Sunday Morning: The Chill From Washington

Another round of attacks on rock 'n' roll. Will it ever end?

Rock 'n' roll came under attack last week. A Senate subcommittee that is investigating the influence of violent song lyrics on youth held a hearing in Washington, D. C. Thursday, in which -- big surprise -- testimony was mostly heard from those who believe that some popular music is impacting kids in a negative way, and who would seek to impose mandatory parental warning labels on some recordings.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, members of the city council were attempting to stop a free Metallica concert from taking place Tuesday (Nov. 11).

So what else is new.

If boredom, apathy, a shrug is your reaction to these attempts to put a lid on rock 'n' roll (and I use that term to include hip-hop and electronica, as well as Metallica and Marilyn Manson), then we've got problems. Yet I wouldn't be surprised if that is how you feel.

Some politicians and right wing religious groups have been waging war against freedom of speech and freedom of thought since rock's beginnings in the '50s. It is as predictable as the sun rising that some small-minded and/or career politician will stand up and shout about the need to protect "the children," and then try to impose their fascistic rules on the rest of us.

Since the mid-'80s, attempts have been made to impose mandatory labeling on recordings that someone would somehow determine were pornographic or violent. An Orwellian picture of some dweeb sitting in a windowless congressional basement "rating room" listening to advance tapes of not-yet-released albums comes to mind. (We all know that Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska should have a label, right?)

Apathy is not a reaction that is going to keep rock 'n' roll alive. And in fact, apathy is the antithesis of what rock 'n' roll is about. Just ask Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, who has dedicated much of his time during the past few years to rallying the great rockers of the '90s to the cause of the Tibetan people.

Already, those who would shut rock 'n' roll down have made inroads. Discount retail outlets like Kmart and Walmart now carry censored versions of some albums. And what is truly shocking about this (you were wrong Perry, when you titled the second Jane's Addiction album Nothing Shocking) is that it was done voluntarily by record companies, often with the approval of the artist.

Those same so-called "family" oriented stores (and others) simply don't carry albums that the record industry voluntarily stickers. Faced with not having stores that can deliver major sales carry an album, the record industry's response has been to change the albums and provide "clean" versions to those stores.

This is known as the "chilling effect."

In other words, if you know that stores won't carry your art if you make certain kinds of statements, then you may decide to stop making those statements. Or your record company may decide to delete those statements from your art. Over time, those statements simply stop being made.

That's what's already going on.

Naturally, it's not enough as far subcommittee chairman Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is concerned. Brownback thinks action needs to be taken within the music industry to curtail violence in popular music or to better warn parents of its

existence.

Unlike Mr. Brownback, most of us don't live in Kansas. Maybe in Kansas, it really is possible to keep a child from being exposed to anything except what a parent wants them to see, hear, feel, taste or smell.

In the rest of America, kids that want to know what's up are going to find out, regardless of their parents' desires. As everyone knows, telling a kid that they shouldn't listen or drink or smoke something is one of the very best ways of insuring that they do sample that thing.

But, of course, none of this is really about stickers on albums, or keeping free concerts from taking place.

Call me cynical, but from my vantage point, this is simply about career politicians wanting headlines. This is about some pathetic creeps on a city council board who want to get re-elected, and about a senator who wants to up his profile.

Which doesn't mean that we should just sit back and laugh at them and do nothing. Just the opposite. If you care about the music, if don't want fascism to slowly subvert the democratic principles upon which this country was founded, then you'll let your voice be heard. You'll call your congressman, send letters to the President. You'll contact Electric Factory in Philly, and CoreStates Complex President Peter Lukko (who tried to back out of his verbal agreement with Metallica to let them play in the CoreStates' parking lot) and the Philly city council and tell 'em what you think about the attempts to stop the Metallica concert.

And then, after you've done that, you'll slip on a CD -- maybe the new one from hip-hop supergroup The Firm, or perhaps an oldie, say NIN's "Closer" and turn it up. Real, real loud. [Sun., Nov. 9, 1997, 9:00 a.m. PST]