s just a matter of what you are comfortable with. Since I believe that Michael was an innoncent man relentlessly preyed upon by opportunists, and feel 100% confident in loving him for the brilliant, exceptional man and artist he was, it is very easy for me.

    After reading the comments, what GTF said really struck me. I love some of Roman Polanski’s movies (Rosemary’s Baby, The Ninth Gate), but to be honest, when I watch them, Roman Polanski does not enter my mind. Maybe it depends on what form the artist presents himself. With Michael, he is his art, so it is difficult to separate them. With Polanski, he presents his film, without his physical presence on the screen – so maybe in that regard one can separate the man and the artist. If you don’t see them or hear their voice – it is easier to separate them. Just speaking for myself that is true. But for someone like Michael, whose lyrics are his own thoughts to his audience, I find it impossible to separate them. This is really interesting – a lot of food for thought!

  6. I also cannot separate the man from music/movies. If Michael had been guilty of molesting children, I would not support him in any way, certainly not listen to his music. I saw Rosemary’s Baby when I was a kid (yes, I snuck and saw it LOL) I didn’t know about Polanski’s crime. Once I found out that he was a child rapist, I have never watched his movies again. And I’m with you Raven. I used to have Kiss on my Ipod, but deleted all his music and gave away the albums I had because of his comments about MJ. I also will not listen to Chris Rock because of his awful comedy skits against MJ.

    BTW regarding rock/heavy metal artists and MJ, I have actually heard more male rock bands doing MJ covers. Northern Kings has done They Don’t Really Care About Us, the Bates have a cover of Billie Jean, and I have heard covers of speed metal groups doing Beat It and Thriller. (You can find them all on You Tube) I have not heard of any pop or R&B covers of MJ songs since his death. I’m still scratching my head at this.

  7. Raven, I had never seen that Kiss video, just awful, and there have been some films even after Michael’s death that portrayed him terribly, like Death at a Funeral. Of course it seems I was always aware of Michael’s music and the man himself; however, after his death I really started listening to the lyrics, which were oftentimes overshadowed by his dynamic dancing performances. The lyrics speak volumes about the man and so I find it impossible to separate the man from his music. I believe Michael Jackson WAS his music. One pretty much received an accurate picture of what was going on in his life at a particular time by the lyrics he composed and sang, and he was not afraid to divulge his happiness or his torment. Those of us who never, ever believed the lies and distortions and who have done our homework know the soul and big heart of this wonderful irreplaceable man. No not for one minute could I separate the man, the artist, or the humanitarian from his music, nor should it be allowed to occur.

  8. Happy New Year Raven! I tried to fwd u the emails I shared with u for ur head-to-toe series…but the email bounced. Can u pls gimme ur current email ID?

    Thank u.

  9. Besides this song being istuixeqe, Michael is istuixeqe in the video .. and the choreography is istuixeqe. This is a video that is lovely to watch over and over.Miss you king.

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