I have this horrible image in my mind that won't go away and it's really freaking me out. No, it's not of guys waging war in Iraq, or the current long lines at Unemployment. It's not even of Ricki Martin singing "California Girls," at that Brian Wilson tribute. Although, that one does make me scream in the night and wake up sweating. No, it's of Tipper Gore, from 1984. Looking like that wholesome Home Economics teacher you once had a crush on, she is talking about her work with the music fumigation society, the PMRC. Tipper says something about how stickering albums does not mean "Censorship." That censorship implies suppression of material and how her group is just looking to help parents "Make choices in the marketplace," and "We love the music." Well, it's 25 years later and the long arm of the PRMC must be flexing and slapping five with itself. Why? Well, not long ago Wal-Mart, the country's biggest record seller, announced it would not be carrying the new Green Day Album, "21st Century Breakdown." Why? Because the album has been stickered. Why? Because it contains adult content and, I guess some swear words. Hundreds of thousands of kids, whose only place to buy records is a Wal-Mart cannot now buy the new Green Day album. Case closed. Sounds a lot like censorship to me. Why is it that I'm always the one waking up screaming, while the Tipper Gores of the world seem to sleep so peacefully?
Tipper, some facts.
When I was 16, I fell in love with David Bowie's, "Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars." I didn't take to wearing dresses and pancake make-up. I eyed some culottes, but I WAS having a bit of an identity crisis. A couple of years later, I went ape over Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run." I didn't join a gang and shoot it out with the police. Then came The Clash. I never started a white riot. The closest I got was saying there was a mouse in the cheese aisle at the A&P. One woman said, "Ignore him. He's been pulling stuff like this for years." My point is, records no matter how sexy, or edgy or violent, have never been proven, to my satisfaction, to influence kids, to do anything more pofound than buy a leather jacket or maybe pierce their ear. In fact, the weird, edgy, outre stuff has been known to get most adolescents through the hell known as... adolescence. Most young people are so glad when they discover an artist who feels angry and alienated like they do, it probably decreases their anti-social tendencies.
I happen to be one of those aging rockers who thinks today's kids are at least as smart as I was back in the 70s. Maybe smarter. And when they hear Green Day rock out and curse and rail about things in an adult content sort-of-way, these alienated kids feel less alone and less hopeless than they did a few minutes before.This is a good thing. However, many of them will never know this intoxicating feeling. Because all they have in town is a Wal.Mart. Because Wal.Mart will not carry a stickered album. Because Ms. Gore and her buds (during an election year), decided to take freedom of choice away from not only kids, but their parents as well. Grown-ups can't buy that new Green Day album either, if a store doesn't carry it. Sounds a lot like censorship to me.
A couple of years ago, like other moviegoers, I sat stunned and silent as I watched Tipper's husband's film about global warming. I subsequently vowed to fight unnecessary use of the car, the heating system and, um hairspray, whenever I could. But here's the deal. What good is it going to be to have clean cold air and unpolluted water surrounding a world where you can't buy the new Green Day album? Shouldn't we be thinking about bedrock issues like Freedom of Speech and Expression, before we get all hifalutin' and start trying to fix the ozone? This weird, un-American set of priorities is what I'd really call "An Inconvenient Truth."
Of course, for the music business, who is just as guilty for caving into the PMRC's demands as the PMRC is for making them, it's all about money. And maybe capitalism will finally save the day. If Green Day's label realizes they are losing millions of dollars by Wal.Mart not carrying the record-and Green Day, God Love 'em, won't clean up the record to suit Wal.Mart's taste, something's got to give. Get five other bands, just as uncompromising, to stick to their artistic guns and the labels might have to come up with some alternatives. Hey, what would be wrong with a mega-label starting its own record store? Warners or SONY, now that each comprise like 300 other labels, must have at least as much money as Wal.Mart. Since anti-trust laws have sort of gone the way or Freedom of Speech, I can't imagine anyone bitchin that this is a conflict of interest. Labels have been looking for a way to save themselves. Maybe selling their own, unstickered product is that way.
In the meantime, though, Tipper, I hope you give this some thought. You claim that you and your husband like The Grateful Dead and Johnny Cash. Did Al ever listen to "Folsom Prison Blues," then shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die? I didn't think so. Did hanging out with Jerry Garcia make you want to shoot up? Right. You obviously trust yourselves to listen to an edgy record and not let it-unduly-influence your behavior. Why couldn't you and your cronies have given everyone else the same benefit of the doubt? In the meantime, I'm going to write Warner Brothers and see if I can get a clerking job when they open that new store. Like a lot of Americans, I'm having money troubles. That's all I can think about. Not how a punk band is going to be ressponible for the downfall of Western Civilization. I guess I'll be up again late tonight, worrying about this very real problem. It wouldn't hurt if you joined me.