Is the title too obvious? Maybe, whatever.
Anyways, everyone’s favorite Fugee1 is going to jail for tax evasion. I don’t have any real sociological insights about the situation. It just makes me sad. I mean, here’s this artist who made one of the single best albums of the 90s, going to the pokey because she didn’t have the goddammed sense to hire someone to take care of this shit for her.
Some of her quotes during her sentencing are worth noting though.
Someone did the math, and it came to around $600 million,…And I sit here before you trying to figure out how to pay a tax debt? If that’s not like enough to slavery, I don’t know.
First of all. If her tax bill is 600 Million, that means she had to have earned over a billion dollars over a three year period. Don’t get me wrong, Lost Ones is a great song, but I’m pretty sure that it didn’t earn that kind of radio play over this time. Second of all, I’m pretty disappointed that she would equate the systematic brutalization and dehumanization of her ancestors to pitching in to help pay for medicare. As my friend HK said, “Me too Lauryn. I don’t like paying taxes either but I still do.” I mean seriously, when we try to close tax loopholes to force corporations to pay their fair share, are we really subjecting them to the same conditions as slaves? Is this what you’re saying Lauryn? I hate to say it, but she just sounds kinda crazy now.
UPDATE: 5/7/10 11:54PM
Upon further reflection, I wanted to also say that I’m conflicted about Hill’s protest. On the one hand, I think civil disobedience is fine in the face of unjust institutions. And really, the US tax code definitely is unjust in that it allows corporations to avoid paying their fair share, and probably, the enforcement of tax laws is probably just as racially and economically biased as the enforcement of any other law. But on the other hand, it seems self-serving for Hill to use this as justification for not paying taxes. It’s like the whole prison abolition movement. I agree with the fundamental premise of that movement, that the prison and law enforcement systems are totally corrupt and racist and do more harm than good to the country. But at the same time, I don’t know if abolishing prisons is the answer. I do think that some people probably need to be kept in a way that prevents them from doing harm to the community. Maybe I don’t know enough about the prison system but I just haven’t heard a satisfactory answer from that movement as to how to deal with shitty people, which I think are a real thing. It seems like it’s addressing a problem by creating an equally shitty problem. What I guess I’m trying to say is that while I actually do agree with the premise of Hill’s argument, I don’t know what she’s really done to make me believe that she actually holds this point of view. I suppose that’s unfair since she’s not given me any reason to not believe that is how she feels, but I would say it’s not like she’s a known activist who organizes to reform tax laws. I don’t know. I’m no super activist myself. The quotes just seem weird to me.
END OF UPDATE
Anyways, I guess the most interesting part of all of this is that to pay off her tax bill, she is finally making new music. I’m quite torn about this. As I alluded to before, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is an extraordinary work of art. Truly one of the great albums of this period, one that stands the test of time, an insightful meditation on love, loss, and female empowerment.2 Like everyone else, I was very much looking forward to more art from the mind that created such a thing, but as is well documented, Hill just kinda disappeared. And despite not getting the music, in some ways, this was almost perfect. It allowed us to really just view The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as the singular work of genius it was. The fact that was all she gave us allowed us to romanticize the album even more. She was a comet what we only got to see burn briefly, but man what a show it was when it was burning.
Perhaps it is over simplistic, I just worry that the fact that she’s doing this because she needs to money will taint that perfect picture I have of Hill. You might say that it’s funny how money changes the situation…GET IT?3 I’m not so naive to think that artists don’t do their work for money, but it still kinda bums me out that money and not artistic inspiration is what motivates the next music we will hear from Lauryn. I guess there are examples of this kind of thing working out. Marvin Gaye once recorded an album for the sole purpose of paying alimony to an ex, and people seem to think that was a good album. But I think of Willie Nelson ever since he got in trouble for tax evasion and everything I’ve read and heard about how he totally mails in his shows and hasn’t put out a good album in almost a decade, well, like I said, I get sad, and I worry for Lauryn.
Maybe three months in jail will give her enough time to reflect and put together a creative vision that will result in a work of art that is comparable to Miseducation, but I kinda doubt it. Until then, let’s just appreciate this.
- Seriously, after the Haiti charity debacle there’s no way Wyclef is your favorite. And Pras…come on, you didn’t even know he was a Fugee until you read this. [↩]
- You really ought to take some time to read this oral history of the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill from Rolling Stone [↩]
- I try to work in “It’s funny how money changes the situation” into conversation as much as possible to see if anyone catches on. Try it! It’s fun! [↩]