Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

Separating art from artist

Given that they’ve just released a new album - and it’s a swoon-worthily terrific one - I’d quite like to claim that The National can do no wrong.

This of course, is the blatantest of blatant lies.

And because Trouble Will Find Me is so very great - so much so that even after several dozen listens it can still deliver near-foetal position melancholy - obviously I’m compelled to publicly articulate that the album might be perfect but the band themselves are not.

Sure, I could present a convincing case that The National’s wrongs all stem from how they both establish my unending penchant for brooding men in their 40s and provide the soundtrack for when it inevitably falls apart. Though, the writer in me doesn’t really see this as a problem.

The wrong of The National is, in fact, the same wrong of every artist: that they are real people. Flesh and blood real. And when they’re real, when they’re out in the real world and being all real and doing real things then they are prone to remind us of their foibles and failings.

And here lies my lesson on the importance of separating work product from personality and why it should only ever be about the art.

Source: Karl Walter/Getty Images North America.

My brother describes The National’s lead singer as “too cultivated”. That his look, apparently, seems excessively manicured. Maybe. But hipsters know not what they do.

I’m much less worried about the excess of their hair product and much more so about the havoc they wreak when let loose with a live audience.

Boston, 2011. I saw The National play at the Bank of America Pavilion. An audience of kinda-sad looking men in their 40s - yes, yes, “hunk heaven” - and it was fabulous. They played England, I cried. They played Sorrow, I cried.

And I got to discover Wye Oak who were supporting them. Fantastic. (Less so, Yo Lo Tengo, but that’s another story).

Wye Oak “Civilian” (2011)

It was only at the very end when it got awful. During the encore, that possibly-overly-styled lead singer, Matt Berninger, decided to - I kid you not - crowd-walk.

Arms spread - just to add insult to injury - he walked around the audience on the arms/hands/shoulders of fans. To say I was mortified put it mildly.

I listen to you because you’re not Bono. WTF are you doing?

Of course, separating-art-from-artist has long been my mantra. Which is why I can still appreciate Chinatown even though Polanski is a sketchy bastard.

It’s why I think it’s essential that we separate footballer from off-field antics and separate politicians from their extra-curricular hanky-panky fuck-ups. It’s why I’ve never ever understood the appeal of those imaginary dinner parties with dead famous people.

It can never end well.

And Berninger’s crowd walk crime reminded me again that I might love the music of The National, but that the men involved are just ordinary people with ordinary egos and ordinary awfulness and most notably, very ordinary ways to douse our love.

It has to be all about the music. All about the film. The writing. Because who could possibly ever meet the ridiculously high standards we hold entertainers to?

Which is precisely why I will, of course, both a) see The National perform later this year and b) ensure that my arms are folded and my face clearly projects “uh-uh, Sonny Jim”. Lest any crowd-walkin’ redux transpires.

The National - “Demons” (2013)