Those We Keep Close
Loyalty is often touted as one of the most important virtues one can embody. From birth, as americans, we are indoctrinated into the cult of loyalty--loyalty to one's country as we recite a literal pledge of allegiance beginning from before we know what even the parts of that sum means, loyalty to ones family through culture and adolescent deification of celluloid mafiosos, loyalty to ones friends, brand loyalty, IP loyalty...the list is a a relatively brief, but surprisingly influential one.
But no one ever seems to speak about when loyalty goes bad--when you have hitched your wagon to a horse that no longer aligns with your morals. Every day by turns, each of these strata of loylaty are tested. By a country gone off the rails, by relationships that do us harm, by heroes that show themselves to be devils in one way or another.
And always is that pesky problem of loyalty. Of which there has been a massive convergence of these issues all at once in the last couple weeks.
The other week I went to Bleeding Through's reunion show. Amid they're crushing return, which, for the most part, was exactly as much fun as anyone would have expected. That band has earned it's stripes and then some. They have a good reputation, an adoring fanbase, and any cursory interactions or observations I've had with individual members have always been pleasant if not outright friendly. Word on the street is that, by and large, these are good people. In the final seconds before their final songs of the night, Bleeding Through vocalist Brandan Schieppati was throwing some shout outs. Most were your typical fair--friends and family and fiancees--but it was the last which struck a sour chord that, for me, dampened the entire night as a whole and set my brain off on a whirlwind of ruminations--"Our friend Tim in As I Lay Dying."
For those that don't know, As I Lay Dying are...or were...the preeminent name in metalcore. Essentially as good as that genre could ever get, and easily its most commercially successful, while maintaining true to the sound. Six years ago frontman Tim Lambesis, a self-professed christian, attempted to hire a hitman to kill his wife over problems surrounding their divorce and visitation rights over their kids. Because he had made comments regarding his intentions loudly enough at his gym, good policework had it set up that the hitman he attempted to hire was in fact an undercover cop and he was summarily arrested and imprisoned. While he didnt serve his full time and was instead released to parole, he also managed to remarry (a new person), and send several, supposedly heartfelt, apologies to family, friends, and fans.
The band, as of this week, reformed with its original line up, played their first show in their hometown of San Diego to a sold out crowd, and released a new song.
And many people, as with Bleeding Through and then band's fans, feel a sense of loyalty to As I Lay Dying. They feel Mr. Lambesis did his time and their loyalty to the music or the band dictates that they stand behind this dubious figure. But, as they say, there's the rub.
This is coming off the previous weeks where Kanye West's acting out got people up in arms before he dropped a new record and everyone forgot him being an absolute jerk. This is the week before XXXTentacion, an already contentious figure in the rap community for the fact that he beat his pregnant girlfriend, was shot and killed Monday and his streaming numbers soared. It should be no surprise to anyone that we have a culture that more than forgives but, in fact rewards abusers--look no further than our current rapist-in-chief.
But Hardcore, I thought, was supposed to be different. Liam Geary of the band Degrader, summed it up best for me (a mutual friend sent me this after we talked about the Bleeding Through show)
Often times the hardcore/metal community holds up a standard for who we allow to participate. Vocalists constantly banter on stage about acceptance in the scene and making the community a safer place for people of all sorts. As a community on social medias we out racists, we out homophobic/transphobic behavior, we out rapists, and we out people that jeopardize the virtues that we are constantly building and maintaining. Within this very year, bands that I know personally have disbanded because of being outed for poor behavior.
Then Tim Lambesis gets out of jail, drops a song, and suddenly everything that we worked so hard to build goes out the fucking window. The disappointment this makes me feel is outstanding. People I consider my friends out here saying that they don't care that THIS GUY TRIED TO FUCKING KILL SOMEONE.
Imagine if Tim Lambesis was an athlete or a politician or an actor. There is literally no way in hell that society would allow him to return to a position of influence, so why do we as a community give him the pass? Yes he was given a sentence and yes he served it and yes he does deserve a second chance at life. But the second chance is life itself. This man is allowed to be a part of society again, but we're going to allow him to be a man of influence? That just doesn't sit right with me morally.
The bottom line is if you can accept what Tim has done and continue to support him and his musical career, then it says A LOT about who you are as a person, and it doesn't say anything good.
This could not be more on the money. Hardcore in the last several years has gone through a shift--one perhaps more accelerated but very influenced by our culture at large. The Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements are essential, important tools of change that are both products of a greater change and catalysts of a hopeful further one. Geary could not be more right--where we place our loyalty and where we dedicate our time in this increasingly attention-based economy says something profound about us.
So what to do? Beyond individual choice, there is something to be said for creating a culture that no longer allows for the possibility of rewarding abusers on such a mass scale. Where individuals can certainly choose to, but are disinclined to do so--a word that we have heard a lot about in terms of its trampling by those in power--a norm.
Spotify came up with an interesting solution that I thought cleverly navigated through the razor thin line between creation of a cultural norm and freedom of speech and choice, which was to simply remove egregious abusers (the aforementioned and recently deceased XXXTentacion as well as R. Kelly) from their highlighted playlists--the places they see the most amount of traffic and certainly a way people discover new artists. That saw a precipitous drop in X's streams, impacting his bottom line. There was, however, an outcry over this--people argued that there was a slippery slope problem as well as making it too easy to target artists of color. As a result, Spotify was forced to walk back their policy and essentially scuttle it altogether, replacing X (though R. Kelly, I believe, remains list-less). As far as companies go, however, this I am not sure there is a better option for creating policy around these issues.
If companies and corporations and the culture at large stops rewarding abusers, perhaps instances of individuals rewarding them will decline. If Spotify instead expanded their policy (though it does rub into the issue of who sees the benefits of streams, or which members deserve to be singled out) to encompass more bands, of which we in the hardcore community can certainly name a few, as Mr. Geary pointed out, and furthermore elevated bands and artists on the opposite side of the line, those who are actually great role models and heroes--thus we have somehwere to start.
This is all not to say that individuals are incapable of redemption or undeserving of forgiveness...but As I Lay Dying's reformation seems more due to loyalty among friends and fans and a need for a steady viable income for artists (as, sadly, Wovenwar never seemed to reach the same heights as As I Lay Dying) than about actual penance. Their apology video spoke about forgiveness in abstract or referred to previous apologies. I don't believe there has been any word of the former Mrs. Lambesis' or her children's forgiveness, and the band has yet to demonstrate publicly real grappling with the issues they are throwing themselves at the forefront of. They could tour or raise money for victims of domestic abuse, they could speak at highschool or with kids on the edge and raise awareness about domestic violence, they could scare people off the path, they could preach about compassion for others rather than simply trying to secure it for themselves. They are at an important point where they could lead as an example. Rather than shrug their shoulders and say "some people will never give us a chance again and we accept that," a lazy response to the situation if I have heard one, they could instead work actively on that penance and forgiveness.
As consumers we have the option to make a simple choice--listen or not, pay for the ticket or not, wear their merch or not. Bleeding Through's position is a bit more nuanced, if indeed friends of Mr. Lambesis they are. It's easy to say they should cut off ties with Mr. Lambesis, but may of us maintain relationships with individuals whose morals we question or who run against our own. In many cases those people are among the most important to us. Furthermore, what can we do against the sheer magnitude of the uncaring and unfeeling universe or country at large, against which we feel like powerless individuals? What, then, are we to do? And to that I have no satisfactory answer except to keep doing your best.