Thank you for a balanced and nuanced article on the problem of wanting artists to be “perfect”. (And I’m very glad you’re clear that “perfect” is subjective, or at least, I thought you were.)
One note on my breaking the cultural boycott against South Africa in the 1980s. I have given, and gave, the matter of cultural boycotts a great deal of thought over the course of my life. When the initial offer was made, I looked at lists of other artists who’d played in South Africa, many of them non-white.
I noted that almost all the artists breaking the boycott played in Sun City and other segregated venues. Accordingly, my contract specified integrated venues, hotels, travel etc. The one time a venue tried to get around it (by putting a rope down the centre of the seating area), we refused to unpack until it was fixed and set a guard to watch for further instances that night.
I did not play Sun City, of course. I also offered my band the choice of going with me, or passing, and assured them their jobs would be safe when I returned and played other countries. I’m noting that because my drummer was, in fact, a black American, and he wanted very badly to visit South Africa to see for himself, to discover whether he felt any sense of kinship with the black population there, to find out whether he had any roots in Africa that could be meaningful to him. The rest of the band and crew were white, and I believe between us we had five different religions (which came into play when I decided to tour in Israel around the same time.)
I also wanted to note that I was, afterwards, banned by the UN from working with any artists who belonged to the various unions I was part of. I could not work on television, or radio, for a long time. It was difficult to even work in the studio because of the ban. The UN offered me an alternative, by the way — I was told if I said I hadn’t known about apartheid, they would let it slide. I refused.
I’m not aware of any black artists from the US or England who played segregated venues and were banned for it, though it’s certainly possible there were some. I remember, at the time, thinking how odd that was.
Johnny Clegg was also banned for breaking the cultural boycott, despite being South African and playing with a band comprised of (mainly, I believe) black South Africans.
These many years later, I still get feedback from South African fans who saw me then. Some say it was the first time they’d ever seen blacks and whites on stage together, or seen them interacting as equals. Some say it changed their minds about apartheid as they sat next to people of a different colour.
I apologise for the length of this, but after such a good article, I did want to bring up these other issues. The question of separating the artist from their art is one that comes up regularly on my own Facebook page, whenever I quote certain people. (The comments are often in caps, and have nothing to do with the quote. But I do take a lot of flak for my friendship with Orson Scott Card, or my admiration for Ezra Pound’s editorial skills.) DM