Criticism of rock 'n' roll and its cultural position continues to mount
in the wake of the ambush at a Colorado high school by two young suspects reported to have been fans of hard-rock acts Marilyn Manson, KMFDM and Rammstein.
Manson, no stranger to controversy and the most high-profile artist in the bunch, is emerging as the primary target of that criticism.
Appearing as guests on NBC's Meet The Press this weekend, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and conservative philosopher William Bennett pointed to Manson's music and to violent forms of entertainment as contributing factors in the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., that claimed 15 lives. Among the dead were suspected gunmen Eric Harris, who was 18, and Dylan Klebold, who was 17.
In Portsmouth, N.H., Schools Superintendent Suzzanne Schrader has reacted to the incident by banning Manson T-shirts and goth fashion from school. "When kids come back from vacation, they better not even think about wearing Marilyn Manson (T-shirts)," Schrader was quoted as saying in Saturday's edition of the Portsmouth Herald. "Parents are welcome to challenge me in court."
The ban in Portsmouth follows the voluntary cancellation last Thursday of a radio station-sponsored Manson concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo. The show was scheduled for Friday.
It also follows the decision by the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.,
not to cancel a Manson show set for May 3, despite pressure from some
community members. Venue president Robert Stewart said the events center, on the
campus of the University of Nevada at Reno, does not usually book shows based on their content, and its management decided not to make an exception this time.
Dan Gerstein, Lieberman's press secretary, said the senator believes the macabre, often profane nature of some rock lyrics and the content of other media, including video games, influence children's behavior. "He's concerned that the combination of things that kids see has an effect and it helps to wear down values."
Gerstein said Lieberman is uncertain that the recording industry's
practice of stickering albums with explicit material is ineffective.
"Their labeling is so vague, it doesn't give [parents] the ability to
weed out the stuff that is problematic," Gerstein said.
Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, refuted Lieberman's view, saying association surveys have shown that parents generally understand what material is most harmful.
She called the connection between music and the murders a "low-level virus" that comes from people's desire for easy answers.
The real focus, she said, ought to be on the psychological troubles of
Harris and Klebold, two young men who, according to the Associated Press, planned their assault with guns and pipe bombs to coincide with the birthday of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. "They didn't need Manson. They had a hero already," Rosen said.
A spokesperson for Jefferson County, Colo., last week said investigators
removed CDs from the homes of Harris and Klebold during a wide-ranging
search warrant executed at their residences. There has been no
confirmation by any investigators in Colorado as to what specific music
the two listened to.
No stranger to these controversies, Howie Klein, CEO of Reprise Records, also rejected the link between music and the attack, seemingly placing the blame instead on the lack of gun control.
"I remember when I saw Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan show and everyone thought it was the end of the world for white parents, but millions of kids listened to him and didn't shoot people," Klein said. "It just seems to me that there's no need for automatic weapons. I understand the Constitution and I understand about hunting weapons, but I don't understand why a 17-year-old needs automatic weapons."
Klein -- who also was outspoken during the controversy surrounding "Cop Killer," a 1992 song by Body Count, rapper Ice T's hard-rock group -- pointed the finger at Republican critics in particular, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and NRA President Charlton Heston.
With venom firing from critics in one direction and from defenders of
the music industry in the other, officials in Reno were surprisingly
neutral regarding the growing controversy there. Stewart said he received
more than 150 calls from concerned parents and church-goers since
Wednesday about the upcoming Manson show.
He anticipated the rush of calls, he said, after a local newspaper
referred to Harris and Klebold as "disciples of Manson" on Wednesday.
Mayor Thomas Griffin, who acknowledged he could not even describe what
Manson looks like, much less speak to the content of his music, said the final decision on whether to hold the concert should come from the community, not the government or venue.
"For me as an elected official to determine what people do is not appropriate," Griffin said. "If people do not agree with Manson or his message, they should not patronize the show or let their kids patronize him."
Manson (born Brian Warner), in a brief statement through Interscope Records last week, expressed sympathy for the people of Littleton and called the shootings "tragic and disgusting."
Though Manson changed his image from a goth devil worshiper to one of a glam rocker for his latest release, Mechanical Animals (1998), song titles such as
(Senior Writer Gil Kaufman contributed to this report.)