Maryland Cooking Up Texas-Style 'Offensive Lyrics' Plan?

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.