The Jesse Lacey Problem
Jesse Lacey is, or perhaps was, the frontman of Long Island alt-rock/emo/post-hardcore band Brand New.
Earlier this month I wrote out a list of my heroes, and until relatively recently, Lacey would've been on that list. Brand New was probably the first band I ever felt a deep emotional connection to, back when I was 12 or 13. I remember one of my friends sent me the .mp3 file for "Me vs Maradonna vs Elvis", and I wasn't really sure if I liked it at first, but I couldn't stop listening. The album MvMvE comes from, Deja Entendu, grew to become one of my favourites, and I never became tired of it despite god knows how many playthroughs in the last 10 years. The confessional lyrics, penned by Lacey, dealt with loneliness, depression and self loathing, and served me and many others as a source of comfort in my younger years, a reminder that I was not alone in my feelings. The raw emotionality of the songs became cathartic for me, and they became one of my go to artists to listen to when I felt down (which was most of the time).
A few years ago I went to a Brand New show in Southampton with my then girlfriend. It is an incredibly happy memory for me - the band's performance was amazing, to see them live after loving their music for so many years, and with a girl I loved by my side, made it something I never wanted to forget. I bought one of their t-shirts, and it became one of my favourites.
Late last year, in the wake of many high-profile allegations of sexual abuse, two women wrote about their experiences with Jesse Lacey, and that he had committed sexual misconduct against them when they were minors. Of course, I didn't want to believe it. Lacey was one of my heroes, someone I had looked up to for my whole adult life, someone I wanted to be like. Surely he couldn't do such a thing? But then he issued a blanket apology for his past actions, and it became clear it was true.
Obviously the real victims are those he abused, not me. Their suffering as a result of Lacey's actions is a thousandfold greater than mine. But sadly, I don't think there is much I can do for them, and I have to look out for number one. So, one of my idols had been ripped away from me. Brand New songs are still on most of my Spotify playlists. They come up on shuffle every so often, and I am never sure whether to skip past them or keep listening to the songs I once loved. Can I still enjoy their art, for the comfort it once brought me, and separate it from mistakes the artists made in the past and I believe genuinely regrets, now he is a different person? I wore the t-shirt a couple of days ago without thinking about what it represented; could I still do so guilt-free?
I have wrestled with this problem for a couple of months, until the answer hit me this week. A video kept coming up in my Youtube suggestions, a music video for a song by Lil Dicky (whom I like, and listen to his music) featuring Chris Brown. I have deliberately not listened to any Chris Brown song after reading the police report of his assault on Rihanna, because it disgusted me, and I do not think he deserves to have a career in the public eye after that. I do not know exactly what Lacey did in quite the same way as Brown, but it is pretty clear to me that I couldn't choose to ignore Lacey's wrongdoings while condemning Brown's simply because I previously enjoyed the former's art more.
And so that is that. I'm going to take every Brand New song off every playlist I have. I'm not going to wear their t-shirt anymore, maybe I'll give it to a charity shop. I won't listen to, or support Brand New any further.
I sincerely hope the victims of Lacey's actions can find some kind of way to make things better in their lives, or as close to it as possible.