On May 19, 1913, Igor Stravinsky debuted his new ballet, The Rite of Spring. People actually rioted, proving once and for all that ballet fans are representin’. That riot and the legal actions that may have ensued were purely about the work itself. Stravinsky’s new work was jarring, dissonant.
But in the latter half of the century (and into the new one) popular music found itself in the soup not only due to its aesthetics but also because of the alleged causal relationship between certain songs and specific tragedies. The logic goes that because an individual who committed a violent act liked (or obsessed over) a certain song, the song was responsible for the crime. This is a bit like saying that because Hitler wore shoes, shoes caused the Holocaust.
That’s not quite accurate. A more fair analogy would be that because Hitler liked Wagner, The Ring Cycle was responsible for the Holocaust. No, Hitler was. We agree on this point, don’t we?
I’m not a psychiatrist, and I don’t doubt that mentally ill individuals might believe that a given song is speaking directly to him or her. But the operative words here are “mentally ill.” Music doesn’t cause suicide, murder, or promiscuity. Don’t waste time arguing about what’s on your kid’s playlist; invest your time in talking to your kid. If you won’t then My Chemical Romance will.
“Piggies,” The Beatles: Charles Manson was a paranoid schizophrenic who came to believe that The Beatles (aka The White Album) was speaking to him. In probably the most infamous crime of the latter half of the Twentieth Century, Manson’s followers went on a killing spree that including writing “Helter Skelter” and “Death To Pigs” in the victims’ blood on the walls of the crime scenes.
“Better By You, Better Than Me,” Judas Priest: A couple of days prior to Christmas back in 1985 two buddies entered into a suicide pact. One was successful, the other blew off his lower jaw but survived for another three years. Absolutely tragic. Priest had to go to court to defend against allegations that their music contained subliminal phrases like “Do it” and “Let’s be dead.” The band’s manager famously testified that he didn’t even know what subliminal messages were but ”If we were going to do that, I’d be saying, ‘Buy seven copies,’ not telling a couple of screwed-up kids to kill themselves.”
“Suicide Solution,” Ozzy Osbourne: Ozzy’s and Bob Daisley’s cautionary tale of alcoholism landed in court in 1986 when the parents of a depressed teenager sued Osbourne after the kid’s suicide. At least one other case of teen suicide has been blamed on “Suicide Solution,” likely more.
“Night Prowler,” AC/DC: Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker was one horribly screwed up dude. Raised in an abusive household, witness at age thirteen to his Vietnam vet cousin killing his wife, Ramirez was eventually convicted of thirteen murders, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults and fourteen burglaries. The serial killer left an AC/DC hat at one crime scene, sported a band shirt at times, and apparently loved the song “Night Prowler.” The media picked up on this loose relationship and caused the band a lot of headaches.
“Antichrist Superstar,” Marilyn Manson: The Columbine shootings were a horrible tragedy. At the time Marilyn Manson was the bad boy of music, the shooters listened to his music, and therefore it was his fault in some minds. If you’ve never seen Bowling For Columbine put it in your queue just to hear Marilyn Manson’s thoughts on the subject.
“Welcome to the Black Parade,” My Chemical Romance: The most recent tragic teen suicide court case, this one a thirteen year old girl in the UK.
The Filthy Fifteen: Once upon a time in a far away place named Washington, D.C., a group of bored politicians’ wives decided that music was teaching children to masturbate. Their stated goal was to get warning labels placed on dangerous records so that parents could make informed decisions. And this is why almost thirty years later there is absolutely no music on your kids’ playlists that glorifies drug and alcohol use and gun violence, or demeans women and minorities. The PMRC fought Cyndi Lauper and got the “Explicit Lyrics” label that pretty much guarantees sales for songs about bitches, booty poppin’ and Uzis. Great work, Tipper. In retrospect the PMRC’s “Filthy Fifteen” are downright cute:
1 “Darling Nikki,” Prince
2 “Sugar Walls,” Sheena Easton
3 “Eat Me Alive,” Judas Priest
4 “Strap on Robbie Baby,” Vanity
5 “Bastard,” Mötley Crüe
6 “Let Me Put My Love into You,” AC/DC
7 “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Twisted Sister
8 “Dress You Up,” Madonna
9 “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast),” W.A.S.P.
10 “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night),” Def Leppard
11 “Into the Coven,” Mercyful Fate
12 “Trashed,” Black Sabbath
13 “In My House,” Mary Jane Girls
14 “Possessed,” Venom
15 “She Bop,” Cyndi Lauper
Thought provoking post…and some fine tunes to enjoy as well! I have always found it puzzling when a song or a book or an episode of Beavis and Butthead gets pinned with the responsibility for CAUSING some sad or horrible act. People, even very disturbed people, do look for meaning in things they hear and read. But to say that a song or the artists who wrote and/or performed the song are responsible for how a mentally ill person acts…well there is your crazy right there.
I still remember the actual terror that some song might invoke Old Nick. Didn’t stop me from getting my errant dad to buy me “Shout at the Devil” one day, though..,
“No, Dad, they are shouting AT the Devil, see?”
I have great respect for Al Gore, and when I think about the “Tipper Episode” i absolutely cringe. The stupidity of that campaign was right up there with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” – as if this funny little issue called an addictive personality did not exist in the mental health realm. Just like saying no to having brown eyes! Just say NO and you will be just fine.
And a sticker on an album will guarantee that your kid will never hear that bad song that will cause him to blow his brains out. There’s safety in stickers!
As I recall, Frank Zappa kicked everyone’s ass in court, didn’t he?
Not just Frank! Dee Snider took them to task, too, but the death blow was John Denver, who in a pre-intergooglewebtubes move pulled out the Hitler Equivalency play.
Get OUT! John Denver? I can finally come out of the closet concerning my great love for John when I was a pre-teen. Now we’ve got some street cred. F***in A, John! Or as Milo says, “That is pure rockstar.”
In my ever present political paranoia – Frank dies young, John dies young…….I guess Tipper was more dangerous than we knew.
Here he is in all his glory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgSjjD6rRu4
That was inspired. Wow, I had no idea John Denver testified until this post, and I guess I still retain a soupcon of sentiment – I got a bit misty watching it. Thanks for this.
The great thing about his testimony was that you know those tight asses didn’t see it coming. Dee Snider? Sure. Frank Zappa? Absolutely. But wholesome John Denver? He’s on our side, right? Right?