Hear No Evil: Why I’d listen to Wagner but not Morrissey

After our post on banned music on monday I was thinking about whether or not I self-censor (if that’s possible) the music I listen to. Do I deliberately not listen to music by people with abhorrent views? After some deliberation my conclusion was that whilst I would go to a Wagner concert I wouldn’t do the same for Morrissey.

(Firstly for all those Morrissey apologists, anyone who describes any nationality as a subspecies is, in my books, a racist)

Wagner was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a racist. His 1850 diatribe ‘Jewishness in Music’ is anti-semitic bile that damns Jewish culture in general and Jewish composers as inconsequential, if not seditious. Even today, an Israeli orchestra playing his works is newsworthy for the BBC.

Such opposition is common enough for Larry David to be able to lampoon it:

But should we not perform his works, or listen to his music because he was a racist? The reasons such self-censorship would probably be that, in some way, his music, and especially his operas, express his anti-Semitism or that by performing him we are giving him a platform and an acceptability that he does not deserve. Whilst it is probably true that several characters in his operas do play on Jewish stereotypes (such as the Nibelungs in the Ring cycle) there are no characters that are specifically labelled as ‘Jewish’. Objecting to his operas on this ground cannot extend to concert, orchestral performances of his works such as the one in the BBC clip above.

The argument that performing his works in someway legitimises the man and his opinions is objected to by saying that we can, to some degree, separate the works from the man. Certainly his music has had a long reaching musical-historical significance that stretches beyond the man himself. We can enjoy, appreciate or recognise the significance of the work as independent of the man himself. Playing his music does not give his views acceptability. We could even argue that an Israeli orchestra playing his works at the Bayreuth festival could be read as a two-fingers up to Wagner’s anti-semitic legacy.

The Morrissey-ites should by now, hopefully, be accusing me of double-standards. The crucial difference, as I see it, between Wagner and Morrissey is that the former is dead and the latter is not. Or rather the crucial difference is that one is still earning whilst the other is not. My opposition to Morrissey is essentially an economic boycott rather than an a musical one. If someone were to start playing me a Morrissey song I wouldn’t smash the offending guitar for being a vehicle of hatred. I’m perfectly happy for Morrissey cover bands to exist, as long as they’re not paying him. In the same way we might boycott a big company in an effort for it to change its practices, I will never buy a Morrissey cd, or attend one of his concerts until he changes his tune (if you’ll pardon the pun).

5 thoughts on “Hear No Evil: Why I’d listen to Wagner but not Morrissey

  1. Wagner was no different from many of his contemporaries at the time, Europe has long been anti-semitic. Of course I am not an apologist for Wagner nor would I disagree with your argument here, I wonder though how history will view Morrisey, or if indeed it will bother.

    • your probably right about wagner and his contemporaries. it’s probably wagner’s anti-semitic legacy (hitler’s favourite composer etc) and the almost devotional following he attracted that really makes him stand out.

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