yy My brother brought home I ViJI'Si' a 45 rpm record by the X %mJJ Doors , and played it loudly right before dinner. Instantly, my nineyear-old's ear was tickled by the stuttering, circus-brained rhythm, and pleasantly mystified by the lyric: show me the way - to the next - whiskey bar no don 't ask why no don't ask why... This was deflnitely grown-up stuff, with special grown-up meanings. Judging from the expressions on the faces of my parents, they smelled depravity coming up off of the record. Certainly they didn't realize that the song in question was originally performed in 1930 as a satire on the Weimar Republic. Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill were the composers, and they called their show The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The intellectual half of Jim Morrison's brain was giving us an update. Mom and Dad smelled depravity. My brother had no way of knowing that within fïfteen years he would be performing Brecht professionally. My little heart began to dance as Morrison lurched into the refrain, one of the mostbeautiful refrains of the twentieth century: O Moon - ofAlabama.... But things were getting decidedly prickly in our house. The lyrics had offended my mother's sensibilities, and Dad looked uncomfortable. Defiantly, my brother flipped the disc and played the other side: Helio I love you - won't you teil me y our name - If alcoholism, (which was a terribly worrisome subject in this particular household) wasn't bad enough, now my parents' ears were being assailed by lewdness! It must have been frightening for them, the poor dears. Still, mother made a very distinct point on this occasion: the music was giving us some rotten messages. Abbie Hoffman has described America as being, at that time, in the throes of generational warfare. That's pretty accurate. Like all budding upstarts, we would listen to whatever it was we wanted to groove on, and any objections from adults came across as disjointed gibberish. But maybe there's a problem here, having to do with upbringings and lifestyles which do not adequately prepare individuals for Real Life, and the enigma of song lyrics that depict real Ufe so candidly and deliberately. Impressionable young minds are given plenty of warnings, unless frightened adults get too protective, and even then the warnings seep through. The problem is how to interpret them. As teenagers we thought it was really coolwhen Jim Morrison sang abouthaving beer for breakfast, and you can rest assured that we followed suit, although we certainly would have done the alcoholism thing anyway, regardless of what records we listened to. Because alcoholism, I am convinced, runs through our genetic quilting. And America has one of the most effective alcohol advertising structures in the entire world. So Morrison's record was simply State of the Union. But there weren't any songs explalnlng the fact that if you drink enough alcohol you will piss blood. See there: that's the whole picture. No frills. Singing with blatant honesty relatlve to the harshest of realities has since become somewhat commonplace, and some artists have managed to carry it off admirably. And there's certainly lots of precedent for our excesses. Baudelaire mentioned "regaining our vitality through alcohol and sport," and there was Rasputin's "quest for totality of experience through excess." Small wonder the subject looms up out of our music. The contents of song lyrics are a perpetual source of bewllderment for our species. In 1969, we began to memorize every nanosecond of the Beatles' Abbey Rood album. Soon we had a new assígnment: Paul was dead. At least for the time being. How strange the contrast between Paul McCartney's overblown imaginary death rumors, and the awful, lonely reality of John Lennon's violent, inane extermination. Havlng to face the 1980s without John. Did we deserve that? Do we deserve anything? Is anybody home? Then there was the theory that Morrison's LightMy Fire Inspired riots. Not injustice, certainly not a system rotting from within, but that rotating piece of vinyl: they like to blame the music. Heartwarming revivalists who bumed Beatle records after the example of books torched in Munich , simply because John said "We're more popular than Jesús Christ." That should have wamed us never to use the phrase We're Number One. Wrong attitude, man. "We're uber alies." That's Munich again. Watch yourself. Then there was the radio personality who personally piloted a steamroller over piles of Cat Stevens records. Mr. Cat, being faithful to his chosen faith, sided with the Ayatollah on the question of blasphemy and something called The Satanic Verses. Not that I'd get along with the Iranian Elders, not even for a minute. What I'm talking about here is: Intolerance. The one really unfortunate element in the Clinton Administration is the presence of Tipper Gore. This creature, you must recall, showed remarkable idiocy when she participated in censorship trials wherein rock lyrics were scutinized atgreat length, and ridiculous demands were made upon the recording industry. Frank Zappa has immortalized those hearings in his Mothers of Prevention album. Zappa was fortúnate in that he had the opportunity to insult the Tipper ín person. Censorship was brought into the twenUeth century by Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Enlightenmentand Propaganda for the Third Reich. Censorship has a charming history. We'll discuss it in depth sometime soon, I promise. Right now I'll say that any amount of censorship is unsatisfactory, in fact Un-american. If anything deserves that questionable label, censorship does. But the questlon persists: are young people being given rotten messages through song lyrics, speciñcally Rock Lyrtcs? Recenüy I had the honor of projecüng a video documentary on the notorious Judas Priest suicides. And here it was all over agaln. Why did the boys sit down and blow their heads offwlth a shotgun? Mom says: Itwas those dam records. Actually one kld survlved, having merely blown his face off. Great interviews with him, flapping his boneless blob as he talks about their infatuatlon with the lyrics. (Subtitles made his bubbling coherent) He and his pal were byproducts of rotten upbringings. You haven't seen how low America stoops until you meet the parents, whose positlvely empty lives became evidence when the members of Judas Priest were actually brought into the courtroom! And it was nice to learn that these musicians had grown up in nasty industrial zones, near foundries, where the stamping of giant machinery shook the earth, and the smell of heavy metáis hung in the air, to be inhaled on the way to school. That's a very logical source for Heavy Metal music. It was about the only logtc presented. The prosecutlon revlved something I thoughtwas endemic to 1969: playing the music backwards! (John Lennon chuckles softly in the hereafter.) It was getting really rather pathetic. Prosecution insisted that Judas Priest snuck the phrase "Do It" into their music. Nothing so clear and concise as that sort of thinking. Do What? Snuff it! Then the defense quite rightly pointed out the vacuous, depresslng, stunted UJestyles of these poor confused kids and their incredibly lost parents. You mustn't look for blame. Simply look in the mirror and face the music of your own existence. There was a study published recently which said that listening to Country music all the time can lead to suicide. But it isn't the Country music makes you want to snufï and ditch it. What is deadly is the narrowness of the American perspective. Here, of all places, we should notbe victlmized by limitations. America is the land of Ornette Coleman, Eugene Chadbourne, Charles Ives, Muddy Waters and Jelly Roll Morton, of Duke Ellington, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Why do you bore your children to tears, and potenüally to suicide?! There is no excuse. The word for today is: ennui. It means Boredom. If Americans will only learn to expand their attention spans to match the cultural opportunities that grow so profusely all around us in this country, then maybe there's hope for young people, maybe parents can do better than simply cringing and pointing elsewhere for some rubbery blame thing, and maybe song lyrics will be seen and heard as poetry rather than threats. Boredom kills. If you value your own lives, and the lives of children, pull your heads from the smothering squish of predictability. This is not a boring land. There is no excuse. Any amount of censorship is unsatisfactory, inact 'Un-american.' Ifanything deserves that questionable label, censorship does. But the question persiste: are young people being given rotten messages through song lyrics, specifically Rock Lyrics? Recently I had the honor qfprojecting a video documentary on the notorious Judas Priest suicides.
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