Pierre Lapointe immediately fired off with a vitriolic letter to the PLQ that was as eloquent and passionate as one would expect from a talented wordsmith. The problem, though, is that he’s in the wrong.
I can certainly understand Lapointe being personally upset that the Liberals had the gall to use his song, considering that last spring he was targeted by former Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre as one of the “red-square toting artists encouraging violence” during the Maple Spring protests. In many respects, the letter he wrote has been brewing since then; waiting for the pretext to be written.
But his statement that an artist’s work is “a living entity and an extension of his personality,” and therefore, the insinuation being, that it cannot be used by those he doesn’t agree with or like, is naïve, pompous, and downright childish.
He's certainly not the first artist angry that his work has been "misappropriated" by a political party he neither approves of nor endorses. It happens all the time in the U.S. and it usually involves liberal songwriters upset at the Republican Party for “hijacking” their songs and playing then during presidential campaigns. The line is long and forms to the left; it includes Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, and Rush, among many others. Peter Gabriel didn’t even want radio host Rush Limbaugh playing his music on his show because he disapproves of his ultra-conservative views. Seriously?
The simple fact of the matter is the overwhelming majority of artists lean left of centre (even more so in a province that’s already more left of centre than the ROC), and as such, find it fundamentally offensive to be in any way associated with the 'establishment' and/or conservative values. But their indignation – while sincere – is misplaced.
Lapointe is not upset at the fact that a political party didn’t request permission to use his song for one occasion (they don’t legally have to), but because he’s mortified that it would somehow be misconstrued as falsely implying endorsement of said party.
Which brings up a slew of fascinating questions: does a single use of a song imply endorsement? Are voters really that ignorant that they’d hear a popular Quebec artist blasting through the speakers of a convention and immediately assume the artist has given his blessing – and his vote? Where does an artist ultimately draw the line when it comes to how much control they exert over their intellectual property? Does an artist who’s against gays marrying have the right to prevent his song form being used during a gay marriage? Does an artist send a ‘cease and desist’ order every time he’s offended or someone he finds morally reprehensible sings along to his lyrics? If free speech inherently protects my right to offend, doesn’t it also protect us from someone’s intellectual elitism, dictating where his music should be heard?
Lapointe is not upset at the fact that a political party didn’t request permission to use his song for one occasion (they don’t legally have to), but because he’s mortified that it would somehow be misconstrued as falsely implying endorsement of said party. -
Are artists then – irony of all ironies - advocating censorship?
At what point does an artist recognize that a work of art takes on a life of its own and does not necessarily belong to them any longer? That it can be used past the narrow confines of its original inception. Isn’t that what art ultimately is?
For the record, I don’t think that Lapointe did this for publicity or for monetary gain – as some have suggested. I truly believe he’s offended by any association or misappropriation of his name and art for something he personally does not agree with. Artists have strong moral compasses and are territorial –understandably so - of their work. But once a work of art is finished, it no longer belongs to you. How it’s used, how it’s interpreted, where it’s displayed or heard, is no longer your choice. Art consists of voluntarily giving away part of yourself, without any guarantees of how it will be used, seen, or appreciated. That’s the inherent nature of anything artistic.
Artists can publicly distance themselves from the offending party and can express their disapproval as loudly as they possibly can (which Lapointe already did, and in many cases, the public shaming is enough to get the offending party to stop using their music), but they can’t decide whose moral and political conduct merits their stamp of approval. Art just doesn’t work that way. They, of all people, should know that.