Rape, privation and the Music Industry

One of the lines that I think needs to be drawn in the music industry relates to wealth, desire and subsistence. There are classes of musicians, for instance, who rarely get paid, whose work is undervalued, and who have difficulty making ends meet. But there are also musicians who drag huge rigs across continents, whose production costs are insanely high and who then act out a sense of deprivation when they only make basic living costs at the end of this. It is one thing that these ‘stars’ who compare themselves to bigger stars complain about privation. The entitlements they expect to receive as compensation – from their non-industry contexts – are quite another.

Before Amanda Palmer caved into pressure and decided to pay her volunteer musicians (the sum of which is still unknown), she also described how ‘everybody getting laid’ (not an exact quotation) was part of the reward of performing. Presumably, in the absence of being paid, these volunteer musicians would cash in on their own increased attractiveness brought by the stage/’spotlight’ and get sex. But does anyone think about what ‘getting sex’ means in this context? Who are these vague groupies who will screw any famous person, or anyone producing a likeable sound in a visible context? What are we assuming about them? To me it seems clear that a group of fans are – or *someone* is – being out-sourced to reward musicians for their work where payment is not present or not enough. The effects can be devastating. And though it may happen in the reverse, this scenario strengthens the classically violent attitude of men who feel that women “owe” them sex.

Payola in the form of sex workers is another issue that relates to the idea of exploitation in the context of music. My boyfriend of 2011 described being offered sex workers as perks during tour. I thought he was simply joking with me when he described this, playing with boundaries in an irresponsible way – classically understood as ‘trying to get mommy to react.’ But if considered as a real phenomenon, sex workers being offered to musicians describes a condition in which women are employed to reduce the costs of paying musicians, to restore their masculinity, or to convince them of their desirability in the absence of an appropriate fee.

My personal interest in this set of issues has been augmented by the fact that this now ex returned from tour and raped me. He is the only musician I’ve ever been involved with who was confused enough to believe in and invest in his own hype to the degree that he does. That makes him an extreme caricature of what I am trying to outline, one whose behavior is descriptive. Most musicians toil away for modest amounts of exposure. Hyper-circulated musicians – those big enough to crowd source for volunteers or have groupies (in the past or present) are abusing the discourse of the musician’s privation when they use it to make people pliable for their entitlements.

This rapist said multiple times that he “can do anything he wants because he is a rockstar.” I assumed from this that he was in pain over the musician’s privation (making my own mistake of confusing the two classes of musician.) I thought he either felt pathetic or was joking. But it turns out that he actually believed in this psychotic entitlement. He also coerced me by saying “don’t reject me.” And he strongly suggested that I was responsible for re-empowering him against the feeling he articulated as being the “industry’s bitch.” I was supposed to make him feel like the master again, and to never reject him. These manipulations held the implications that I should be sexually available to him either because he was entitled, because I was supposed to be the one to restore his masculinity, or that I should “never reject” him because his uber status made him above rejection.

(What I am describing here are merely some of the events leading up to the rape and not the rape itself – which I shall describe later.)

That said, I do not believe that financial success would have stopped the man who attacked me from his behavior. I believe it would make it worse. Because the one who uses these tools so readily will only get worse, as in more entitled, with more power.

I am not saying that all rockstars are rapists. I am saying that what is involved with being a rockstar makes sexual coercion into an even stronger possibility. I am saying that the rockstar is a perfect location for a rapist. And I am also saying that the rockstar model feeds this abuse phenom in the world at large, in constructions of gender, in the way that the man-woman relationship and other hierarchies, particularly spectacular ones, are lived.

For the whole idea of the “groupie” produces exploitation. The groupie represents the idea of a person from whom a performer can take “whatever they want.” Consent with the groupie has an implicit status. The person I was involved with lamented that there are no groupies anymore. Yet it was clear that there was still a power relation he enforced with me to receive a kind of attention that he had come to expect from a prior era of performing. He attempted to use me, his girlfriend, to fill this function. As the “good” girlfriend, I was supposed to empower my boyfriend against that which made him feel weak, and help maintain his enjoyable feeling of privilege that he should be allowed “to do anything,” or that he was totally above the limits and morality that constrain other people. I had felt sorry for his debasement on tour. I did not understand until after he raped me the degree to which his manipulation of the idea of privation – claiming the entitlements of both the unknown and the celebrity musician which are there for the celeb musician to take – was personal, social and political; that it was not just an act against women but an act against a broad field of musicians who struggle for dignity, subsistence, and a voice against people like him who use professional recognition to avoid being human.

This connection needs to be thought through a lot more. I hope others, especially those on the receiving end of this violence, will join me in thinking about this. I believe that star systems and personality cults are recipes for violence, and gender violence in particular.