Nobody’s saying a divorce can’t be celebrated – except, that right belongs only to those directly affected, who may feel a sense of liberation or closure. But imagine having hordes of people enjoy the news of your divorce, because they hope you’ll be miserable enough to make art from it. That’s what’s happening to singer-songwriter Adele, whose personal announcement has caused great excitement among many fans. Gleeful reports about how she was spotted entering recording studios, with “sources” saying a heartbreak album is around the corner, add fuel.
Some dug up how she allegedly joked to the press, early in her career, “When I’m happy, I ain’t writing songs. I’m out having a laugh. If I ever get married, it’ll be, ‘Darling, I need a divorce. It’s been three years, I’ve got a record to write’”. As though a carefree statement made when she was both younger and just getting acclimatised to success makes such vulture-like anticipation acceptable.
How does Adele feel about her divorce? The correct answer is: none of our business. Is she going to make beautiful music from it? If she does, let it be for her own catharsis. Let her lock it up and have it be revealed in a hundred years. Because those who think she owes it to them to mine her pain for their pleasure – or as a soundtrack for their own cathartic moments – don’t deserve it. An artist’s only obligation is to honour her own journey, in life and work. The audience is incidental. Honestly, so is the art.
I remembered how disappointed I was in 2005 when Tori Amos, my personal queen of teenage intensity, released a seemingly uninspired (but actually deeply grieving, gently healing) album called The Beekeeper. Like other entitled fans, I thought moving to Cornwall to raise chickens and a child had made her lose her edge.
But so what if she had? Did she not deserve her peace? I understood only once I was on the other side, and felt the exhaustion of being projected upon. A literary author is not a superstar, but in smaller but still prickly ways, dehumanisation happens. It runs the gamut from backhanded compliments like being told at a celebration for a book how someone preferred an earlier one and expected more like it; to disrespect of boundaries because personal interaction was presumed to be an all-access pass; to an ugly experience when readers knew a loved one was dying, and someone still had the malice to send me casual criticism while claiming to usually enjoy the pieces they’d never once dropped an appreciative word for. The equanimity I strive for now is this: knowing both praise and aversion are reflections of the recipient, not the maker.
And you know what? And after all those dramatic years of loving Amos’ dark albums, it’s funny how The Beekeeper is almost the only one I still listen to. And I understand now: it’s not that she had lost her charm, or her edge, back then. It’s that I needed to grow before I could see it, and recognise the grace and fire that had withstood what went into the work.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 28th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.