Creepers, Rumors, and Due Process in Punk

A friend DMed me a link to a Facebook post a few days ago.

Kimya Dawson had made a public post about shit she saw going down for years in the scene in Olympia. Bands getting ripped off by a beloved label, allegedly to the tune of half a million dollars, with several commenters also alluding to creepiness toward young women at shows and parties on the part of the label’s head. All of this bad behavior had been ignored by the scene for years, with people going as far as to ostracize anyone who had pointed it out publicly.

(Teenage Hotdog is doing an excellent investigative piece on this, which I encourage you to read. I’ve linked the most recent post.)

Now Kimya and her friends were making these secrets public. Or at least trying to. In response, my friends and I passed the post around via direct message, debating whether we should still go to the guy’s show at a DIY space next week.

You may notice I’ve named the victim of financial wrongdoing here, but I haven’t named the alleged perpetrator. This wasn’t an intentional move, and it’s illustrative of some internal fuckery in how we process accusations: tacitly, unconsciously, we are willing to give famous (“indie famous”/”local famous”/”I went to high school with him and he seemed so nice”) men the benefit of the doubt in every accusation of wrongdoing.

So we say:

Calvin Johnson–I fucking love Beat Happening–is playing a show on Saturday, rolling with a trunkful of K Records merch and god I wish I wasn’t so broke right now. Hey, did you hear what Kimya said about him? Do you think it’s true?

If he had less cred, if he hadn’t done things that we valued, would this be the story? Or would it be more like:

I heard that Calvin Johnson owes people money, is a real dick about it, and has maybe been using his cred to creep on young girls. I know he makes good records, but dude kinda sounds like a toxic force in the Olympia punk scene. And we don’t even know the money for the records he sells is going to the bands. That’s fucked up.

When someone has stature, we flip from “jeez, it sounds like a pain in the ass to do business with him, is that what I want?” to some Law & Order version of due process: we have to hear both sides and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the rumors are true.

This is you right now, reading this.

Safe Spaces v. Due Process

Complicating things further, the DIY space he’s playing endeavors to be a safe space, designated by the Feminist Action Support Network as a place where “oppressive or harmful behavior is not welcome.” They state: “oppressive behavior includes any action that perpetuates racism, misogyny, heterosexism, transphobia and other systemic oppressions through antagonism, silencing, intimidation, or coercion.”

Setting aside the more troubling rumors for a second, one doesn’t exactly have to be a feminist scholar argue that a label run by a man not paying artists their fair due in a timely manner, especially artists who belong to historically disadvantaged groups, is oppressive behavior. And if this guy has other accusations piled on top of that, it’s not unreasonable to assume he might not be the best fit to play a feminist safe space.

But in the nature of due process, the folks who booked the show reached out to Calvin after the opening band Plus Sign saw Kimya’s post and dropped off the show. The Pinky Swear team released the following thoughtful, measured statement:

We at Pinky Swear have decided that we will be hosting this show. This decision was reached after much thought and discussion in regards to Kimya’s post and the comments that followed.

We made Calvin aware of what has been said of himself and K on facebook and felt that this conversation was missing his voice. With his permission to post here, Calvin says: “We do owe Kimya some back royalties and have a payment plan in place. She has expressed some dissatisfaction; it and we offered to renegotiate but have heard nothing back from her since.”

We take no sides in the situation and recognize that financial harm was done to Kimya. However, both Kimya (in the comments of her post) and Calvin state that there is a process of accountability/repayment in place at this time. It sounds like it is not perfect, but is being addressed and commitments have been made. Of course we empower folks who have questions for Calvin to (respectfully) bring them up in-person at the show if they choose.

In approaching this decision we looked to the feelings, writing, and actions of fellow community members. We take the responsibility of running a safer space very seriously and our obligations to our friends and community here are of the greatest importance to us. The primary wrong expressed by Kimya was financial, however, we do recognize that there were a range of accusations expressed on Kimya’s thread and have given those consideration as well. At this time and to our best knowledge we do not feel that it would be a threat to the safety of attendees to host this show.

Some folks have brought up the role of Feminist Action Support Network in influencing the decision to host or not host this show (as a FASN designated Pistachio Level Space). It should be made clear that this particular situation/resolution is not in the scope of FASN, which is an organization that works to address sexual and gendered violence in Chicago. We made this decision as an autonomous venue, however this decision is not being made in spite of or without the principles of the wonderful work that FASN does. We will have FASN Support Liaisons present at the show.

Thank you for your patience and of course, the conversation is always open–reach out privately or post below.

So Pinky Swear did their due diligence, heard both sides, decided the payment plan Calvin had offered Kimya (after legal action was threatened, to the exclusion of other artists affected) constituted an accountability process, and that the other rumors expressed in the comments did not rise above rumors. [Note: Kimya has clarified that this payment plan only covers a fraction of the artists owed money–she chose to speak out because other people continue to be ripped off.] While frustrating, this is a respectable show of impartiality in the face of a difficult question. They know it’s ambiguous and they left the conversation open. They’re obviously really good people struggling with a really tough issue. But does that make a space safe?

As far as an outside observer can tell, everything troubling has now been addressed and there’s no wrongdoing to worry about. It’s easy to assume that because you’re not hearing about something, it isn’t happening.

Kimya Dawson shouldn’t have to fight to get paid for her work.

Rumors v. Accountability

2015-16 seems to be the time for brave women and trans* and non-binary people to speak out against harassment, assault, financial wrongdoing, and more of the bullshit they face trying to exist in a music scene that is dominated by men who feel entitled based on their success. We praise oppressed people for coming forward with their stories and effecting change, but usually the moment we finally listen and believe comes only after years of vague rumors, whispered warnings, and DMed links to FB posts.

So those of us weighing the decision to go to the show on Saturday are left wondering: Is Calvin a missing stair or just a guy who got overwhelmed by success, picked up some haters, and is trying his best to do what’s right? Despite the handful of recent, high-profile gains we’ve made in believing marginalized people who speak out, we still live in a culture that goes out of its way to protect famous men at the expense of everyone.

This hyperextended benefit of the doubt does a disservice to marginalized people trying to chill at a show that’s supposed to be fun in a space that’s supposed to have their backs. It does a disservice to fans who want to know whether the person whose art we’re buying is engaged in ethical behavior. It’s not even really helping the people who do shitty things, as we enable them to toss out their humanity and help feed their belief that their actions are beyond reproach. Instead of members of the community calling them in the first time we see messed up behavior, they’re given permission keep operating in the same garbage ways for years. Eventually, they either sort it out on their own or (more likely) there’s no option left but to call them out and cut them out of our lives when their victims finally come forward en masse. Nobody wins in that scenario, but it’s the one we keep repeating.

By giving our heroes a pass on problematic behavior because we like their work, we’re creating unsafe spaces, feeding a culture of silence, incentivizing further bad behavior, and denying the possibility of accountability and growth in our communities. Can you imagine anything less punk rock?

The Art v. The Artist

This dilemma is by no means unusual in DIY scenes. Jes Skolnik pointed out on Twitter yesterday:

As Jes says, it is easier to believe that someone simply engaged in the capitalistic end of music is a bad guy. When it comes to someone who makes art that you love and helps promote artists that you love, it’s harder to believe they could do good work but also do bad things. We identify with their work and their taste, so we want to give them a pass.

Cupcake has written about the problems involved in separating the art from the artist. In this case, it’s particularly hard to ignore wrongdoing and just keep going to shows and buying records, since the issues are literally his behavior at shows and what he does with money from record sales. But because the full extent of what the artist has done is unknown, we perform this weird mental math: is x thing bad enough to never buy his records again?

If this were a perfect world, I’d have some truth bomb to drop at the end of this piece that would better settle the question: an outspoken victim or a compelling origin story for the rumors, one where amends have been made and it wasn’t as bad as all that. But it isn’t a perfect world. And we don’t know the whole truth. As Teenage Hotdog said, it’s hard to investigate vibes. As they continue digging and soliciting comment, we might get a definitive answer, or at least a large enough collection of stories that the “dun dun” sound finally plays.

But we may also have to live with the uncertainty and decide how we feel: do we trust our hero is a good person because he likes the things we like? Or do we by default believe that someone who is called a creep is probably a creep? How do we navigate rumors when safety is at stake?

Cupcake has made some important suggestions for ways we can work to spruce up this garbage world and make safer spaces, but many of the implementations so far have focused on instances where the situation is clear. We can run it through our internal court of law and spit out a clear verdict and an appropriate response. But does that still leave us potentially complicit in more ambiguous cases? What is our obligation when we just don’t know the whole story?

Do we go to the show on Saturday?

Do we keep buying K Records?

Do we pass the story along?

[Editor’s note: this post was updated to better clarify the financial issues between K and assorted artists. Please check Kimya’s post and Teenage Hotdog’s article for fuller details.]

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How to Add Store Brand Soda’s Calendar to Your Google Calendar

Hey, did you know that you can add our amazing, comprehensive calendar of show listings to your Google Calendar, so that whenever you’re thinking “what’s going on tonight” you can find out at the click of a button?

If you have a Gmail account (and it’s 2015: you probably do), you’re already signed up for Google Calendar. Go ahead, click that link, and sign in if you’re not already.

Next, click the down-arrow next to Other calendars.


Select Add by URL from the menu. A dialog box will pop up that looks like this.


Copy paste this address into the dialog box:

Click Add calendar. The calendar will appear in the Other calendars section of the calendar list to the left. You can hide it at any time, or toggle it back on, by clicking the little colored box next to it.

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The Art is Not The Artist: On Holding Abusers Accountable & Enjoying Problematic Media

There are a lot of people who argue that you should always divorce the artist, as a flawed human, from their work. Indeed, it’s a tenet of our culture; no one ever argues that John Lennon’s abuse of this first wife Cynthia precludes The Beatles from being regarded as the greatest band of all time.

I’m not arguing that we need to set Guernica on fire because Picasso was a controlling, abusive womanizer who threatened to throw Francoise Gilot in the Seine and burned her face with a cigarette. I’m not saying you’re a horrible person if you occasionally nod along to Ignition – Remix. However, more critical thought is required before we defend art produced by abusive people, and in many cases, continued support of their career is unjustifiable.

This is the thought process I go through when I’m considering the creative output of a horrible individual, and the questions I ask myself about whether I can consume the work in good conscience.

Does this artist benefit, financially or otherwise, from me consuming their work?

I have an old James Brown record that was originally sold before I was born. The only person who made money off me buying it was the owner of a kitschy record store in Palm Springs; when I play it in my house, it makes no one any money at all. While I honestly wouldn’t mind money going to the many children he never acknowledged during his lifetime, if I occasionally put aside the knowledge that he was a real piece of work aside and throw on Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag while I vacuum, no one is hurt and no one benefits. And if I threw it into a fire in some grand gesture, again, no one would benefit.

Does the art have anything to do with the abuser’s crime?

People argued a lot about “separating the art from the artist” when Woody Allen’s molestation of his daughter became impossible to ignore. However, here’s the thing: almost all of Woody Allen’s work is about a thinly guised version of him. A lot of it is about some old weird creep having a sexual relationship with a younger, beautiful woman under a clear imbalance of power. How the hell am I supposed to separate the art from the artist?

I have no desire to see Woody Allen make a movie about a professor entering a relationship with his student. I have no desire to hear R. Kelly sing about sex. It’s disgusting. It’s them describing their loathesome crimes through art.

Could I be promoting/boosting/enjoying/supporting the work of a marginalized, ignored genius instead of this widely recognized talent who happens to be a piece of garbage?

Like, I could go see Woody Allen’s new movie. Or I could go see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I could listen to Modest Mouse, whose lead singer is accused of rape; or I could listen to In School, a feminist hardcore band who openly talks about injustice and abuse.

I mean, I’m not saying those examples have anything to do with each other. But a big part of continuing to enjoy the work of abusers depends on complacency. I’m not going to find any new bands to listen to because I can’t be bothered. I’m not going to care that this artist did horrible things because I can’t be bothered.

I paraphrase this sentiment on Twitter a lot: you guys know there are bands with no members who killed someone while driving drunk or committed rape, right? You know you can just go find bands that didn’t do those things and listen to them instead, right?

How are other survivors of abuse affected by my support of this artist?

Imagine you’re on a third date with someone who you’re really hitting it off with, and you launch into a long-winded defense of Woody Allen and separating the art from the artist. It’s just conversation, right? You guys keep dating, and now you’re a serious item. How long do you think it takes them to trust you enough to confide in you that they were molested? Do they ever trust you enough?

How do you think survivors of abuse (and believe me, you know PLENTY, even if you don’t know it) feel when you defend abusers on Facebook? Are you contributing to the culture that told them “there isn’t enough proof, that you can’t ruin your abuser’s life like this, you should forget about it and move on”? How does their opinion of you change?

Could I be spending the time I’m spending defending an abusive person/project on supporting victims of abuse, fighting against the type of abuse they perpetrated, or boosting marginalized groups instead?

I enjoy Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I also think their use of the t-word, and their subsequent non-apology, is BS. I would like to keep watching the show; however, I have absolutely zero interest in defending their use of the slur, their “right” to use it, telling activists calling for the end of the use of the slur that they’re overly sensitive, etc.

Instead, I use that precious time and energy to tell people I hear using that word in public that it’s inappropriate and hurtful and not the correct word to use. I write emails to companies producing adult entertainment that uses harmful slurs to describe their performers, asking them to start promoting their products differently and explaining why it matters so much, not only to the performers but also to the consumers. I also tell all my friends about queer media I enjoy that is empowering to transgender performers, rather than insulting.

I donate to and help promote Trans Tech, Project Fierce, and Chicago House, which are all charities local to me that help transgender people find employment and housing. I try my best to be sensitive in my own speech and own it when I make a mistake.

None of this is intended as a sort of “carbon offset” to make up for the fact I watch Drag Race; it’s just an issue I care about deeply. But you have to ask yourself, am I doing more to perpetuate and support a culture where these sort of abuses are seen as ok and forgivable, or am I working to make the world a better place?

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