Damn you Michael Gira

Part of my late highschool soundtrack was Swans.  I was introduced to them by way of their 1994 album, The Great Annihilator, which was their temporary (har har) “swan song” – what with it being the last classic Swans line up of Gira and Jarboe.  Since it was released by Invisible Records (later to be reclaimed by Gira’s own Young Gods label), and because I was then a Pigface fan and into anything Invisible released, I dubbed it from a friend and then listened to it over and over and over.  I remained a Swans fan for years, slowly accumulating their past discography, and was extremely excited when Gira rebooted them in 2012 with The Seer.  Lord, I was such a fan that I followed Gira and Jarboe’s side projects.  And three years before The Seer was released, right before I defended my doctorate, one of the last live shows I attended (I’ve actually lost interest in seeing bands live because I’m getting lazy) was a Gira solo performance – preceded by James Blake – at the Drake in Toronto.

All of this is to say that it is massively disappointing when an essential part of your adolescent, and indeed post-adolescent, soundtrack is undermined by the reality that your beloved artist is a fucker.  Here, in case my readers are unaware, I’m talking about the recent statements made by Larkin Grimm, a musician formerly part of the Young Gods family, about how Gira raped her years back.  And then, because she was upset about being raped (because apparently she shouldn’t have been), dropped her from his label.

Look, I know that there’s a school of thought out there that says we should separate the work of art from the artist – maybe following a death of the author line of thought – and I really get that.  We talk about the same thing in critical thinking, warning students about circumstantial ad hominems and how, regardless of a person’s circumstances and interests, it is fallacious to use this as an excuse not to judge an argument on its own merits.  So maybe dismissing Gira’s music because of these rape accusations, and that they are most probably (according to an inference from the best explanation) not baseless allegations, is some kind of ad hominem art criticism.  Obviously there are a lot of artists I enjoy who did extremely problematic things in their life times – and obviously I don’t think Tolstoy’s work should be dismissed because he was an abusive patriarchal asshole – but when it comes to artists in the present, and not dead assholes whose work now stands over and above their dismal lives, I cannot help but find it difficult to separate their work from their practices and commitments.  Take Burzum, for example: the first time I heard them, before I was given a name to look up or told about Varg Vikernes, I thought the music was brilliant… But the moment I learned about Vikernes’ beliefs and activities there was no way I could stomach the music no matter how interesting it was (though, confession time, I have a guilty soft spot for Chelsea Wolfe’s cover of “Black Spell of Destruction” – is this liberalism because it’s slightly removed, thus allowing me to avoid the epistemic fallacy?) because Varg’s a fucking fascist.  So yeah, my desire to listen to Swans now, which has been part of playlist for twenty years, has utterly evaporated.

I want to pause here, because I suspect I’m going to get a random google-warrior wandering onto this post chastising me about believing in these so-called “allegations”, and explain why Larkin Grimm’s accusations are convincing.  Leaving aside the fact that, despite what MRAs falsely maintain, false rape accusations aren’t endemic – that is, while they do happen they are statistically miniscule – an inference to the best explanation should lead us to believe Grimm’s account over Gira’s denial.  First of all, Grimm has nothing to gain from making this accusation: it came out, years later, because she had accused someone else of sexual harassment and realized that, in order to be consistent, she should be open about Gira even though, if she had made it to “get” something (because in the mind of the rape denier these claims are made to get things, whatever these things are) then it would have made much more sense to make it when she was dropped from Gira’s label rather than, as is consistent with rape victims who have been victimized by people they respected, living with the trauma and making excuses for the rapist; since she made this statement about Gira she has been re-victimized by the typical rape-sheltering abuse of online fans of Gira – why the hell would anyone that? – which anyone with half-a-brain would know would happen the moment such an accusation is made.  Men in position of power, even if it is in a small corner of indie fandom, are able to count on fans leaping to their defense.  Grimm’s silence for years is consistent with the profile of a woman who experienced the trauma of victimization and was scared to speak out about a man who wielded a certain amount of power in the indie music community of which she was a part.  The only argument that undermines the fact that she wouldn’t be aware of this cost-benefit analysis is some bullshit appeal to female hysteria, and fuck that.

Secondly, Gira’s second statement regarding Grimm’s accusations is pretty bloody revealing.  Earlier, supported by his partner, Gira referred to Grimm’s accusations as a “slanderous lie” and went to great lengths to deny any form of sexual encounter with Grimm, implying that she was obsessed with him, that he was a poor beleaguered dude dealing with a fangirl, and that no sort of sexual interaction happened.  And then suddenly he makes another statement, undermining his previous claims, that there was an intimate encounter… That sort of resembles precisely what Grimm claimed only that it was consensual and he didn’t rape her when she was sleeping.  Of course his current statement spins it so that it was just a romantic tryst, but it’s pretty telling that he initially denied this but is now providing a distorted non-rapey version of her “slanderous” story.  Good Lord, now he even agrees with Larkin that he said “this doesn’t feel right” in the moment of rape, only with him it’s not rape but a consensual affair.  This is seriously creepy.

Okay, with the inference to the best explanation out of the way, back to the problem of listening to Swans in the wake of this event.  When I was kid getting into all of these indie and underground bands, one of the things that drew me to them was that, unlike the shitty mainstream music, they were cool.  But it’s not very cool to think about the artist behind the music raping women when they sleep – that is the very essence, and violently so, of lame – just as it is not cool to realize that an artist is committed to a fascist politics.  Hell, I stopped finding Thurston Moore cool when he cheated on Kim Gordon in such a way that he ended up looking like a creepy old dude, and the only reason I still find Sonic Youth to be cool is because of Kim Gordon and not because of Thurston Moore. And thinking of Gira as a rapey dude is far worse than this; it renders his music obnoxious.  He ends up being the same as all those sad mainstream fuckers who take advantage of their groupies because they believe they have the right to use women who like their work.

Part of me wants to believe that I can listen to Michael Gira’s work pre-2008, and thus still appreciate the old Swans catalogue, since it is prior to the moment where he “allegedly” raped Grimm.  Sadly, but far less sad for me than it is for women like Grimm who have had to deal with this bullshit for years, this part of my life’s soundtrack has been irrevocably ruined.  As one of my good friends texted me upon hearing about this controversy: “I feel like it’s a matter of time before basically all of the male artists I like will turn out to be scumbag rapists.”  Yeah, who next?


2 responses to “Damn you Michael Gira

  1. Random Google Warrior reporting for duty, just a bit late.

    “Leaving aside the fact that, despite what MRAs falsely maintain, false rape accusations aren’t endemic – that is, while they do happen they are statistically miniscule…”

    The Wikipedia page you linked to states that there are no reliable statistics. The Justice Department’s figure of 10% is actually extraordinarily high. 1% would be too high. But any supposed statistics only relate to formal accusations. With less (albeit not zero) accountability and no legal fees, there has got to be more false accusations on social media. In any case, this is an appeal to probability. Statistics can, at best, be used to speculate about innocence or guilt, not to determine it. Law enforcement agencies use statistics to find patterns and better understand crime as a whole. They are not supposed to apply them to individual crimes with their own sets of circumstances that were not arrived at by chance. When they do, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s the basis of racial profiling. It is true that false rape accusations are not endemic, but the conclusion to draw from that is that we should examine each case on its merits, not that we should dismiss the very idea of false accusations because they are statistical outliers.

    “First of all, Grimm has nothing to gain from making this accusation: it came out, years later, because she had accused someone else of sexual harassment and realized that, in order to be consistent…”

    You’re using one unsubstantiated allegation to back up another. Even if Ellis is guilty – which he could well in fact be – he is guilty of a much lesser, unrelated crime.

    “And then suddenly he makes another statement, undermining his previous claims…”

    Gira’s second statement does not undermine or contradict his first. This is the greatest myth about the whole thing. Grimm took it one step further and interpreted it as an admission of guilt. The point at which Grimm and Gira’s accounts diverge is the extremely important issue of whether or not he actually raped her. That is the “vicious lie”. He never denied the events of the rest of the evening. It’s a he said/she said situation that Grimm’s supporters have successfully moved to the considerably murkier terrain of boundaries and consent. It doesn’t belong there.

    “Grimm’s silence for years is consistent with the profile of a woman who experienced the trauma of victimization and was scared to speak out about a man who wielded a certain amount of power in the indie music community of which she was a part.”

    The mere fact that it is a plausible narrative does not make it true. To equate plausibility with probability is to say that humans have no capacity for fabricating convincing lies.

    Grimm’s account may be plausible in the broad strokes, but she has told a number of verifiable lies in her original statement and in subsequent statements. She claims she confronted Gira about the alleged rape in 2010 and he dropped her from Young God Records. He did drop her, but it’s well known that Gira dropped everyone from Young God Records to focus on the reunited Swans. Grimm’s own blog referenced this. She didn’t have to give an explanation. Every artist (to my knowledge) is still featured on the YGR website except Grimm. The Wayback Machine shows that she was only removed in January 2013, the same time as Gira’s ex wife Siobhan Duffy claims Grimm first approached her with the rape allegation. Obviously Gira would not have continued to promote her work nearly three years after she accused him of raping her. This torpedoes her narrative, rendering two thirds of the sentence “Michael Gira, my producer, raped me and dumped me from his label when I confronted him about it, needing to feel safe” demonstrably false. People who are telling the truth don’t support their statements with lies.

    She went on to say that “a big part” of the reason she waited so long to come forward was to preserve her business relationships with Howlin’ Wuelf Media and Leafy Green Productions. She has not had a business relationship with Howlin’ Wuelf since 2012 (she explicitly said otherwise in the same post) and Leafy Green since 2010. Again, the Wayback Machine proves this. Todd Cote of Leafy Green also backs up Siobhan Duffy’s claim that Grimm originally presented the encounter in a very different light, bragging about “a night of drunken fooling around that never included coitus”.

    Grimm further damages her credibility by saying that if one in five women has been raped, one in five men must be a rapist. Maybe she’s just really bad at maths, but it doesn’t help her.

    To believe a claim without evidence is intellectual paucity, and this isn’t different just because the “r” word is involved. There’s no reason whatsoever to believe Gira is guilty on the basis of a claim backed with lies and no evidence. And yet no further discussion will be entered into as far as many of Grimm’s supporters are concerned. They use the term “rape apologist” to describe anyone unwilling to condemn Gira as a rapist, including both his current and ex wives. Misused in this way, the term shuts down rational discourse by trying to make the opposing viewpoint untenable. It’s the same kind of binary thinking exhibited by actual misogynists and it helps nobody.

  2. Hello random google warrior. This response is typical of someone who has done no work in feminist solidarity and is just a dude bro interested in defending a male artist he happens to like. Here’s some quick responses because I don’t want to waste time dealing with this kind of backwards thinking that I have already wasted hours of discussion and engagement for the past decade with people who people who deny rape accusations and don’t realize how prevalent abuse is. This blog is hostile to reactionaries, and I usually just delete this kind of asinine thinking that relies on cherry-picking and not thinking through a critical perspective. So thanks for reifying the status quo view of reality!

    1) Your comment about statistics is a red herring. The point is that false rape accusations is not endemic. Nothing you claimed argued the contrary; instead you made an unrelated argument that does not disprove the point that false rape accusations are not, as MRAs (such as you?) claim normative and prevalent.

    2) Your attempt to defend Gira based on all of the circumstantial “evidence” about who is lying (all of this relies on hearsay and cherry-picking), and the few contradictions made by Grimm, shows no understanding of the way memory functions. Have you ever examined work on rape and sexual assault cases that are proven beyond a doubt and what the victim experiences in terms of their memory? Aside from the fact that memory is unreliable for most people, when it comes to trauma a lot of the past can be distorted and oriented around the dominant signifier of the trauma. This is why the public defenders of accused rapists will often focus on picking apart a victim’s account to the point that, even if the rapist is convicted it is often due to evidence that is not reliant on the victim’s recollection because this recollection is always distorted. And when people like Ghomeshi get off it is because they have a lot of money and they are able to destroy the victims’ reputation.

    3) You really didn’t think through my argument about why Gira’s second admission is telling. Nothing you said contradicted it: there was only rhetoric and no argument.

    4) I don’t at all think the Ellis situation is the same as Gira’s and I didn’t say that, so stop putting words in my proverbial mouth. I mentioned that as part of the narrative background, the reason why Grimm (according to her) decided to bring up the Gira story.

    5) You moved from recognizing that I was saying I was disappointed in Gira because I thought it was “most likely” that he sexually assaulted Grim to claiming that I said he did it. Of course it’s still alleged, but the inductive argument is that, based on so many other similar stories that unfold the same way (and yes, with the victim often contradicting herself), that Gira most likely did what Grimm claimed. Not being a deductive argument (as it cannot be) there is no way to have a mathematical conclusion here; it is, yes, alleged.

    6) The unwillingness to think through the contradictions of Gira and instead complain about how it is “binary thinking” and a replication of “misogynistic thinking” (you should maybe do some research here on what “binary thinking” and “misogyny” means, and why sometimes “binary thinking” is not incorrect, and why misogyny is not primarily defined [unless you are Luce Irigaray] by “binary thinking”), but to assume that Gira sexually assaulted Grimm demonstrates the thought patterns of someone who doesn’t realize how prevalent sexual and domestic abuse is and who is more interested in defending a musician he likes than thinking about patriarchal ideology and practice. Again, go volunteer at a shelter, do some relief work, and maybe have a daughter where you’ll worry about how fucking sick this culture is. I mean let’s be clear, there’s no way what Grimm said, or those of us who decide that we should take her claims seriously, are actually “convicting” Gira even in the “court of public opinion.” Swans concerts will still pull in the same fans, albums will still sell, and people like you (and someone else who’s comment I deleted because it was ad hominem nonsense) will rise to defend every male you love accused of sexual assault.

    7) This is a leftist blog and, because of this, I am not interested in carrying on a conversation with someone who begins from the first principles of always suspecting the views of alleged rape victims. These perspectives are classed: you begin by siding with an oppressor view; I begin by siding with an oppressed position… These will determine the way we investigate and event and, until it is actually investigated by experts and people involved, we will both allege different things based on our different political lines.

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