On September 28, Pinegrove released their second album, Skylight. Pinegrove is a band I like, but one I used to love. Their first record felt tailored to be something I’d be completely obsessed with. Its earnest, emo lyrics and twangy guitars and vocals are extremely my shit. Maybe six weeks ago I realized they were due for another album. After some googling I found a Facebook post from Pinegrove’s lead singer, Evan Stephens Hall, saying he’d been accused of sexual coercion.
As far as #MeToo apologies go, Hall’s falls below Dan Harmon’s but still surpasses Louis C.K.’s “I never showed a woman my dick without asking first” non-apology. Hall’s message is vague and a little confusing, and after reading it I wasn’t sure Pinegrove was still a band.
Then a couple weeks ago, Jenn Pelly published “Reckoning With Pinegrove” on Pitchfork, which detailed the circumstances that led to Hall’s message and why he’d written it the way he did. In short, most of the language he used was borrowed directly from the alleged victim, stating “It was meant as a symbol of respect to have her dictate the language of the conversation.” I don’t think this is wrong, but it seems to place responsibility for the ambiguity on the alleged victim. Wouldn’t it have been equally effective to use the alleged victim’s language and explain what it meant?
Pinegrove is still a band, and Hall claims they never considered breaking up. Instead, they took a year off from touring, and are donating all of the proceeds from Skylight to the Voting Rights Project, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Musicares. The band also agreed to the alleged victim’s request that Pinegrove take a year off from touring and that Hall enter therapy. I finished reading the Pitchfork article still confused, but a quote from Hall really stands out to me:
Skylight is a great record, a major leap forward musically and lyrical from the band’s debut. But it’s harder to listen to knowing all of this. I’ve tried to imagine how I’ll react if Ryan Adams is accused of sexual assault. Would I throw out all of his records? Would I stop listening to him entirely? Perhaps more importantly, would I be able to separate his art, which I adore, from his behavior? I don’t know, and hopefully I won’t have to answer these questions.
I’m not the first person to write about the art vs. artist conundrum. Steven Hyden did so in his Grantland piece “Pied Pipers,” and although it exclusively deals with how we listen to music when its creators have behaved badly, it’s equally applicable to conversations about other media. I was listening to a podcast recently, and one of the hosts addressed this tangentially, saying “Chinatown does not stop being a great movie because Roman Polanski is a monster.” I’m inclined to agree, but the thought of buying a copy of Chinatown, thus supporting Polanski financially, feels very gross. I feel the same way when I think about all of Louis C.K.’s masturbation jokes–jokes that used to make me laugh–but are now so tied to the trauma he inflicted on women. It makes me sick that Louis C.K. continues to “drop in” to perform at New York’s Comedy Cellar, and that so many male comedians fail to understand how deeply wrong that is. In one of the many articles written about those performances, someone was quoted as saying how great C.K.’s set was. The perceived quality of his set is completely beside the point. Expertise or talent is never a reason to forgive someone, especially when that person has shown so little contrition.
For Louis C.K., it’s easy for me to say he should pursue another career out of the public eye. But for Pinegrove? I’d like to hear more music from them. Having said that, after listening to Skylight so heavily after its release I haven’t been able to go back to it. To what degree and how soon do we forgive in situations like this?
Again, I don’t have answers to any of this, but grappling with these questions is important, particularly when it’s difficult to turn on the news without hearing about sexual assault. I’d like to be perfectly clear, however, that the events surrounding Brett Kavanaugh do not fall into the same category of separating a person’s work from their behavior. If someone, anyone, is accused of sexual assault, their ability to be a judge in any courtroom needs to be seriously questioned. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony combined with Kavanaugh’s petulance and hysterics in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee speak to his profound lack of moral fiber, a trait necessary for any judicial position.