When Talented Men Hit

March 4, 2015

By Maddy Thomas.

Recently, Sydney Celt-punk band The Rumjacks re-emerged after an almost three year hiatus. They booked a national tour in a great venues, and they were added to the Bluesfest lineup. They released a new song and gave a release date for a new album, they ramped up their social media presence, and they slowly but surely did a bunch of interviews.

However, in none of these interviews is it mentioned why the band went on hiatus in 2012.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story it goes a little something like this. Back in April of 2012 lead singer Francis “Frankie” McLaughlin was sentenced to 16 months jail time for a number of assaults on his former partner. The details are few; the assaults (one of them sexual) took place in approximately 2010 and if the whispers are to be believed the band tried to keep the proceedings hushed up until they were outed by anonymous blogger who wrote-

“The singer of The Rumjacks, is a woman beater… He beat his ex-Partner [sic] over a long period of time, and even sexually assaulted her. He, and his band denies this, and even tell people that it was thrown out of court after two hours just to save their new record deal with FOUR | FOUR. Well Frankie me lad, thats [sic] interesting, seeing as tomorrow (5/4/2012) you will be sat down and sentenced by the Magistrate at PENRITH courthouse for 3 charges of Assault, one including part of a sexual assault.”.

Powerful stuff.

rumjack

The blogger went on to allege that the assault by McLaughlin included “a knife attack” and “a black eye”; and included an excerpt allegedly derived from the victim’s statement: “’He basically pleaded three counts of assault…one being part of a sexual assault where he grabbed me by the neck…’”

Casting the final stone in the direction of the rest of the band members, the blogger added “To those saying we should leave the band out of this, they lied about this, to save their own arses, they’re also scumbags. One of the band members and his wife/girlfriend were on Facebook earlier today threatening to harm the victim for speaking out, with many others joining in to say they’d help.”

The story hit the blogosphere with a vengeance and very quickly popped up on various Australian music websites, and the remaining members of The Rumjacks released a statement countering the allegations (at least the ones directed squarely at them)-

“In light of recent events concerning band member Frankie, we have decided to take an indefinite break. As a result all upcoming gigs and recording plans have been cancelled. We refute any suggestion that we condone domestic violence. It is an abhorrent crime and its perpetrators should be dealt with under the full extent of the law. We thank all of our fans worldwide for their support over the years- Johnny, Adam, Gabe, Anthony.”

Six years ago singer Chris Brown brutally beat his then girlfriend Rihanna on the way to a Grammy Week party. Disturbing images of Rihanna’s pulped face stared out from newspapers, televisions, and computer screens worldwide. There was condemnation for Brown’s actions from all sides, though he managed to avoid jail.
For beating his girlfriend, choking her to unconsciousness, and leaving her at the side of the road, Chris Brown was sentenced to five years’ probation and six months of community service. I could point out Brown’s years of loathsome behaviour since 2009 (including getting an eerie likeness of Rihanna’s beaten face tattooed on his neck, and a spell in jail for parole violation) but I would be here all night. The only thing that stings more than Brown’s relatively light sentence was, like The Rumjacks, his open armed welcome back into the music industry by peers and fans alike.

These cases bring me to a couple of points. Firstly, when does the perpetrator of the violence become absolved of that particular sin? In the case of The Rumjacks it appears that they (and many fans) are happy to ignore the elephant in the room. When I asked this question on my personal Facebook page, many of my friends who happened to be fans were unaware of the entire story. Some countered that we idolise men like Jim Morrison, John Lennon, and Axl Rose- all artists that have made an immeasurable contribution to modern music, who also happened to have treated women with violence, why weren’t they singled out for crucifixion? A fair observation.

So the next point is does the act negate the talent of an artist, or does the art negate the act? Unfortunately in the case of the arts, many times it is the latter. It is difficult to let go of a beloved artist even when their glaring personal ugliness is held up in the clear light of day. It’s easier to see Jim Morrison as misunderstood poet and sex god than a violent alcoholic, or John Lennon as a pillar for peace than a man who habitually hit his partners.

Finally, where does forgiveness begin, and should it exist? Oscar Wilde once said “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future”, but surely there must be some sort of acknowledgement for that “sin” before any kind of absolution. In the case of The Rumjacks there was no “I’m sorry”, and apart from one Facebook post there is no acknowledgement of this dark period of their history. A golden opportunity for McLaughlin to speak out about his experience, and his road to rehabilitation has been missed and not one person has pointed this out.  Not one of the almost 60,000 fans of his band have held the singer accountable for his actions. No-one has asked the question. Most prefer to point to the old saying “he did the crime, he did the time, let it go”.

Ironically, The Rumjacks will play back to back shows in Melbourne at Cherry Bar and Yah Yahs, two venues that last year housed a weekend-long White Ribbon Benefit.

Personally, I will not be supporting this band, or this tour. I’m only one person so I don’t see my non-attendance sinking the ship. As much as I would love to encourage people to make a statement with their feet, I don’t see that happening either.

What I can do, is ask people to have the conversation. Talk to your friends, or partner, or family about this issue, and about domestic violence as a wider issue in our community. Educate yourself and the people around you, ask questions, listen to the opinions of others- just keep the conversation going.

It is 2015 and it is time that the stigma around domestic violence is broken down. It is not something to ignore because it is ugly, or too hard, or “none of my business”.

It is real, it happens, and sometimes it is even caused by the hands that strum that guitar.

See Maddy’s other posts here.

One Comment

  1. Michelle Nicol

    March 12, 2015 at 11:23 am

    I can’t personally support this band, tour, merchandise, rekkids.

Leave a Reply