When Helmet guitarist/singer Page Hamilton learned that Maryland is
considering penalizing record labels that publish "offensive lyrics," he wasn't shocked, he said.
He was... well, offended.
"It's ridiculous to think that anyone can have the right to dictate to
you what you're going to write," Hamilton said of plans to study the
ramifications of divesting state funds from companies that promote lyrics deemed offensive. "It's completely objectionable."
Most opponents of Texas' recently passed "offensive lyrics" law
predicted that the measure would inspire other states to pursue similar regulations. Last Friday, the investment committee of Maryland's pension system board met with executives from Seagram Co. (Interscope's parent company), the EMI Group and Time-Warner, three major label owners which would be impacted by such a law, to discuss divestiture.
Peter Vaughn, director of Maryland's retirement system, said there was no
immediate fallout from the committee meeting. "We're not in a hurry to make
a decision. We want to understand the causes and effects of any decision
we would make." A recommendation for divestiture or continued investment will
not be made until the committee's next meeting in October.
Vaughn said that label representatives discussed with the investment
committee their policies of labeling albums with explicit lyrics and
requesting that retail outlets not sell labeled music to minors. "They
said it's very important to them that they know they have to police
themselves, and they think they're doing a fairly good job of it."
In Hamilton's view, it's unlikely that Interscope -- home not only to Helmet,
but to such controversial artists as Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and distributor of Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur -- will bow to any pressure Maryland might exert. "Interscope has fought pretty hard to get music out," Hamilton said. "I make the records I want to make. I don't dedicate my time and energy to battling those people. My time and energy is dedicated to making music."
While he has not yet felt censorial pressure, Hamilton said his
label mate and touring partner has. "Marilyn Manson should be allowed to do what Marilyn Manson does. If you don't want your kids to go to the show, don't let your kids go to the show."
Last month, Texas governor George Bush (R) signed into law a measure
that prohibits investment of state money in companies that produce music that
meets state criteria for offensive, including work that explicitly describes criminal violence, murder, assault, robbery, illegal drug use, gang activity or
denigration of women.
In Maryland, a similar bill earlier this year failed to pass out of
committee because its criteria was too broad. Nonetheless, legislation was
passed requiring the pension board to meet with companies and report back to
the legislature in September, thus prompting the invitation to Seagram,
EMI and Time-Warner to address the investment committee. In its $23.7 billion state retirement and pension fund, Maryland holds $17.1 million in EMI stock, and $14.5 million in Seagram.
Vaughn, who is not a voting member of the board, said, "My professional
point of view is that we should look at it on investment merits. If we
sell our shares, I have no business and I can't affect change. While we
are shareholders, you have rights and privileges. Working from within
is better than working from the outside."
State Congressman Emmett C. Burns, Jr. (D) -- the legislator who
sponsored the failed divestiture measure -- supports divestiture on economic
grounds. "People listen to this junk, telling them to kill cops, rape mothers,
have sex with dead people," Burns said. "Then they go out and do this stuff.
It clogs our jails. It's better to take our money out of the companies
and not have to build the jails."
Burns predicts a financial boon for the state if divestiture eventually
succeeds. In 1996, Maryland sold $78 million in tobacco stocks and made
a profit of $35 million, according to Burns.