Wagner is a total dick, but still…

Richard Wagner

“…and unleavened bread is gross, and I don’t like those hats they wear at church, and the shofar needs valves, and who wants to stay in Egypt anyway, and I’ll bet they had more oil than they thought, and…

The intersection of a cultural personality and the world around them is an interesting thing. I, like most people (I suspect), find people like Sean Penn, George Clooney, Ted Nugent, and Kelsey Grammer incredibly obnoxious when they’re espousing their political beliefs that I don’t give a shit about. Even Alec Baldwin, who I find hilarious and who is a massive Mahler fan and the announcer for the NYPO radio broadcasts, is a giant douche when talking politics. I thought Green Day’s American Idiot was retarded, if only because I don’t think we should be taking our cues on real world situations from the guys who brought us lyrics like:

Sit around and watch the phone, but no one’s calling Call me pathetic, call me what you will
My mother says to get a job But she don’t like the one she’s got When masturbation’s lost its fun You’re fucking lonely
Bite my lip and close my eyes Take me away to paradise I’m so damn bored I’m going blind And loneliness has to suffice
Bite my lip and close my eyes I was slipping away to paradise Some say, “Quit or I’ll go blind.” But it’s just a myth

Yes, now tell me what ails our nation!

There are some people who boycott these artists, taking the holier-than-thou stance that they should keep their mouths shut and the only way to do that is to make them less famous, as if a couple thousand people not paying to see The Descendants is somehow going to make Clooney wake up and say, “Holy shit, maybe I need to just focus on my craft!” I know a couple people who started boycotting Morgan Freeman when they found out that he was fucking his own step-granddaughter (RELAX, PEOPLE, THEY’RE NOT GONNA GET MARRIED!)

This brings us to Wagner, who is without question the all-time champion if you were to add up genius points and hate-a-bility points into an index I would call “Fuck That Guy, But I Mean Tristan and Isolde, Right?” system. He was anti-Semite of the worst non-Hitler variety, he basically jacked people for money throughout his entire life, he nailed other people’s wives including those who had done him great service in his career (in fairness, Hans von Bulow was an asshole too), he looked like a frontiersman but wore ascots, he was short, and I really can’t stress enough how much of anti-Semite he was. Read his essays – they’re profoundly disturbing.

But I mean Tristan and Isolde, right?

The truth is the list of artists that are truly “unobjectionable” is slimmer than we might imagine. They’re a crazy lot. What’s wrong with banging my step-granddaughter? Didn’t you see Shawshank and Lean On Me? I like Morgan Freeman’s movies as much as the next person. I’m more than a little creeped out by a 70-something-year-old dude boning someone from his own family (not blood, but still…I have a step family and an adopted sister, and uh………….that shit is gross). You’ve got to separate the person from the art. If you don’t, you’re going to miss out on something truly life-altering.

The people of Israel went down that road with Wagner. It’s hard to blame them in some sense, but they missed a lot of opportunities to be moved beyond words by a man who, in spite of his almost absurd list of flaws, was still given a gift that few if any other people in human history can claim to have even equalled. I don’t want to miss out on something great because of something unrelated to that great thing. Is Parsifal only great because it’s SO Christian because it’s SO not Jewish because Wagner was SO anti-Jew? Fuck if I know, but whatever it is, it worked, so ultimately I don’t care. I’ll continue to enjoy Wagner’s operas (and excerpts) and loathe his personality and opinions. That’s OK with me.

With that in mind, here’s a little music from Parsifal to test our resolve. Try not to think this is totally awesome, I dare you. Oh, and also: Bruno Fucking Walter.


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