Extortion, Pure And Simple ...
An Open Letter To The Music Industry

By Frank Zappa

Cash Box, August 31, 1985

With all due respect to Stan Gortikov and the RIAA, I would like a few moments of your time to express my personal feelings regarding the unfortunate decision to bend over for the PMRC on the issue of album ‘identification.’

First, let me say that I appreciate the difficult in, and sympathize fully with the organization’s 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 PMRC. What is apparently happening is a case of extortion, pure and simple; THE RIAA MUST TAP DANCE FOR THESE WASHINGTON WIVES OR THE INDUSTRY’S BILL WILL FEEL THE WRATH OF THEIR FAMOUS HUSBANDS.

It is to the RIAA’s credit that the bulk of PMRC’s demands were rejected, however capitulation on the stickering issue will cause more problems than it will solve.

The PMRC makes no secret of its intentions to use ‘special relationships’ to force this issue. In an interview on an Albany radio station, Mrs. Pam Howar made reference to a Mr. Fowler at the FCC, suggesting that some intervention by this agency might be in order, should the PMRC’s other nefarious techniques fail. Did somebody rewrite the FCC charter while we weren’t looking? What’s going on here?

These cultural terrorists are attempting to create a hostage situation. It is time to bring in the Delta Force . . . with a friendly reminder that extortion is still an illegal act, that conspiracy to commit extortion is an illegal act, and that this issue goes beyond First Amendment considerations. We are witnessing a type of corrupt practice that must end. No person married or related to a government official should be permitted to waste the nation’s time on ill-conceived housewife hobby projects such as this.

The PMRC’s case is totally without merit, based on a hodge-podge of fundamentalist frogwash and illogical conclusions. Shrieking in terror at the thought of someone hearing references to masturbation on a Prince record, the PMRC’s members put on their ‘guardian of the people’ costumes and the media comes running. It is an unfortunate trend of the ’80s 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.

If you are an artist reading this, think for a moment . . . did anyone ask you if you wanted to have the stigma of ‘potential filth’ plopped onto your next release via this ‘appeasement sticker?’ If you are a songwriter, did anyone ask you if you wanted to spend the rest of your career modifying your lyric content to suit the spiritual needs of an imaginary eleven-year-old?

The answer is, obviously, NO. In all of this, the main concern has been the business agenda of the major labels versus the egos and sexual neuroses of these vigilant ladies.

A record company has the right to conduct its business and to make a profit, but not at the expense of the people who make the product possible . . . someone still has to write and perform THE MUSIC. The RIAA has taken what I feel to be a short-sighted approach to the issue. The ‘voluntary sticker’ will not appease these creatures, nor will it grease the chute through the Thurmond committee. There are no promises or guarantees here; only threats and insinuations from PMRC.

The RIAA 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 PMRC deserves nothing less (and the same to NMRC or any other censorship group with a broadcast blacklist in its back pocket).

For the elected officials who sit idly by while their spouses 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 people’s 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. Their ignorance is like a virus. Get mad. Fight back. The Goldwater committee is hearing this matter on September 19. Use the phone. Use the telex. Demand that Congress deal with the substantive issue of conubial ‘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.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net