In 1985, Tipper Gore (Al’s wife) and a few other “Washington wives” (as they were called) started the Parents Music Resource center (PMRC), a committee with the stated goal of increasing parental control over the access of children to music deemed to be violent, or encourage drug use or promiscuous sex via labeling albums with Parental Advisory stickers. There are stickers on such CD’s now so it appears their efforts were successful. John Denver speaks here (at the YouTube link below) on the dangers of censorship in a free society.
I agree with John’s views against censorship, but can’t help wondering if his opinions would have softened at all in light of the continually descending depravity level of lyrics in death metal and gangster rap. Having an overseeing body decide what is art, or what is acceptable language, is unthinkable in a free society, of course, but the fact that anybody got upset about the word “high” in Rocky Mountain High is in itself a statement about how much lower standards have become. Such a comparatively benign lyric wouldn’t even be noticed today because it would be buried under the avalanche of depraved, violent, misogynistic lyrics that are not only tolerated now, but are celebrated at the Grammy awards. (Personally, I stopped watching the Grammy’s years ago.)
In the sixties, there was a saying, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.” I was going to post lists of the most violent rap and death metal lyrics here to illustrate my point, but couldn’t do it because I don’t want to circulate the names of people who are part of the problem in this world.
John makes the point that hiding something only makes it more interesting, particularly to children. However, by that same logic, putting “explicit lyrics” warning stickers on CD’s not only doesn’t prevent children from listening to them, it makes it more interesting to them.
I don’t know what the cure is (other than censorship), but I do have a deep contempt for “musicians” who make fortunes tapping into the unfocused anger common to confused young people, and sing about the desperation of life in the inner city in songs they wrote by the pool of their hilltop mansions. I have contempt for the lack of regard they have for their own people as they fan the flames of their hatred instead of trying to cure it, and encourage them to ruin their lives with uncontrolled rage (the only emotion available to “real men”) and the desire for vengeance for even the slightest verbal insults. They ruin lives and get money, statues and praise for it.
When I was a teenager, The Stray Cats sang a song called Rock This Town. One of the lyrics was, “Look at me once, look at me twice, look at me again and there’s gonna be a fight.” I’m ashamed to say that out of my own weakness and fear, I fantasized about being a “tough guy” and even wasted years in karate schools getting black belts. I say “wasted” because now I know that a person can learn how to defend him/herself very well in two months, not the twenty years many dojo owners want their students to think it requires (for the sake of keeping tuitions coming in.) I mention this only because I regret the time I lost trying to be “manly” – and my mistaken definition of manliness came largely from watching idiotic movies and listening to idiotic songs when I was young and easily influenced by them. Songs with lyrics that were unhealthy, but nothing compared to the lyrics kids hear today. Of course, my parents were basically good but dropped the ball in many ways, too. They only had the tools their parents gave them to work with. I have more tools now. My kids will have even more than I do, I hope. And as John says, that’s where molding the young begins.
This is a sensitive issue to me because I had a brother (my only sibling) who listened to “bands” like Cannibal Corpse. (If you’ve never heard of this lovely “musical group”, don’t look it up unless you want to be disgusted and horrified. Even the titles are hellish.) I tried to tell him that he was poisoning his mind but he just laughed. He spent eight years in jail and died of a drug overdose when he was 37 years old. His choice of music wasn’t the only reason for his tragic life and death, of course, but it certainly didn’t help. Doctors should prescribe artists to people the same way they prescribe drugs. i.e., “Listen to every John Denver CD and call me in two weeks.” Maybe the kids can be rescued from the music that further imprisons them by the music that can set them free, from artists like John Denver, David Wilcox (the American one), James Taylor, Tracy Chapman, Marc Cohn, Don McLean, et al.
Since we can’t depend on every artist in the world, or every parent, to be enlightened and responsible, what is the cure? I’m afraid we must mark this disease “incurable” and watch our country continue to deteriorate from its effects as a result.