As an artist who has pushed many an envelope in my career, I have been on the receiving end of vicious personal attacks, always disguised as legitimate criticism. Wouldn’t it have to be? If it is admitted to be merely a personal attack, the “criticism” loses all credibility or ability to be taken even remotely seriously. I get that…But would any of you think that Bruce Springsteen has recently had to face the same type of personal attacks — not from a critic – but from his own audience that paid to see him perform live?
What really shocked me, more than the hits I’ve taken, is a blog entry I just read a few days ago, which talked about how Bruce Springsteen used to get booed at his own concerts by his own fans who paid a lot of money to see him during the Bush years. This was because Bruce’s political views were the opposite of the Bush administration’s, and when he would voice his own political views or sing songs that represented them, HIS audience loudly expressed their disapproval and booed him, as Bruce’s audience obviously endorsed the politics of Bush and all he stood for at the time.
So it goes to show that anyone who has ever created any kind of art gets attacked, even blue collar regular guy everyman Bruce Springsteen, (not just someone wearing old ladies’ one piece bathing suits and sprinkling audiences with authentic blessed Catholic holy water like me). I felt empathy for Bruce, especially because this was HIS audience doing this, not just some critic.
One personal attack I recall vividly happened back in early 1978 when a Chicago writer named David Witz unleashed a scathing story on Skafish in the Chicago Reader entitled: The Importance of Fleeing Skafish. In it, he begged and pleaded with people to stop coming to my performances, because he was afraid that the worst of all possible things could happen, which was that I would continue to represent Chicago to the rest of the world as I had already been doing and ruin Chicago’s reputation. Wow, I thought I was only disgracing my own family name, but I guess I was also actually disgracing the name of one of the biggest cities in the world, lol! Obviously, David Witz didn’t like who I was and felt threatened by the fact that I was the first and only Chicago punk/new wave/alternative/indie artist back then who was able to take it to the national and international stage.
He wrote that real punks couldn’t stand me, which is why I guess I’ve performed multiple dates with The Ramones, Iggy Pop, The Stranglers and that Sid Vicious came specifically to see me play in New York. Obviously, none of them are real punks, lol.
In the story, he claimed that my band could literally only play one chord together which is hysterical, as my drummer Larry Mysliwiec had a Bachelor’s Degree in percussion from De Paul University and went on to play for Iggy Pop. My bassist Greg Sarchet went on to receive a Master’s Degree from the Julliard School of Music in New York, which is one of most prestigious music schools in the world. He now plays for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and is simply of the greatest bassists in the world. David Prochazka, my keyboardist then, was highly classically trained and could have established a strong classical music career had he chosen to do so.
Witz tried to say that my value as an artist was merely that I couldn’t decide whether I was a 12 year fat ugly boy or a 12 year old fat ugly girl. But he didn’t stop there. He quoted lyrics sung by Debbie Harry of Blondie that had nothing to do with me and implied that these lyrics: “A case of partial extremes” were actually written about me, as if to say that Debbie Harry was dissing me in one of her songs—which is not only completely untrue, but a false way of Witz vicariously trying to back up his points. Debbie Harry and Blondie’s song clearly had absolutely nothing to do with me.
But here’s the best part: David Witz actually wrote that when I played with the Dead Boys in Chicago, they were clicking their switchblades backstage and said about me, “Get that God Damn faggot out of here.” But guess what? Neither of those things happened. There were no switchblades and no one calling me a “God Damn faggot.” Keep in mind that this was well before the days of political correctness, so Witz could easily get away with saying such a thing back then which he couldn’t do as easily now.
I have to say that the David Witz piece was the most vicious story I’ve ever read about any artist, (pardon me for calling myself one, lol) with possibly the exception of a Lester Bangs review of David Bowie when he did his Young Americans album and tour in the mid 1970’s. In that article, Bangs repeatedly referred to David as Dave as a way of colloquiallizing his name to make Bowie look like some average regular Joe as opposed to the great artist he is. Bangs also described Bowie as being like Johnny Ray on Cocaine, singing about “1984.” (Johnny Ray was a 1950’s era torch singer who had a huge hit with the song Cry, and was known for actually crying during his performances.)
And, as it is with most people, they feel better after they’ve unloaded on you. When someone punches someone else, rarely does the person who unloaded the blow feel sad, guilty or fearful. They feel triumphant like a boxer who’s celebrating knocking someone else out as they got to release whatever their pent up issues are on a receiving target and “get away with it.” It goes without saying that David Witz and people like him feel no cognitive remorse for what they do, because through their attacks, they experience an energetic release and a false feeling of validation, superiority and dominance.
So as the story goes, Witz didn’t ruin my career as he intended to, I ended up getting an international record deal, am alive and well, still doing what I’ve been doing since I was 6 years old and only wish David Witz all the blessings of life, truly.
But I get it. I have always been willing to go way further out on a limb as an artist than most others on many levels, so I have learned to expect that kind of attack – forever disguised as legitimate, perceptive and non biased criticism. After all, no one wants to look like they’re the ones with an axe to grind when they’re attacking someone else as it takes away their credibility and believability. Therefore, they do their best to be perceived as rational and intelligent while engaging in personal attacks.
With Bruce Springsteen, his experience reinforces the old mainstay that you can’t have a discussion about religion or politics, as both topics are ripe with subjectivity, personal opinion, bias, prejudice and emotional volatility. Even though these people presumably paid a lot of money to see him perform, they were willing to openly diss him at his own concerts because he didn’t agree with George W. Bush and the Bush policies.
So we see that this can happen even to a legendary performer affectionately referred to as “The Boss”; someone who practically everyone would view as universally likeable. Since this was done by his own paying audience no doubt, one realizes that the attacks simply don’t stop at any level no matter who you are. But guess what, ultimately, they don’t matter at all. If you don’t have the strength to be your own person and artist, this is not the business for you. There’s no reason to be defensive – but rather, spiritually and emotionally nonattached, so that your eye is on the real prize which is to simply be you, celebrate your individuality and give whatever artistic contributions you can offer to the collective with joyous abandon.
© 2009 Jim Skafish