The Controversies of Mark Kozelek

mark koz

This is a few random mumblings about nothing much at all. It was going to be somewhere else, but I lost it, forgetting to bother retrieving it from wherever it was it fell. 

A band which has been fortunate to find success will often play to huge crowds, and they will soak up every song they sing, every word they say. The stage provides power, and it’s also the place in which a band should be careful what they say, lest comments made blow up into news stories on the net. Mark Kozelek of folk band Sun Kil Moon would know. He would know all too well.

Sun Kil Moon have only recently been in the spotlight, thanks to the critical success the 2014 album Benji received. It’s an incredibly personal record, with Kozelek talking about his family, the past, and what he ate for dinner. It’s as if he’s taken his diary and turned his entries into songs, and be it about death or about crab cakes, the songs have an emotional power packed within them.

That’s the magic of Sun Kil Moon, and has been Kozelek’s magic since his first band Red House Painters. To see these songs played live is something a fan would clearly want, though the lack of censorship in his songs comes across in between his songs too. And this is where Mark Kozelek’s problem lies.

Quiet Please

The first notable outspoken comment from Kozelek was calling a bunch of fans at his show at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh ‘hillbillies’. He wasn’t so keen on the talking, and called the crowd out, threatening to walk off if the ‘fucking hillbillies’ didn’t shut the fuck up. He commented later that this was a joke, but it was clear that the singer was being tested, resulting in the offensive comments. Music sites lapped it up, and this was the beginning of Kozelek’s controversy. He may have said things like this before, but it took Benji for anything to become newsworthy.

War On Noise

The second controversy is more than a simple comment, and started a feud between bands.

During a festival performance, Sun Kil Moon’s sound was drowned out by The War On Drugs who where playing nearby. This of course angered Mark Kozelek, but rather than mumble and grumble some, leaving it at that, he decided to write a song about the incident.

And that song was ‘War on Drugs Suck My Cock’. It’s a song which details the events in great detail, often humorous, whilst asking the band to suck his cock. Diss tracks are fairly common in the hip hop world, but you don’t see many folk singers lunging for someone’s throat. In a lyrical sense.

The Line

The most recent controversy is the one that caused the biggest stir. Mark Kozelek is a fairly reserved character and only conducts interviews via email. Pitchfork writer Laura Snapes apparently wanted a face to face interview, and after politely declining, she interviewed a number of associates for further information. This set Kozelek off once again, and he made a little song on the fly as a joke whilst performing on stage about the ordeal.

Unfortunately this was a joke too far, as he started talking about Snapes in a sexualised manner, on how she wanted to fuck him and should get in line. He insisted this was just a joke of his, but nobody was laughing. At least on the internet. He addressed this whole situation by reading a fan letter out on his 2016 album Jesu/Sun Kil Moon about the show in question, and only people there could grab the true context of the situation. But when you read it on the net and Laura Snapes reaction, it’s clear to see that it was best left unsaid, no matter how throwaway it may have appeared on stage.

Mark Kozelek often sings about women in the opposite manner to this, and it makes the whole exchange a betrayal of many fans expectations. He might not have told them to have these expectations, but as fans we create them. This is why this is all such a big deal compared to what you see from the constant misogyny associated with hip hop. We at least expect it there, even if we shouldn’t

The Art and the Person

The strange thing is that despite how personal the music of Sun Kil Moon is, it completely contradicts the negative on stage moments. Is it a problem with the extra exposure he’s recently received? Is it a case of the stream of self consciousness which makes up the music is actually in fact censored so all the bad parts are scrubbed out?

Or is it simply how a person reacts due to frustration, because they are human after all? Kanye West can go into full on rants on stage, Catfish and The Bottlemen often outdo themselves with immature sexist joke merchandise, every celebrity seems to screw up on Twitter, and even Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill has been called out for being transphobic. An artist can make great music, but sometimes you just have to separate the two. You’d go insane with burning CDs otherwise.

I don’t think you’ll see this at most gigs. At least we hope not. Stay classy Catfish and the Bottlemen.

It’s easy to disagree and shake heads at his comments, but it’s far harder to give up the music, which has managed to touch more people than ever thanks to his recent exposure. After seeing him live recently, something which I’ll go into more depth with some other time, I found him to be a pretty likeable guy, and a little down about the recent internet hate.

In context, I could see how it could be taken out of context, especially after one exchange with a testing audience member trying to push a reaction out of the singer. He ended up saying ‘I don’t like this guy’ before brushing it aside. Think of the headlines which could be formed from that. Right or wrong, we always say something we don’t mean, or something that can create upset. Have you ever been so perfect to do otherwise?


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