The Halo Effect: “If we see a person first in a good light, it is difficult subsequently to darken that light”
In David Hepworth’s book on 1971, he uses the Halo Effect to explain why “What’s Going On” has such a reputation for being a great album (basically, the excellence of the opening and closing tracks casts a halo over the rest of the album).
That got me thinking about where else this effect can be seen. Oddly enough, the first name that came to mind was David Letterman. When he retired a couple of years back, tributes poured in about his 30 years as a talk show host. Yet most of the clips that were recalled were from the 1980s. As someone who only saw his show from the late 90s onwards it was difficult to see what the fuss was about: a fairly cranky middle-aged guy making jokes with his bandleader? I think a lot of the goodwill that was extended to him was a result of the Halo Effect created by his early 80s shows, when he really was a breath of fresh air.
In sports, few teams benefit from the Halo Effect as much as the Brazilian national team. Even though they abandoned their old style of play in the late 80s, we still think of each Brazil team as being the heirs of Jairzinho, Pele, Carlos Alberto and the others of the great 1970 team. Each time a World Cup comes around, there’s talk of “jogo bonito” and “samba style football” that doesn’t bear much resemblance as to what’s happening on the pitch. Similarly, the Dutch team have been counter-attacking bruisers for over a decade, but we still carry a torch for them, because of the Halo Effect cast by Cruyff, Neeskens et al.
Perhaps it’s unfair to talk of the Halo Effect with musicians. There’s a general acceptance that they produce their best work in their 20s, so why give someone a hard time if they’re still around 30 or 40 years later and not producing great stuff? Having said that, there are a couple of names that come to mind. Neil Young is one who seems to retain a lot of goodwill from people who got to know him in the 70s (or 90s), even as he tests their patience with each record. And Morrissey’s career seems to be sustained by the residual energy of the intense relationship with his fans in the 80s.
Anyone else come to mind? Stephen Fry maybe? Metallica?