Recent reports of spoken insensitivities and outright illegalities committed by politicians, sports stars, artists, movie stars and celebrities of all sorts is nothing new to boomers. There is a long list of people who have walked that path before the current crop. The question was, and is, what do we, as their audience, constituents and fans, do in response?
Months before the Beatles embarked on a U.S. tour in 1966, John Lennon remarked to a London reporter that the band seemed to be more popular than Jesus. In the U.S., his remarks were taken out of context from the reporter’s article and John was forced to try to explain himself in a press conference in Chicago on August 11, the first stop of their tour. There was an immediate firestorm of negative response, resulting in some religious groups sponsoring the burning of Beatles records. John tried to explain that he wasn’t comparing himself or the band to JC, he was merely talking about the meteoric rise to fame the band had experienced. Nonetheless, the incident did not hurt the band in record sales or concert attendance. The band, however, already not happy with touring, never toured again. In retrospect, his particular spoken insensitivity was on the milder end of the scale.
In 1957, a young Boomer Generation was rocked by the news that Jerry Lee Lewis had married his 13-year old cousin. As if that wasn’t scandal enough, his divorce from his second wife had not been finalized yet. His 1958 tour of England was canceled because of the international outcry. Radio stations refused to play his records. Though he did have one more hit in 1958, his career never returned to the level it was before the marriage.
Chuck Berry was arrested and jailed in 1962 under the Mann Act for allegedly transporting a minor across state lines for illicit purposes, while some people say his only infraction was “driving while black.” Chuck claimed the girl had told him she was twenty-one, but in court, she testified that she was fourteen. Chuck said he was trying to help a girl down on her luck and had offered her a job at his St. Louis nightclub, but the Mann Act didn’t require the prosecutor to prove any contact occurred. Chuck served nearly two years in prison. A complicated scenario, but it wasn’t Chuck’s first or last run-in with the law.
Ike Turner verbally and physically abused his wife, Tina, in the 1960s and ’70s. She went on stage many times with bruises that she tried to cover with makeup. A rarity among celebrity abusers, Ike’s reputation was seriously harmed in his later years by Tina’s accusations from her 1986 memoir, I, Tina, and subsequently portrayed in the film What’s Love Got to Do With It in 1993.
In 1976, Eric Clapton went on a drunken, racist and anti-immigrant rant from a stage in London. He went so far as to tell those not born in his country to get out. Fifty years later, it does not appear to have hurt his music career. In light of recent conversations on race and immigration, this incident has resurfaced.
Michael Jackson, Boy Wonder of the Jackson 5 in the 1960s and ’70s, was, in his adult life, accused of being a pedophile. Had he lived, there is a strong possibility that his accusers may have had their day in court. Again, though, his record sales and popularity did not wane, and have not since his death.
Woody Allen burst onto the stand-up comedy scene in 1964. He followed his early success with the release of several full-length comedy features in the ’60s and ’70s, many of which are now considered classics. In 1992, he was accused of pedophilia toward the daughter of his then live-in mate, Mia Farrow. Accusations broke up their long-term relationship. When the girl turned twenty-one, he married her.
Phil Spector had a reputation of being difficult, and girlfriends accused him of being abusive as far back as the 1960s. He was arrested in 2003, accused of killing his then girlfriend, actress Lana Clarkson. He remained out on bail and continued to work in the industry. In a 2008 retrial, he was convicted of second degree murder and spent the rest of his life in prison. Spector died of Covid-19 last January at the age of 81.
The dilemma in all of these examples of boomer-era celebrities and icons that crossed a line, is, how should boomers react to these incidents in the spotlight of modern discourse? Some of these people continue to produce new material, and all of them have a catalog of material for sale. The question for everyone is, can the transgressor be separated from the star? Should people not see a movie directed by a person accused of crimes against society? Should people not listen to or purchase songs and albums by musicians accused or convicted of various offenses? Is the genius of their talent we recognized in our boomer years diminished by the offense? Should there forever be an asterisk on any type of Hall of Fame accolades? What is a boomer to do?
Have you resolved these questions for yourself, boomers? Have you made a blanket rule of principle or are you approaching each case individually?