Frank Zappa vs. Kandy Stroud
Is Labeling of Record Albums a Censorship Issue?
A small group of well-connected Washington women is spearheading a serious protest against the heavy-breathing hit of Prince and Madonna and the “sadomasochistic” messages of heavy-metal groups like Motley Crue and Judas Priest. The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which includes the wives of Treasury Secretary James Baker and Democratic senator Albert Gore of Tennessee as well as recognizable names like Pam Howar and Kandy Stroud, have already gotten the U.S. Commerce Committee to hold a hearing on the subject.
The PMRC wants the music industry to voluntarily institute standardized ratings, similar to movie ratings, for records, tapes and videos. Songs with sexually explicit or profane lyrics would receive an X; those that advocate the use of drugs or alcohol would receive a D/A; and those that glorify violence would receive a V. Radio and record people call it censorship. PMRC calls it consumer labeling. One of the most fascinating debates over this issue took place not too long ago on Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” on ABC-TV. With Koppel moderating, the exchange took place between almost unlikely trio: Kandy Stroud, a Georgetown mother of two and news correspondent for CNN; Frank Zappa of the rock group The Mothers of Invention; and Donnie Osmond of the Osmond family. It not only made for interesting viewing, but after reading the transcript, we felt it made for good copy. With ABC’s permission, here are some excerpts:
ANNOUNCER: Among the most successful albums condemned by the Parents’ Music Resource Center are “Dirty Mind” by Prince, Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry,” which has sold more than two million copies, and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” a former number one record which has been on the charts for 41 weeks.
KOPPEL: His group was called Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. His underground hits carried such classic titles as “Suzie Creamcheese,” “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” and “Call Any Vegetable,” plus several with lyrics that we’d have trouble quoting. In the early ’70s, Zappa and his group were banned from the Royal Albert Hall in London in a dispute over obscenity. Frank Zappa joins us now live in our Los Angeles bureau. And joining us in our Washington studio, Kandy Stroud, freelance journalist and spokesperson for the Parents’ Music Resource Center, which is campaigning for a rating system for pop albums and tapes. Frank, give me a sense of limits. Are there any?
FRANK ZAPPA: Are there limits? ... Yes, I think there should (be), and those limits that you’re talking about for sexual information for children are a matter for parents to decide for themselves... Because what the PMRC is suggesting in terms of remedies for the problem are roughly the equivalent of saying, “Well; this man has dandruff so we’re going to cure it by cutting his head off.” Their proposals are really dumb if you take away the aroma and look at the mechanics of what they are, and they’re also very dangerous in terms of what they can lead to for violating your right to free speech, your right to assemble, because they want to apply the same ratings to live concerts, and the right to due process for people—for example, if you’re a songwriter and you have a song included on an album that gets an X, and through no fault of your own the album is banned from stores, or the sales of it are impinged on in some way, you don’t have a chance.
KOPPEL: All right. Kandy Stroud, you’re a journalist in addition to being a spokesperson for this group, and I’m sure are also concerned about impinging on the rights of free speech. Wehre do you draw the line? Clearly not in the same direction as Frank Zappa.
KANDY STROUD: Well, certainly nobody’s talking about censorship, Ted. Nobody’s talking about taking away anybody’s First Amendment.
ZAPPA: Not yet.
STROUD: And never will.
ZAPPA: Oh, come on, Kandy.
SSTROUD: Excuse me, just let me finish. I think what’s most important is that parents be given some sort of information as they are given in the movies. We’re talking about consumer information, packaging, labeling, so that if a parent goes to a record store to buy a record for a child, he doesn’t come home with a record by Prince that contains lyrics about masturbation or incest or oral sex... I was just as uninformed as many parents are in this country today and’ went out and bought Sheena Easton and bought Prince and bought Frankie Goes to Hollywood for one of my children’s friends without knowing that Frankie Goes to Hollywood was about gay sex, that Sheena Easton was about orgasm and arousal, and that Prince was singing about a woman masturbating in a hotel lobby with a magazine. Parents need information.
KOPPEL: But let us, Kandy, for a moment be realistic about kids, and let me raise the point that...many kids will be.. many kids in fact are going to go out and if they see a PG rating or an X rating or an R rating on an album, they’re going to go for the one with the highest rating, simply because it’s there.
STSTROUD: Ted, I don’t think so. I think there is no rating system that is infallible. A rating system is only as good as the parents who are involved. If you are going to allow your children to watch any movie that they want to or buy any magazine that they want to, you’re not doing your job as a parent. A parent has got to be vigilant about what their children are seeing and listening to. Unfortunately now it seems that records are going to have to be added to the list of what a parent has to monitor in their home. But I don’t think that—certainly the rating system for movies, Ted, has been extremely successful and I think has been given a bad rap.
Kids are not allowed by most parents or by many parents to go out and see X-rated movies or R-rated movies....At least a rating system gives the parent the opportunity to say to a child, “Look, this is a movie we don’t think that you should see until you’re older.” A rating system for records—would it make kids go out and buy those albums? I think if a child comes into the house with an X-rated album or an R-rated album, that a parent has opportunity to take a look at that and say, “This has a rating on it that we don’t feel is appropriate for you at this age.”
KOPPEL: ...What about the radio stations that are now carrying these albums? They’re unrated albums, but is that radio station going to be able to go on carrying it once it’s got an X rating on it?
STROUD: Hopefully the radio stations will begin to cooperate, like radio stations have all around the country.
KOPPEL: Cooperation is a nicer word than censorship, but the end result is the same, isn’t it?
STROUD: But Ted, nobody is talking about censorship
ZAPPA: The reason you don’t talk about it is because you don’t want people to know the truth. It’s the same Republican stonewall crap that you’ve been doing all along.
STROUD: Hey, I’m not a Republican. Listen—
ZAPPA: This is censorship.
STROUD: There is no censorship involved.
ZAPPA: If it smells like a Republican, it’s a Republican.
STROUD: There is no censorship involved here. It is strictly public information.
ZAPPA: And the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, either.
KOPPEL: Frank Zappa, I realize you’ve spent a good deal of your professional life enjoying outraging people. That’s all right; there’s a useful role for it, you’ve done it in a very entertaining way and you’re a very intelligent man. Is there any way, however, by which you can come a step or two in Kandy Stroud’s direction without feeling that you’ve lost all your credentials?
ZAPPA: No, it’s not a matter of credentials; it’s a matter of’ sanity, because what they’re proposing is so pitifully—well, it’s ‘dangerous besides being pitiful. The—
STROUD: What is dangerous about a packaging label? What’s dangerous about having—
ZAPPA: No, it’s the tactics that you’re using. Look, first of all, the first time I debated you they chopped the debate up and I’m glad to be able to do it without editing, all right? Now, I want to say one thing to anybody who wants to know what they’re really doing here. This is supposed to go to a fact-finding committee in Congress on Thursday, right? The chairman of the committee has a wife on the PMRC; there’s two senators on the committee that have wives on the PMRC; I called the PMRC office today to ask the question, who else belongs to the PMRC, and you know what the answer was? “We don’t have any members, we only have founders.” And then I said I have your fund-raising letter; you’re a tax-deductible organization. When they gave you your tax-free number, what kind of an organization was it? Is it a cult? What have you got here? What is going on?
STROUD: You know, I’d just like to comment at this point that one of the founding members of the group is Tipper Gore, the wife of Senator Albert Gore, who happens to be the co-sponsor of the legislation against antipiracy laws for the music industry. Senator Gore is on the side of the music industry, okay? So I mean, I don’t think that there’s any kind of—
ZAPPA: I don’t speak for the music industry. I am a parent who is concerned about his children and the First Amendment. The music industry has sold out the singers, the songwriters and the retailers by bending over for you guys and voluntarily putting on any kind of a sticker.
STSTROUD What’s happening is that in the music industry right now there is labeling, but it’s inconsistent. It is not uniform, it is not standard. I think what the Parents Music Resource Center would like to see is some sort of uniform codes so that what is offensive for Warner Brothers records is offensive for Atlantic and offensive for Columbia .... this album—this is an album by W.A.S.P., okay. W.A.S.P. has just signed a contract with Capitol Records for $1 1/2 million. Here is their album.... Is this the kind of album that you want your child to come home with? No. What about Motley Crue? Motley Crue has albums that sell double platinum albums which talk about killing, not a woman, but a whore. I can taste the hate.
KOPPEL: ...So what’s the final point. Let’s wrap it up. Go ahead.
STROUD: The final point is that children should be educated by their parents, not by rock stars, and that parents have the responsibility to raise their children to understand that love is a tender and caring emotion, not one that destroys and defiles. We don’t want to drag our children’s minds through the mud; we want to enlighten them and ennoble them... On the rating system.. something has to be done. A line has been crossed and the rock industry has gone too far. I think that they admit that they’ve gone too far, and it’s time for some self-restraint.
ZAPPA: I think that you should remember, no one is holding a gun to anyone’s head saying you must listen to “I F-U-blah, blah, blah Like a Beast” or “Sugar Walls.” You are not obliged to buy this material. There is plenty of instrumental music with no words at all. If you don’t want to have your children exposed to anything that you think is dangerous, try classical music, try jazz, try putting music education back in the schools so kids know that there is another form of music other than rock ’n’ roll. You don’t get very much exposure for other types. So I think there’s an educational problem involved, and you don’t need to go to the extreme of censorship and violating the civil rights of people who are not children.
KOPPEL: All right. I thank all of your for joining us tonight. Interesting discussion... I’m Ted Koppel in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.
At last Thursday’s hearing before the U.S. Commerce Committee, the following dialogue was uttered:
“[The music in question] does not have any redeeming social value. It’s outrageous filth, and we’ve got to do something about it. If I could find some way to do away with it constitutionally, I would.”
—Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.)
“Taken as a whole, the complete list of PMRC demands reads like an instruction manual for some sinister kind of ‘toilet training program’ to housebreak all composers and performers because of the lyrics of a few.”
“I’m opposed to any kind of rating system, voluntary or otherwise.”
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net