The list of men who made great music but were not always great people is expansive

Sable Starr, 14, and Lori Maddox, 14, celebrating John Bonham's 24th birthday.

We are a lucky species, in that we are able to hold more than one thought in our heads at once. We can enjoy films that may not be in line with our political ideology, dance to music created by assholes, and appreciate art made by idiots. In fact, this is mostly what we do all the time. If we didn’t, we would have very few options for entertainment. The reality is that most of our favorite actors, musicians, and artists are… Wait… Maybe you should sit down for this one…

… Kind of stupid.

I’m sorry but it’s true.

I hate listening to radio interviews with actors and musicians I love because they are almost always disappointing idiots. I am exhausted by a culture that desperately wants our celebrities to be everything: intellectuals, political commentators, spiritual guides… It’s ridiculous. Actors are actors, rock stars are rock stars, artists are people who make art. None of these qualities necessarily makes these individuals qualified to do anything more than that. If they happen to be intelligent, political beings on the side, great. But it’s just as rare to find that our idols also share our ethics and politics as it is to find this in any other very wealthy narcissist.

This reality is compounded when we’re talking about male stars. This is because we live in a misogynist society that not only teaches men that women are not so much full human beings deserving of respect, but that women are more like cars or fancy watches: things that are more easily acquired with fame and fortune. “Money, power, women” is the male American dream and it’s one that treats commodities as priorities and women as among those commodities.

Wholly interconnected to this is rape culture — that thing where sexualized violence and male entitlement to sexual access to women is so normalized that even what we understand to be “consensual” sex is steeped in the same values. Sex is something men “get,” through whatever means possible and, when they succeed in “getting” said sex, they are congratulated, made to feel powerful and virile — like real men — rather than punished.

Knowing all this, is it any real shock that so many of our favorite male artists and entertainers turn out to be abusive dirtbags? I don’t say this to excuse men’s behaviour — this is not a “boys will be boys” argument, rather it’s an argument that says: Don’t idolize your idols. Particularly when they are men. Rock stars are not gods. And when it turns out that your favorite comedian, director, or musician is a rapist or an abuser, try not to let idolization fog that reality. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to unlike whatever music that man created or forget the ways in which that art impacted your life or created a soundtrack for your formative years, but it also doesn’t mean you ignore the truth about these men, simply because it makes your desire to bask peacefully in the warm glow of nostalgia more difficult.

On that note, here is a list of men who created what many consider to be great music who were not necessarily great people:

1) Jimmy Page kidnapped 14-year-old Lori Maddix and raped her. (We’re all aware that kidnapping a 14 year old and having sex with her never counts as “consensual,” right?)

2) John Lennon openly admitted that he beat women in his younger years.

3) James Brown was an extremely violent abuser who beat his second wife, Deirdre Jenkins, to a pulp on a regular basis. She wasn’t the only one. His third wife, Adrienne Rodriguez, had him arrested four times on charges of assault and in 2005 a woman named Jacque Hollander accused him of raping her in 1988.

4) Um, Michael Jackson…

5) Miles Davis beat his wives regularly, by his own admission.

6) Rolling Stones guitarist, Bill Wyman, “dated” 13 year old Mandy Smith when he was 47, eventually marrying her.

7) In 1993, Tupac was arrested for sexually abusing a 19-year-old-woman. From the sounds of it, he participated in a gang-rape with three of his friends. (This is a tough one for me, I’ll be honest…)

8) Sid Vicious abused Nancy Spungen and was charged with her murder.

9) Chuck Berry was convicted of transporting a 14-year-old Indigenous girl across state lines for sex.

10) Ozzy Osbourne tried to kill his wife (and was subsequently arrested for domestic abuse) in 1989.

11) Iggy Pop had sex with “baby groupie,” Sable Starr, when she was 13.

12) Dr. Dre beat up two women in the 90s.

13) It’s common knowledge that Ike Turner viciously abused Tina Turner while they were together.

14) Elvis Presley began pursuing Priscilla Presley when he was 24-years-old and she was only 14. Looking back on their relationship, she said, “I was someone he created. I was just a kid and I was consumed by him. All I desired was not to disappoint him.”

15) In 1992, Wilson Pickett’s girlfriend, Jean Cusseaux, filed a domestic violence complaint against him.

16) R. Kelly, who some might not consider “great,” but I was a fan and many others are/were too, raped girl after young girl. (He also married Aaliyah when she was 15.)

17) At 27, Steven Tyler convinced 14-year-old Julia Holcomb’s mother to sign over guardian rights to him so he could take her across state lines with him while he was on tour. Of her relationship with Tyler, Holcomb said, “I was subordinate to him as in a parent relationship and felt I had little control over my life.” She also pointed out that Tyler referred to her as “my Little Oral Annie” in his memoir.

18) And finally, Lori Mattix told Thrillist that, in the early ’70s, “[David Bowie] escorted me into the bedroom, gently took off my clothes, and de-virginized me.” She went on:

“Two hours later, I went to check on Sable. She was all fucked up in the living room, walking around, fogging up windows and writing, “I want to fuck David.” I told him what she was doing and that I felt so bad. Bowie said, “Well, darling, bring her in.” That night I lost my virginity and had my first threesome. The next morning, there was banging on the door and it was fucking [Bowie’s wife] Angie.”

This took place when Mattix was around 13 or 14-years-old (some sources say she was 15, but in a vh1 documentary, Mattix says this happened before she was with Jimmy Page (at which point she was only 13 or 14). He also faced rape allegations in 1987.

This list could go on… And while we are free to continue to value and enjoy the music these men produced, the desire to appreciate said music shouldn’t override the truth about rape culture and violence against women that exists behind it. In fact, denying this truth perpetuates the very culture that allowed these abuses to happen in the first place.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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