The Porn Wars
By Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso
There are several "historical accounts" of the Parents' Music Resource Center, or P.M.R.C., from which to choose. Let's arbitrarily choose this one: One day in 1985. Tipper Gore, wife of the Democratic senator from Tennessee. bought her eight-year-old daughter a copy of the sound-track album to Prince's Purpte Rain—an R-rated film that had already generated considerable controversy tor its sexual content. For some reason, however, she was shocked when their daughter pointed out a reterence to masturbation in a song called "Darling Nikki." Tipper rounded up a bunch of her Wasnington housewife friends, most of whom happened to be married to influential members of the U.S. Senate, and founded the P.M.R.C.
On or about May 31, 1985, the P.M.R.C. sent a letter to Stanley Gortikov, then president of the Recording Industry Association of America (R.I.A.A.), accusing the record industry of exposing the youth of America to "sex, violence, and the glorification of drugs and alcohol." Maybe they hadn't been watching television lately. The letter went on to demand a rating system for rock records similar to the Motion Picture Association ot America (M.P.A.A.) rating system for films. The signatories included Gore, Susan Baker (wife of James Baker, who was then treasury secretary and who is today secretary of state), Pam Howar and Sally Nevius (wives of prominent Washington businessmen), and the wives of nine other U.S. senators.
Within moments, Edward O. Fritts, president oi the National Association of Broadcasters, wrote letters to 4,500 commercial radio stations, implying that If they broadcast songs with explicit lyrics, they would risk losing their licenses.
As this frenzy for self-mutilation developed, people within the record and broadcast industry debated among themselves as to what the most "prudent course of action" might be—in other words, they were all in such a hurry to bend over for these harpies that the only details left for them to decide were: "When to bend over / How far to bend over / When we bend, do we spread? / Who's got the Crisco?"
So in a music trade publication called Cash Box, I wrote them an open letter—these are a few of the good parts . . .
"Extortion, pure and simple." An open letter to the music industry. With all due respect to Stan Gortikov and the R.I.A.A., I would like a few moments of your time to express my personal feelings regarding the unfortunate decision to bend over for the P.M.R.C. on the issue of album "identification."
First, let me say that I appreciate the difficult position the R.I.A.A. is in, and sympathize fully with the organizations struggle to move legislation through Congress. The problem seems to be the Thurmond Committee. This is where the industry's proposed legislation will live or die. it is no secret that Mrs. Thurmond is a member of P.M.R.C. What is apparently happening is a case of extortion, pure and simple: The R.I.A.A. must tap-dance for these Washington wives or the industry's bill will feel the wrath of their famous husbands.
It is to the R.I.A.A.'s credit that the bulk ot P.M.R.C.'s demands were rejected. However, capitulation on the stickering issue will cause more problems than it will it solve. The P.M.R.C. makes no secret of their intention to use "special relationships" to force this issue. In an interview, Mrs. Howar made reference to a Mr. [Mark] Fowler at the F.C.C., suggesting that some intervention by this agency might be in order should their other nefarious techniques fail. Did somebody rewrite the F.C.C. charter while we weren't looking? What's going on here?
Extortion is still an illegal act, conspiracy to commit extortion is an illegal act, and this issue goes beyond First Amendment considerations. No person married or related to a governmental official should be permitted to waste the nation's time on ill-conceived housewife-hobby projects such as this.
The P.M.R.C.'s case is totally without merit, based on a hodgepodge of fundamentalist frogwash and illogical conclusions. Shrieking in terror at the thought of someone hearing references to masturbation on a Prince record, they put on their "guardian of the people" costumes and the media comes running. It is an unfortunate trend of the eighties that the slightest murmur from a special-interest group (especially when it has friends in high places) causes a knee-jerk reaction of appeasement from a wide range of industries that ought to know better. . . .
The R.I.A.A. has shown a certain disregard for the creative people of the industry in its eagerness to protect the revenues of the record companies. Ladies and gentlemen, we are all in this together. . . . When you watched the hostages on TV, didn't you sort of mumble to yourself, "Let's nuke 'em!"? The P.M.R.C. deserves nothing less (and the same to the National Music Review Council [N.M.R.C.] or any other censorship group with a broadcast blacklist in its back pocket).
For the elected officials who sit idly by while their wives run rabid with anti-sexual pseudo-Christian legislative fervor, there lurks the potential for the same sort of dumb embarrassment caused by Billy Carter's fascinating exploits. I do not deny anyone the right to their opinions on any matter . . . but when certain peoples opinions have the potential to influence my life—and the lives of my children because of their special access to legislative machinery—I think it raises important questions of law. Ronald Reagan came to office with the proclaimed intention of getting the federal government off our backs. The secret agenda seems to be not to remove it, but to force certain people to wear it like a lampshade at a D.C. Tupperware party.
Nobody looks good wearing brown lipstick.
These creatures can hurt you. Get mad. Fight back. Use the phone. Use the telex. Demand that Congress deal with the substantive issue of connubial "insider trading" and power-brokerage. Demand censure for those elected officials who participate. Demand fairness for the record industry's legislation in the Thurmond Committee. Remind them that they have a duty to the people who elected them that takes priority over their domestic relationships.
Did anyone give a shit about this? No. So I decided to write an open letter to President Reagan, which he did not answer. Instead he gave a speech a short time later in Crystal City, Virginia, wherein he claimed that everybody in the record industry was a pornographer. Finally on September 19, 1985, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a day of highly publicized hearings to discuss the P.M.R.C.'s proposal. (A kangaroo court-five of the committee's members had wives in the P.M.R.C.) Here are some of the good parts from the statement I read to Congress:
The P.M.R.C. proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense that fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes on the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years, dealing with the interpretational and enforcement problems inherent in the proposal . . . It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the P.M.R.C.'s demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation. No one has forced Mrs. Baker or Mrs. Gore to bring Prince or Sheena Easton into their homes. Thanks to the Constitution, they are free to buy other forms of music for their children. . . .
Taken as a whole, the complete list of P.M.R.C. 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. Ladies, how dare you?
The ladies' shame must be shared by the bosses at the major labels who, through the R.I.A.A., chose to bargain away the rights of composers, performers, and retailers in order to pass H.R. 2911, the Blank Tape Tax: a private tax, levied by an industry on consumers, for the benefit of a select group within that industry. . . .
'The major record labels need to have H.R. 2911 whiz through a few committees before anybody smells a rat. One of them is chaired by Senator Strom Thurmond. Is it a coincidence that Mrs. Thurmond is affiliated with the P.M.R.C.? I can't say she's a member, because the P.M.R.C. has no members. Their secretary told me on the phone last Friday that the P.M.R.C. has no members . . . only founders. I asked how many other D.C. wives are non-members of an organization that raises money by mail, has a tax-exempt status, and seems intent on running the Constitution of the United States through the family paper shredder. I asked her If it was a cult. Finally she said she couldn't give me an answer and that she had to call their lawyer.
While the wife of the secretary of the treasury recites "Gonna drive my love inside you . . ." and Senator Gore's wife talks about "bondage!" and "oral sex at gunpoint" on the "CBS Evening News," people in high places work on a tax bill that is so ridiculous, the only way to sneak it through is to keep the public's mind on something else: "porn rock."
The P.M.R.C. practices a curious double standard with these fervent recitations. Thanks to them, helpless young children all over America get to hear about oral sex at gunpoint on network TV several nights a week. Is there a secret F.C.C. dispensation here? What sort of end justifies these means? P.T.A. parents should keep an eye on these ladies If that's their idea of "good taste."
Is the basic issue morality? Is it mental health? Is it an issue at all? The P.M.R.C. has created a lot of confusion with improper comparisons between song lyrics, videos, record packaging, radio broadcasting, and live performances. These are all different mediums, and the people who work in them have a right to conduct their business without trade-restraining legislation whipped up by the Wives of Big Brother.
Is it proper that the husband of a P.M.R.C. non-mernber/founder/person sits on any committee considering business pertaining to the Blank Tape Tax or his wife's lobbying organization? Can any committee thus constituted "find facts" in a fair and unbiased manner? This committee has three. A minor conflict of interest?
Children in the "vulnerable" age bracket have a natural love for music. If, as a parent, you believe they should be exposed to something more uplifting than Sheena Easton's "Sugar Walls," support music appreciation programs in schools. Why haven't you considered your child's need for consumer information? Music appreciation costs very little compared to sports expenditures. Your children have a right to know that something besides pop music exists.
It is unfortunatethat the P.M.R.C. would rather dispense governmentally sanitized heavy-metal music than something more "uplifting." Is this an indication of P.M.R.C.'s personal taste, or just another manifestation of the low priority this administration has placed on education for the arts in America? The answer, of course, is neither. You can't distract people from thinking about an unfair tax by talking about music appreciation. For that you need sex . . . and lots of it.
Because of the sublective nature of the P.M.R.C. ratings, it is impossible to guarantee that some sort of "despised concept" won't sneak through, tucked away in new slang or the over-stressed pronunciation of an otherwise innocent word. If the goal here is total verbal/moral safety, there is only one way to achieve it: Watch no TV, read no books, see no movies, listen to only instrumental music, or buy no music at all.
The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of moral-quality-control programs based on "things certain Christians don't like." What If the next bunch of Washington wives demands a large yellow J on all material written or performed by Jews in order to save helpless children from exposure to "concealed Zionist doctrine"'? . . .
Is the P.M.R.C. attempting to save future generations from sex itself? The type, the amount, and the timing of sexual information given to a child should be determined by parents, not by people who are involved in a tax-scheme cover-up.
The P.M.R.C. has concocted a mythical beast, and compounds the chicanery by demanding "consumer guidelines" to keep it from inviting your children inside its "sugar walls." Is the next step the adoption of a "P.M.R.C. National Legal Age for Comprehension of Vaginal Arousal"? Many people in this room would gladly support such legislation, but before they start drafting their bill, I urge them to consider these facts:
1. There is no conclusive scientific evidence to support the claim that exposure to any form of music will cause the listener to commit a crime or damn his soul to hell.
2. Masturbation is not illegal. Why should it be illegal to sing about it?
3. No medical evidence of hairy palms, warts, or blindness has been linked to masturbation or vaginal arousal, nor has it been proven that hearing references to either topic automatically turns the listener into a social liability.
4. Enforcement of anti-masturbatory legislation could prove costly and time-consuming.
5. There is not enough prison space to hold all the children who do it.
The P.M.R.C.'s proposal is most offensive in its "moral tone." It seeks to enforce a set of implied religious values on its victims. Iran has a religious government. Good for them. I like having the capital of the United States in Washington, D.C., in spite of recent efforts to move it to Lynchburg, Virginia.
Fundamentalism is not a state religion. The P.M.R.C.'s request for labels regarding sexually explicit lyrics, violence, drugs and alcohol, and especially occult content reads like a catalog of phenomena abhorrent to practitioners of that faith. How a person worships is a private matter, and should not be inflicted upon or exploited by others. . . .
Should individual musicians be rated? If so, who is qualified to determine If the guitar player is an "X," the vocalist is a "D/A," or the drummer is a "V"? If the bass player (or his senator) belongs to a religious group that dances around with poisonous snakes, does he get an "O"? What it he has an earring in one ear, wears an Italian horn around his neck, sings about his astrological sign, practices yoga, reads the Kabala, or owns a rosary? Will his "occult content" rating go into an old ColntelPro computer, emerging later as a "fact" to determine If he qualifies for a home-owner loan? Will they tell you this is necessary to protect the folks next door from the possibility of "devil worship" lyrics creeping through the wall?
What hazards await the unfortunate retailer who accidentally sells an "O"-rated record to somebody's little Johnny? Nobody in Washington seemed to care when Christian terrorists bombed abortion clinics in the name of Jesus. Will you care when the Friends of the Wives of Big Brother blow up the shopping mall? The P.M.R.C. wants ratings to start on the date of their enactment. That leaves the current crop of "objectionable material" untouched. What will be the status of recordings from the golden era prior to censorship? Do they become collector's items . . . or will another "fair and unbiased committee" order them destroyed in a public ceremony?
Bad facts make bad law, and people who write bad laws are, in my opinion, more dangerous than songwriters who celebrate sexuality. Freedom of speech, freedom of religious thought, and the right to due process for composers, performers, and retailers are imperiled it the P.M.R.C. and the major labels consummate this nasty bargain.
I testified before the Senate committee, along with John Denver and Dee Snider [of Twisted Sister]. My only regret about that episode is that under the rules of the hearing, I was not afforded an opportunity to respond when I was denounced by a semi-apoplectic Slade Gorton (former Republican senator from Washington State) for my "constitutional ignorance." I would have liked to remind him that although I flunked just about everything else in high school, I did get an A in civics.
One of the best lines came from Senator J. James Exon (D) of Nebraska—not exactly a liberal guy—who asked, "I wonder, Mr. Chairman, If we're not talking about federal regulation and we're not talking about federal legislation, what is the reason for these hearings?" This received great applause, but was not carried by the network news.
Exon also pointed out that these hearings were better attended by audience and media (35 TV feeds, 50 still photographers) than any other legislative procedure he had been involved in, including budget and Star Wars hearings.
A few months later, the R.I.A.A. caved in, and on November 1, 1985, agreed to place warning stickers on potentially offending albums reading EXPLICIT LYRICS—PARENTAL ADVISORY.
The timing was interesting. The agreement was announced on October 30, 1985, just a few days after the Senate version of the Blank Tape Tax received a committee hearing—and who was listed as one of the bill's co-sponsors'? Senator Albert Gore, of course.
When Jack Valenti, president of the M.P.A.A., asked Tipper Gore how many of the records released every year she would put into the objectionable category, Tipper said five percent. If five percent of the records are objectionable to the P.M.R.C., and the process of stickering is further mitigated by the looseness of the agreement, it is not surprising that in the years since the R.I.A.A.'s agreement with the P.M.R.C. was made, only a few albums have had stickers placed on them—either because the artists thought it would be a "sales tool," or because they had no clout and the record company stuck them with it.
Shortly after the second anniversary of that agreement, the P.M.R.C. asked for a review of the agreement because there had been non-compliance. The fact is, not many people do albums with lyrics that they themselves would object to, and most of those who do are signed to record companies that are not members of the R.I.A.A., and so are not covered by the ladies' pathetic little non-agreement.
The P.M.R.C.'s list of people signed to member labels of the R.I.A.A. who were "offensive" in 1985 was pretty ridiculous. The Captain and Tennille were on it for "Do That to Me One More Time." The Jacksons were on for "Torture." Bruce Springsteen was on for "I'm on Fire," and of course Prince, for the fabulous "Darling Nikki." Where was he throughout all this? He went ape-shit and sued some spaghetti company for calling their product Prince, but remained curiously silent during the record-ratings stuff.
None of the artists who made it onto the list that became known as the "P.M.R.C.'s Filthy 15" had anything in their lyrics even close to the stuff in my catalog, and yet for some reason, I was never accused of being a "violator."
YOU WANT A STICKER? I'LL GIVE YOU A STICKER!
Because of a dispute with MCA (Musicians' Cemetery of America) Records, which had contracted to distribute Barking Pumpkin Records in 1983, I had invented my own sticker.
MCA was going to release Thing-fish. The deal was done—they were up to the test-pressing stage. A woman in the "quality-control department" of their pressing plant listened to my album and became quite upset. Because she was offended, MCA backed out of the deal. So in 1983 I prepared this little item:
Warning/Guarantee. This album contains material which a truly free society would neither fear nor suppress. In some socially retarded areas, religious fanatics and ultra-conservative political organizations violate your First Amendment Rights by attempting to censor rock 'n' roll albums. We feel that this is un-Constitutional and un-American.
As an alternative to these government-supported programs (designed to keep you docile and ignorant), Barking Pumpkin is pleased to provide stimulating digital audio entertainment for those of you who have outgrown the ordinary.
The language and concepts contained herein are guaranteed not to cause eternal torment in the place where the guy with the horns and the pointed stick conducts his business.
This guarantee is as real as the threats of the video fundamentalists who use attacks on rock music in their attempt to transform America into a nation of check-mailing nincompoops (in the name of Jesus Christ).
It there is a hell, its fires wait for them, not us.
The agreement between the P.M.R.C. and the R.I.A.A. is, for all intents and purposes, unenforceable. Now the P.M.R.C. has moved into the world of video. They are complaining about television, home video, and MTV. Paradoxically, Al Gore introduced legislation that would make it easier for people in Tennessee to get cable service, bringing MTV and slasher movies into entertainment-starved backwoods homes.
There were a lot of things that didn't add up during the P.M.R.C. episode. it seemed to me—and I stated it in interviews at the time—that the whole business looked like the ground floor of a presidential campaign for the junior senator from Tennessee.
Making Gore-geous Music?
Off his Super Tuesday efforts, Senator Albert Gore, Jr, of Tennessee says he's now ready to rock 'n' roll to the Democratic presidentiai nomination.
Off the sates of his hit record "I Want Your Sex," George Michael says he's now ready to rock 'n' roll all the way to the bank.
Yes, folks, as strange as it may sound, there is a connection!
Michael credits Gore's wife, Tipper, with helping to push his aibum Faith (which contains the "Sex" song) way into the multi-million sales (three million copies sold in this country alone). How so? Because Mrs. G has been so outspoken against obscene lyrics in rock music, says Michael.
"Perhaps now she can help sell a few thousand more records since her husband won big in the primaries," Michael said in Perth, Australia, where he is performing.
Gore won in six states in the Super Tuesday primaries.
"As Americans like to say, there was much hoopla about nothing," Michael said about the lyrics in the song. "It was, after all, just a pop record. " (New York Daily News, March 11, 1988)
Following up on this, a CNN show called "Crossfire" covered the P.M.R.C. topic twice with me as a guest. The first time in 1985 (when I told that guy from The Washington Times to kiss my ass) and then again in 1987, when George Michael's sex song was "controversial." Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, the premise of that second debate on "Crossfire" was (don't laugh) "Does rock music cause AIDS?" with an opening bumper that included clips from Mr. Michael's video.
On February 14, 1986, the Maryland State Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill proposed by delegate Judith Toth to modify the existing state pornography statute so as to include records, tapes, and CDs. The bill had already been passed by the Maryland House of Delegates, and a Senate vote in favor would have placed it into law in Maryland, creating a dangerous national precedent. Maryland has some funny ideas as to what constitutes pornography. Considering that it was my home state, I thought the least I could do was to help keep them from making total fools of themselves, so I went there to offer my testimony. The night before the hearing, the lobbyist hired by the R.I.A.A., Mr. Bruce Bereano, threw a cocktail reception in Annapolis so I could meet a few of the slate delegates. It was an evening of hand shaking, autograph signing, and posing for pictures. As I was introduced to each legislator, I asked which way they had voted. The bill, after all, had already passed the House by 96 to 30, or thereabouts. They were honest and told me frankly how they had voted, and if they said they had voted for the bill, I gave them a pretty good razz. I said, "This is your last chance to recant. All you have to do is fill out this piece of paper and say you've changed your position." I got five of them to write confessions at that reception, and the next day at the hearing I said, "Here are the confessions of the delegates who realize that this bill is really bad and wish they had never signed it." The next day at the hearing I read their confessions into the record.
ON YOUR FEET OH ON YOUR KNEES
I was able to acquire a videotape of the Maryland State Senate proceedings in 1987, just as I was editing the first of the Honker Home Video projects. I decided to combine parts of my testimony with the actual statements made by Ms. Toth and delegate Joseph Owens in a way that would dramatize the issue, and included this in a show called "Video From Hell."
This is a transcription of the dialogue-as-edited from that show. . . .
Testimony before the Maryland State legislature, February 14, 1986. A bill proposed by delegate Judith Toth to modify the existing pornography statute so as to include records, tapes, and CDs had been passed by the Maryland House of Delegates.
Zappa: It is my personal feeling that lyrics cannot harm anyone. There is no sound that you can make with your mouth, or word that will come out of your mouth, that is so powerful that it will make you go to hell. It's also not going to turn anyone into a "social liability." "Disturbed" people can be set off on a "disturbed" course of action by any kind of stimulus. If they are prone to being anti-social or schizophrenic or whatever, they can be set oft by anything, including my tie or your hair or that chair over there. You can't point to the statistics concerning "people doing strange things in the vicinity of rock music," because all you've got to do is look around at all the normal kids who listen to it and live with it every day who do not commit suicide; they don't commit murder and they grow up to be, in some cases, legislators.
Delegate Joseph Owens, chairman of the judiciary committee: This is probably the worst type of child abuse we've got in this state, because it hits all the children. This is mass child abuse, and that's what it is. When they throw some of this slime at these children, it's abuse.
Zappa: To say that rock music is "the worst form of child abuse" and "mass child abuse" is sky-high rhetoric.
Delegate Judith Toth: We're not talking about references to sex. We're talking about references to incest. Incest. And it says, "Do it, kids! It's fine." We're talking about rape and sexual violence. It's illegal in this state, but these records get out there and they say "Do it, kids! It feels good. It's fine. It's okay." You've got to read this stuff to know just how dirty it is.
Zappa: Did you guys read this? Or did you read the "synopsis"?
Toth: This is pornography.
Zappa: This is censorship. I oppose this bill for a number of reasons. First of all, there's no need for it. The idea that the lyrics to a song are going to cause "antisocial behavior" is not supportable by science.
Toth: This bill is constitutional. We're talking about minors in the first place. And stop worrying about their "civil rights." Start worrying about their mental health and about the health of our society.
Zappa: The bill seeks to keep people from seeing, renting, buying, or listening to material described as depicting "illicit sex"—and the description of what constitutes "illicit sex," as per this bill, includes "human genitals in a state of sexual stimulation or arousal." Is that illicit sex? Perhaps in Maryland. [Laughter] "Acts of human masturbation"—not "animal masturbation." This is talking about human masturbation as an "illicit sexual act." [Laughter] "Sexual intercourse or sodomy." Why does the bill indicate that sexual intercourse is illicit sex and put it next to sodomy in the same line? The next line reads "fondling or other erotic touching of human genitals." That is "illicit" in the state of Maryland, according to the law as already written?
Owens: The thing is, they know what they've got, they know what they're selling, and that's what they're trying to sell. Because that's the only thing they could sell to these minors.
Zappa: Finally, on this list we find "nude or partially denuded figures—meaning less than completely and opaquely covered human genitals, pubic region, buttocks, or female breasts below a point immediately above the top of the areola." [Laughter] Now, I like nipples. I think they look nice—and if you take off the nipple, which is the characterizing, determining factor, what you've got is a blob of lat there. [Laughter] And I think that when you're a baby, probably one of the first things that you get interested in is that nozzle right there. [Laughter] You get to have it right up in front of your face. You "grow up with it," so to speak—and then you grow up to live in the state of Maryland, and they won't let you see that little brown nozzle anymore.
Toth: I am not against artistic creativity. I am not for censorship. I think adults have the right to listen to and see whatever they want, but we're talking about children here. This is going to affect children.
Zappa: When some people start talking about pornography and their desire to "save the children," they sometimes choose strange ways to express that desire. Some of the statements made in support of this bill are absurd. I think you have problems in the law as it already exists, let alone amending it to include audio references to the so-called illicit sexual acts that are already in this document. Because the bill talks about not being able to "advertise matter containing these objectionable topics," it opens up the following possibility: A person wearing a Mötley Crue T-shirt—if Mötley Crue was adjudged, by whatever forum is going to make these decisions, to be a "pornographic" act—theoreticaIly could be fined $1,000 or go to jail for a year because of his wardrobe. And if he wore it twice, it's $5,000 or imprisonment not to exceed three years, or both.
The show ends with me talking over the credits in an interview with a Maryland TV station, giving the final chapter to this silly story. . . .
Zappa: Do you want an example of censorship growing out of this bill? Censorship doesn't always work by someone taking a pencil and crossing a line out of a book, or forcing a record off the shelves. There are other forms of censorship.
I recently offered the Peabody Conservatory my services to teach for a couple of weeks. But they were afraid that if they brought me in to teach, they would lose their funding from the state, because the people who supported the censorship bill had the power to remove funding from the entire Peabody Conservatory.
Judith Toth's bill was killed in the Maryland State Senate Judiciary Committee. Other states have considered similar legislation. Delegate Toth has vowed to re-introduce her bill in orderto "bring the record industry to its knees."
MORE INITIALS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Governmental agencies and groups like the P.M.R.C. find promotion easier when their bullshit is concealed behind an acronym. The "aura" these organizations hope to generate from the use of the acronym could be scientificatly described as the "Acro-Nimbus"—and any person believing that such an "aura" certifies competence could be scientifically described as an "Acronymbecile."
William Steading is the founder of the N.M.R.C., the National Music Review Council. He runs two radio stations, one in Dallas and one in Salt Lake City, owned by the Mormon Church. I received a flier in the mail from this group talking about their idea for cleaning up lyrics. The P.M.R.C. wanted to put the Scarlet Letter on offensive LPs; the N.M.R.C. wanted to put an "Attaboy" sticker on albums, indicating that it contains nothing objectionable.
At Steading's stations, when a new record came in, someone would listen to it, decide what they didn't like, transfer the record to tape, edit it, and play the "clean" tape on the air instead of the record. That was rather deceptive. Some unsuspecting listener hearing the Steading version might think it was a harmless little ditty, go out and buy the record, only to find out later it was about some leather weasel getting corn-holed.
The N.M.R.C. plan gets it both ways: A station can play supposedly "hot music" without worrying about losing its broadcast license to the F.C.C.
When groups like this go after show business itself—where so many people have "skeletons in their closets"—they often go unchallenged. Albert Gore set up a committee to investigate payola in the record industry and held his own little hearings shortly after his wife's day in the spotlight, just to keep the pressure on and then had the nerve to come to Hollywood, meeting with the same folks whose livelihood he and his wife were threatening, and ask for presidential campaign contributions.
As I said before, nobody looks good with brown lipstick on, but Al looked ridiculous.
WHO'S PAYING THE BILLS?
During a debate with Jennifer Norwood from the P.M.R.C., Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys asked, "Who's paying the bills?" Norwood blurted out that the P.M.R.C. was funded by Occidental and Merrill Lynch.
Our pension plan is with Merrill Lynch, so my wife Gail called and talked with the head man. It they were in fact supporting the P.M.R.C., it was going to cost them our account. He insisted it wasn't company policy. Apparently a call had gone out for people to "donate" for a P.M.R.C. picnic. Somebody at Merrill Lynch in Washington, D.C., had noticed that Mrs. Packwood was a signatory to the P.M.R.C. letter, and at the time, Senator Packwood was the chairman of the finance committee. So here's a guy at Merrill Lynch thinking that if he makes a contribution to the P.M.R.C., he'll get to go to the picnic, meet Mrs. Packwood, and thereby get his elbow into Mr.'Packwood.
BACK IN CONTROL
Back in Control is an "entity" that, for a price, will take" a child and re-model their behavior to suit the needs and desires of a "concerned parent." Tipper Gore recommends them in her book How to Raise PG Kids in an X-Rated World.
If one were to follow Tipper's advice and use the company's services, here's what you might expect—for example, if you think that your child is showing signs of becoming a punker or a heavy-metaler, this "entity"—and others scattered around the United States—will de-punk or de-metalize your child (leaving you free to go sportfishing). Parents who find themselves baffled by the arcane behavior of "today's young people" can now just sort of ship the little buggers off to psycho-camp.
If you're interested in disposing of your kids in this manner, Back in Control offers a pamphlet listing "clues" as to what the danger signs are. One of them (don't laugh) is if the child is wearing tennis shoes. Yes, a sure sign of something evil developing at ground level.
The pamphlet includes a section on "symbols" that indicate "the possibility" of satanic or demonic behavior. One of the symbols was the Star of David. The Back in Control people said they saw a Star of David on an Ozzy Osbourne album. What a jokester that Ozzy is! (I understand they have been forced to modify that section of the pamphlet.)
For some reason, they don't like me very much. I got hold of a letter written by their head guy, putting me in the same category as Joseph Goebbels and Senator Joseph McCarthy—claiming that I was using the Big Lie technique against them. Pheuuuw.
If the scare tactics of groups like the P.M.R.C. and Back in Control have not made an impact on musicians, they have certainly made one on record-company executives, who can tell artists what the label will or will not accept as suitable material under the artists' contract. If you make a record, you are not automatically assured that the song you wrote and recorded will reach the marketplace, because some coward in the record company may come up and say they can't allow it to escape for "moral" reasons.
If the artist can't sing the song he wants to sing, release the record he wants to release, and earn the living he is entitled to earn from doing what he loves, he is cheated, and the audience is cheated—because they don't get to hear the best work of the artists, but only that which they are allowed to release. Will the artists ever get back in control? Tune in again tomorrow, folks.
This article was three years later included into The Real Frank Zappa Book as chapter 15.
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net