SO, I’ve been thinking about Morrissey again. It’s all the critic Claire Dederer’s fault. I’ve spent the last week reading her new book Monsters (Sceptre, £20). Subtitled “A Fan’s Dilemma,” it asks the question “what do we do with the art of monstrous men?”

As she wrote earlier this month, “I’ve spent my life being disappointed by beloved male artists”. The likes of John Lennon (assault), TS Eliot (antisemitism), Woody Allen (Soon-Yi), Roman Polanski (rape of a minor).

The reviews of Dederer’s book have been rather mixed. But I found it an interesting, often entertaining read, mostly because it made me laugh on a regular basis.

And it made me think again about my own fandom. How do I feel about the “monsters” whose work I have consumed? Is it still safe to do so? What is a just punishment in the court of public opinion?

A court itself is another matter. That’s why Polanski, who pleaded guilty in an American court to statutory rape, fled to France in 1977 when it looked like he would be imprisoned and has never returned to the US since.

In the light of this, Dederer asks if it’s still OK to watch Chinatown? She found she could.

“My love of the films did not grow from any forgiveness of his crime,” she writes in Monsters. “That forgiveness never happened,” though as she points out, Polanski has been forgiven by Samantha Geimer (nee Gailey), the young girl he abused, now a 60-year-old woman.

Read more: Will there ever be justice over Grenfell?

In a binary culture, one weaponised by social media, there are easy positions to take on this. We can simply say the artist is not the art. Full stop. Or we can argue that the words and actions mark – “stain” is the word Dederer uses – the art. Picasso the artist is also Picasso the abuser.

Some of Dederer’s readers seem to be disappointed that she has not nailed her colours to either of these masts. But I’m with her in finding it difficult to come to some hard and fast rules. It’s complicated.

Which brings us to Morrissey. Back in the 1980s The Smiths were my band. The one I loved above all others. The band in whose songs I saw myself most recognisably reflected back at me: “16, clumsy and shy, that’s the story of my life.” (Or 19 in my case).

The last few years have not been easy for The Smiths fan that I was. Morrissey has morphed into a reactionary old man whose comments flirt with Little Englandism and outright racism. 

The wearing of a For Britain badge on American TV – indicating his apparent approval of the far-right political party – was the last straw for many.

But the question is does the “stain” spread back in time to grow like mould on those records he made in the flush of youth?

For some it has. They argue that you can find evidence of the man he is now in those records; in their insularity and their desire to look backwards.

For various reasons – sorrow mainly – I have been listening to those old Smiths songs a lot in the last year or two. I am not ready to give them up.

Partly because, I think, they don’t belong to Morrissey alone. The Smiths are as defined by Johnny Marr’s guitar lines as Morrissey’s lyrics. Morrissey is not the sole auteur of those records in the same way as Polanski isn’t the only reason why Chinatown is as good as it is; Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and cinematographer John A Alonzo all played their part.

But also I think those Smiths songs belong to me in a way. They are part of my own mental landscape, divorced from their creators. Art becomes a vehicle for all of us to help find our place in the world.

We are what we love, right? And I can still find something to love in Morrissey’s lyrics from back then. As he sang on I Know It’s Over, “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate. It takes strength to be gentle and kind.”

That still seems a revolutionary statement to me. Maybe even more so now than back then. We shouldn’t lose those words because of the subsequent words of the man who wrote them.