We don’t often run editorials here at I Die: You Die, but given how much appreciation for Michael Gira’s work we have and how regularly we’ve discussed it on the podcast, I felt it’d be disingenuous to act as though nothing had happened, for reasons I hope this piece makes clear.
Larkin Grimm’s account of being raped by Michael Gira is horrifying. Contrary to Gira’s wife’s intimation that ‘real’ rape is something which only happens when a woman is attacked by a stranger, it’s an account which sadly mirrors the experience of more women than that scenario: being raped by a friend or acquaintance and feeling shamed into silence, by internalized self-doubt, or the power held over her by that person, or their social milieu, or broader attitudes about what ‘real’ rape is or isn’t.
The role that power plays in Larkin’s account is striking. As with the Bill Cosby, Dr. Luke, and Jian Gomeshi cases, we have someone in a position of authority in the entertainment biz preying on a woman either beholden to him or well aware of the power and sway he holds in their particular industry. That Larkin weaves her professional relationship with Gira into her post isn’t just instructive, it’s central to how axes of power, gender, and sex operate in our world. This, by the way, is what’s going to make the oft-discussed ‘separation of art and artist’ impossible in this case: Gira’s songs deal unflinchingly with power and its abuse, including, yes, rape. “Power For Power”, “Time Is Money (Bastard)”, “Trust Me”; all of these songs and countless more identify and decry the abuse of power, but also remind us that it’s commonly exercised at all levels by nearly everyone, not just by governments or the rich. Larkin’s account is frighteningly proximal to the themes of Gira’s work, and I’ve found it just about impossible to think of one without the other since the former was posted.
Do I hope and wish that Larkin’s account is untrue? Sure. It would be heartening to be able to continue to listen to the music of one of my favourite musicians and songwriters of all time, whose records I’ve spent nearly two decades collecting, whose lyrics I’ve spent hours poring over, whose songs I’ve used to cope with pain, loss, and disappointment, without having to think about him hurting someone else in such a horrible fashion. But far, far, far more important and heartening would be living in a world where these things don’t happen. Where this woman wasn’t raped by a man she regarded as a mentor. Where women aren’t made to feel at fault for crimes they are the victims of. Where every time a woman does have the courage to come forward she isn’t immediately presumed to be lying to further an ulterior motive. Where oft-discussed false rape accusations are actually as common as they’re made out to be (not the case), because rape actually is as uncommon as so many “two sides to every story” types would like us to believe. Where people were actually aware of how incredibly rare rape prosecutions, let alone convictions, are (not that Larkin is asking for either) before piping in with “innocent until proven guilty!” (as is currently happening now all over Swans threads). As if the truth is always simple. As if it always comes out. As if it is an abstract, wholly objective thing to be indexed and filed in black and white. Even the most cursory read of Larkin’s account demonstrates what fictions these assumptions are, as does Gira’s initial blanket denial, now being backpedaled very awkwardly.
But hoping and wishing that things were that simple doesn’t change a damn thing, and doggedly and publicly opining that surely this case, this case involving an artist I love and respect (unlike, say, Dr. Luke or Chris Brown) is one of the tiny fraction of cases where a woman is out to make a name for herself (see Emily Pothast’s excellent post) doesn’t just cast aspersions at Larkin. It reminds every woman who’s thinking about coming forward about their experiences of what they’re in store for. It shows them that men in their own lives will do nearly anything to convince themselves that while, yes, surely some rapes happen, a nearly impossible standard of proof must be met before they’d actually believe a woman when she tells them she’s been raped (I don’t recall any male friends who’ve been mugged being asked to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they didn’t just lose their wallet in their apartment and were too ashamed to admit it). Hell, it shows them that men being able to listen to their favourite music with a clean conscience is more important than their voices or safety. Claiming to be waiting for all the facts to come out before passing judgment sounds like a noble position until you realise how few accusations of rape are ever prosecuted (again, something Larkin is emphatically not asking for in her follow-up). There’s never an ideal time to speak about these things (the fact that it was an entirely separate incident which brought this up for Larkin shows this), and in waiting for a standardized burden of proof to be met we run the risk of allowing a victim to be pilloried, to let her story gather dust and eventually be forgotten. That’s unacceptable.
If Gira’s music is largely about surviving the ugliness of the world and ourselves, then the least those of us who are fans of it can do, the very least we can do, is to not contribute to that ugliness and to open our ears and extend our understanding to Larkin as she puts her story forward.