Will #metoo Come for Rock Music?
By Wil Forbis
Riddle me this, kidlets! If someone walked up to you in 2008 and said, "In a decade, one of these two professions will be rife with charges of sexual harassment and assault: rock music or literary fiction," which would you have picked?
Or, to ask it another way (again, ten years past): "Who is most likely to have their career clobbered by charges of sexual harassment: award winning poet and novelist Sherman Alexie or Motley Crue vocalist Vince Neil?"
And yet here we are. We live in a world where numerous vocations are roiling from allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. In broadcast journalism we've seen stalwarts such as Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer fall. In film and television we've watched Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, Louis C.K. and Morgan Freeman wither. Famous chefs, orchestra conductors, scientists, politicians and church leaders have had their legacies forever soiled. No profession seems safe from having the men in its midst exposed as sexual predators of one sort or another.
Well, actually one does: rock musician.
This seems odd, no? When you think of rock, especially pre-2000, you think of sweaty, testosteronated young men, often high on booze and drugs, surrounded by hordes of women. Such an environment seems the perfect set up for rampant sexual harassment if not outright rape. And yet the rock world has remained largely immune to such allegations.
There have been a few dim reports, mostly against bands you've never heard of. Generation Y musicians such as Jesse Lacey of Brand New, Matt Mondanile of Real Estate, singer Alex Cader, and Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM had their careers ended when various allegations of sexual abuse and misbehavior surfaced. But, being that I'd never heard of these guys until the allegations appeared, I argue they didn't have much in the way of careers to begin with. (Here's a longer list of accused rock musicians in rock bands you've (mostly) never heard of.)
Now, there are plenty of "big players" for whom stories of statutory rape and other crimes are common knowledge. Consider that...
20-something Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page had a sexual relationship with groupie Lori Maddox when she was 13 or 14.
Rolling Stone Bill Wyman courted (and eventually married) a 13 year old girl when he was 47.
John Lennon freely admitted to hitting women.
David Bowie had sex with teenage girls, as young as 13.
Steven Tyler took guardianship a 16 year old groupie to have legal cover to be with her.
But none of these events ever generated much outrage. Perhaps it's because they took place decades ago when sexual mores were different. And perhaps it's because these activities had at least the appearance of consent. (No one, as far as I know, is accusing these musicians of using force or threats.)
Still, Roman Polanski was accused of pretty much the same thing as Bowie, Tyler and Page and he had to flee the country. For some reason rock musicians avoid condemnation for their actions. Why? Let's consider a few possibilities.
Possibility #1: Rock stars get enough sex for free
This argument assumes that we aren't hearing stories of sexual abuse in the rock world because no such abuse occurs. One can envision a sleazy, tattooed, middle-aged Keith Richards lookalike saying that rock musicians don't need to rape or harass women because "we get our chicks for free, man." This argument presumes that groupie culture is so willing to provide sexual services to rock stars that they have no need of employing more aggressive methods. And, if you've ever read a rock star biography or spent anytime on the fringes of the rock world, you've probably fumed at the easy access rock stars have to women. (I certainly have.)
But that argument doesn't really pass the smell test. At a bare minimum, it's universally acknowledged that the classic groupie culture of the 1960s-80s included a copious amount of teenage girls (as noted earlier) and we now generally agree that teenhood is not an age where one is capable of meaningful sexual consent*. Surely that should generate some outrage, however belated.
*I want to go on record here and say that figuring out the exact age when an individual can make a decision about sexual consent is tricky business. I freely admit that there are teens who engage in sexual relations with other teens or older adults and suffer few or no ill effects. My opinions on the subject generally align with those expressed in this Slate article.
The argument also fails a basic understanding of human psychology. Some men, given free sex by the truckload might be placated and not search out more, but others, emboldened by their status, would likely presume any women they desire owes then something. They might even seek out the "challenge" of an unwilling woman. (You know the type.)
In short, it's hard to believe there are only a few instances of sexual harassment or rape in rock music's past.
Possibility #2: In the rock world, victims of sexual crimes don't talk
In this theory, we presume there are plenty of victims but they aren't coming forward. And why would they? Your average victim would likely be someone who's spent years in rock subculture, doing drugs and freely having sex with musicians. Then one day a rocker crosses the line. That woman would justifiably wonder whether anyone would be sympathetic to her case. Her victimizer, probably well-lawyered, could employ the old "you can't rape a slut" defense.
Comparing this hypothetical rock music victim with the known victims in the media and academic world offers added illumination. The kinds of women harassed or abused by Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Harvey Weinstein were educated and professional. The women harassed by rock stars are likely less educated, less white collar and less likely to be listened to.
This theory offers part of an answer. But I suspect there's more.
Possibility #3: Rock music is protected because it's part of the counter-culture.
Here's my suspicion: even though it's 2018 and we all understand that rock music is controlled by corporate entities out to make a buck (and has been for decades) we still think there's something rebellious about it. We still think it stands in opposition to the "squares" and "the mainstream." This narrative is especially prominent in the world of progressives who are the main drivers of the whole #metoo movement. (Conservatives, of course, have been complaining about rock and roll debauchery for at least 50 years.)
Related to this is the narrative that rock musicians are Dionysian seekers of truth; flamboyant revolutionaries who answer to a higher calling and cannot be bound to the rules of ordinary society. Charlie Rose was a stooge in a suit but but David Bowie was the 20th century's Lord Byron. Matt Lauer was an establishment mouthpiece but Jimmy Page was rock and roll incarnate.
Intellectually, I think we all understand that these assessments of rock musicians are pure horseshit. Still, somewhere below the surface, the myths persist.
(Also connected is the fact that most of us relate rock music to our teenhood, a period often saturated in dreamy-eyed idealism and na´vetÚ. To acknowledge that some the heroes of our youth were letches is, well, it's kind of a bummer, man.)
So what does the future hold? Will #metoo come for rock? I suspect that in the next few years we will see some heads put on stakes, but not the way we have in other vocations. There's something about holding rock musicians accountable that doesn't sit well with many. Because, while we respect our prominent politicians, businessmen or media figures, we worship our rock stars.
Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - firstname.lastname@example.orgVisit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.