In their bid to make it illegal to sell albums with parental warning
stickers to minors, some Georgia state legislators are driving down a road
fraught with potholes -- hazards that will prove themselves too wide to
avoid and too deep to crawl out of, says singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt, a cult figure whose fans include R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage and Madonna.
The Peach State native predicts that inherent bias in the process of
assigning which albums get stickered will result in decreased sales for
particular genres. "Some records will fly right on through because
authorities are too ignorant to sticker them," said Chesnutt, who has
released five albums -- some containing adult language -- none of which has
"Of course, all the rap records are going to be stickered all over," he
said. "There's going to be some kind of racist bias, whether it's on
purpose or not. That's a big problem that shoots a hole in [the bill]
right there. But they [the legislators] won't see it."
On Monday, the Georgia State House of Representatives sent a bill to its
Special Judiciary Committee that would make it a misdemeanor to sell albums with parental warning stickers to
people under 18. Supporters say such
a law would assist parents in monitoring their children's music choices.
Sponsored by Democrat Vernon Jones, HB 1170 could be scheduled for a
hearing as early as the end of this month.
Not everyone in the Chesnutt household is in agreement. Vic's wife and
bass player, Tina, said she endorses measures such as HB 1170 as tools to
help busy parents keep tabs on their children.
Vic, however, maintained that the bill is "insane," and forecast unexpected
ramifications if it passes. "Now there'll be old men waiting outside
record stores for the little kids to come up, just like outside of the beer
store, saying, 'I'll buy a record for you little kiddie,' " he said.
But Sharon Trense, a Republican legislator who co-sponsored the bill,
called the bill "pro-family." She decided to lend her support to the
measure after examining some of the albums her foster son listens to. "We
found a few of these tapes in his possession," she said. "I read the
lyrics for the first time, and it's not constructive."
Trense could not
recall the specific bands whose work she found offensive.
"It's a form of brainwashing, actually, I believe," she said of the
offending material. "I'm not a fuddy-duddy, but these kids are exposed to
more than they're able to handle at a young age. If you're pro-family and
pro-children, you're going to want to help families monitor what their
children are listening to."
Some Georgia music stores, such as Wuxtry Records in Athens, already refuse
to sell stickered albums to kids under 18. "The bill wouldn't really
affect us," said Wuxtry manager Deborah Wall. "I personally think that
that's fine. We'll just continue to do as we've done, and that way it
can't ever be any trouble for us. Some of this stuff is pretty graphic and
obscene, and parents should have the right to monitor that."
The Recording Industry Association of America devised its voluntary
parental warning sticker program in 1985, in response to criticism of
graphic lyrics by groups such as the Parents Music Resource Center, which was co-founded by Vice President Al Gore's wife, Tipper. Since
then, several states, including Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Washington,
have attempted and failed to pass laws that would make it illegal to sell
stickered albums to minors. The RIAA opposed those measures, and has vowed
to fight HB 1170.
"This music is not illegal, and no music has ever been found to be
obscene," said Joel Flatow, the RIAA's senior director for government
affairs and artist relations. "To use a voluntary program in order to
prosecute people for the sale of music is really flying in the face of the
spirit of the parental advisory program."
Over the past two decades, Georgia has spawned such notable acts as R.E.M.,
the Indigo Girls, the B-52s, Widespread Panic, Jack Logan and
Pylon, in additon to Chesnutt. Richard Fausset, editor of the Flagpole, a weekly newspaper
that devotes much of its coverage to the rich music community of Athens, said
HB 1170 could have palpable effects on the town's creative network.
"The transgressions of youth drive the music scene, and they've always
driven rock 'n' roll-related stuff," Fausset said. "There's probably some
basis for curtailing the music in a moral sense. Maybe 9-year-olds
shouldn't be listening to explicit rap music. But it sure does screw up
the whole sense of the scene here, because it's driven by young people."
Chesnutt concurred. "I know I bought a lot of albums when I was under 18,"
he said. Whether the next generation of young music fans will be able to
buy their equivalent of Exile On Main Street and White
Light/White Heat will be determined in the months ahead. [Thurs., Jan. 15, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]