Every Record I Own - Day 358: Darkthrone Transilvanian Hunger
A friend of mine went to a book signing for British-Jamaican author Zadie Smith. It was a packed event, and my friend was towards the end of the line of fans with their newly purchased hardcovers waiting to talk with the writer and get her autograph. By the time my friend got to the table with her book, she could tell Smith was worn out by all the talking and signing. Smith asked her who to make the book out to, and because my friend’s name was a little unorthodox and because she really just wanted the book and didn’t want to further Smith’s visible exhaustion, she responded “just your signature would be fine.” Smith sighed and scribbled something in her book before handing it back and ushering over the next fan. When my friend got back to her car and looked at what Smith had written, she was devastated.
Good luck selling this on eBay, you cow. - Zadie Smith.
I’d wanted to read Zadie Smith, but now every time I look at a copy of White Teeth at the bookstore, I think of this exchange. Granted, every artist has been shitty to someone at some point in their life. One could argue that this was an isolated incident in Smith’s private life, but how isolated is it? Maybe Smith has a habit of being shitty to her fans. Maybe no one talks about it because, like my friend, they think maybe i’m the person that did something wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t care about it because Smith’s bad behavior is in her private life and shouldn’t stain her work. But then what about Ryan Adams? Obviously, I don’t want to equate Adams’ ongoing mistreatment of women to this one instance of Smith being needlessly shitty to my friend, but I imagine people could understand why I wouldn’t want to read White Teeth. And on the flip side, I should be able to understand that my story shouldn’t stop people from loving Zadie Smith. Her fans have their own stories of how her words have shaped their world view, so while I assume everyone is disappointed to hear that their heroes are prone to lapses in decency, and I don’t expect any Smith fans reading this to throw out her books anymore than I expect Adams’ fans to toss his records.
What does this have to do with Darkthrone? Well, Transylvanian Hunger is a tainted album. The first pressing of the album came emblazoned with “Norsk Arisk black metal” (Norwegian Aryan black metal) on its jacket. Darkthrone would later deny affiliations with National Socialist ideologies in the artwork for their next album Panzerfaust and “Norsk Arisk black metal” was removed from subsequent pressings of Transilvanian Hunger. Their drummer/figurehead Fenriz has described his earlier problematic behavior as “disgusting” and is now a local politician for the liberal party in his hometown in Norway. But there are still people out there who have written off Darkthrone forever.
Should I get over Zadie Smith writing a hateful thing to my friend? Probably. Can Ryan Adams ever be forgiven? I don’t know… that kind of misogyny seems deeply ingrained and requires more than just a blanket apology. And what about Darkthrone? In my mind, aligning with a political ideology and later rescinding and atoning for those beliefs is similar to a band flirting with the Christian market only to later deny the existence of Jesus. No Christian would cling to them. Or if the politics were flipped—if Darkthrone had been a radical antifascist anarchist band in the early ‘90s that later started spewing a bunch of Richard Spencer bullshit—no crust punk would endorse them. So why would we still blacklist Darkthrone for something they corrected twenty-five years ago?
Sometimes bad people make great art and that can be tricky to navigate. And sometimes those bad people also turn into decent people.