TIPPER TOPPLED? - SEIGE ON THE PMRC! ROC's Greatest Hits
By: Randy Lee Payton
ELECTION YEAR CULTURE WARS!
In the Spring '92 ROC, we wrote that George Bush's early sacking of John Frohnmayer as head of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as a gesture to the Pat Buchanan-led Right nipping at his heels in the primaries to be simply the first of many such skirmishes which was sure to be played out on the field of "culture" in the '92 election campaign. The host of bogus issues we predicted was to be played-out as the so-called "family values" ruse. We urged our forces to respond ON OUR TERMS, by re-focusing the debate back on the REAL issues, like making REAL cuts in the post-Cold War Pentagon budget and of course the right to free expression. We predicted that "1992 may well be the pivotal watershed year for the Free Speech Movement."
MAKING MS. PIGGY SQUEAL
As much as hard-core free expression activists shared a common, unequivocal aversion to censorship in any way, shape or form, when it came to the '92 elections there was little consensus nationally, especially following the announcement of the democratic vice-presidential candidate Al Gore. One heartbeat away from Tipper Gore as First Lady was just too much for many of us to stomach, despite most of our feeling that Bush and Co. had to go. Responses ranged from the naive (Frank Zappa supporting Perot before H. Ross flaked out) to the incomprehensible (Luther Campbell supporting Bush because "at least you know what you got with him." (!!!) Though I personally felt that defeating Bush would mean an opening of political space for pro-free expression forces (and would gladly cast my ballot for the Dems in November) a R.O.C. Council nevertheless felt (and I agreed) that it would be a mistake for us not to take advantage of the fact that Tipper Gore would now be playing to a now-larger, more public arena, no longer able to do her dirty work with the PMRC and then run back to hide in the suburbs as a "private citizen." We were out to make Ms. Piggy SQUEAL!
Along this time we found a small item in ROCK & ROLL CONFIDENTIAL about one of the members of the PMRC's National Advisory Board, a Dr. Thomas Radecki being charged in the state of Illinois with "engaging in immoral conduct with a patient." (Radecki had also been cited extensively in PMRC literature as an "expert" in support of their claim that rock and rap music causes psychological harm to adolescents.) Ol' Doc Radecki had to sign a consent decree with the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations which revoked his professional license for a minimum of five years. We decided to blow this item up to a major, front-page story "PMRC Exposed: Scandal Rocks the Censors!" which we sent to news outlets throughout the country, hoping to knock off-center Ms. Piggy's sugar-coated media posturings as "advocate for youth" (more often than not "rewriting history" by omitting mention of her bastard baby, the by-then highly unpopular--even despised--PMRC.) No dice. We got the "PMRC Scandals" issue out to thousands of rock & rap fans however, especially via our table at that year's Lollapalooza and on the entire U.S. Summer Stadium tour with Guns 'N' Roses and Metallica (at the invite of GNR themselves).
Tipper Toppled? R.O.C. Seige on the PMRC!
We decided around the same time to try and take advantage of the Election Year by calling for a demonstration on Halloween '92 (scant days before Nov. 7) in front of both the PMRC and Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) in Washington, D.C. The RIAA had caved-in (bent-over) early-on to PMRC labelling schemes. As part of the demonstrations were going to deliver the 30,000 names we had gathered at R.O.C. tables on anti-labeling/anti-censorship petitions to the RIAA. The point: Whose opinion did the RIAA record industry hacks care more about: 30,000 music fans or a small gaggle of politicians' wives and religious fanatics?
By the time the R.O.C. crew was hanging out in a small park across from PMRC headquarters, with friends from Athens FACT, Delaware Free Music Coalition, D.C.'s Positive Force and a number of dedicated folks who drove in from around the country, several D.C. cops arrived at the site having anticipated our arrival (they read about our plans days before in the WASHINGTON POST). The police were professional, asking for a "leader" (ha!) to talk to and offering cooperation for whatever protest "scene" we were after, i.e. arresting us as we, say, stopped traffic in a big show for the "cause" or letting us alone to have a peaceful picket in the park--we chose the latter! A couple hours later, our "reception" at the RIAA was decidedly chillier, with guards specially placed along the entrance to the lobby, protecting the building from the R.O.C. hordes. Having decided against storming the place (the guards had guns and looked serious!) only two from our delegation was allowed up into the RIAA offices. (A photo of the historic moment wherein John Woods handed the 30,000 petitions over to an RIAA functionary can be found in the book NETWORKING IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY (second printing) by Jim Clevo and Eric Olson.) John and Mike reported "vibes" among RIAA office staff was quite edgey. Meanwhile, a R.O.C. throng milled about on the downtown D.C. street outside the RIAA offices, joined by long-time anti-censorship activist Doug Kaplan who we had been working with against the S. 1521 federal censorship bill for over a year.
While our announcing of R.O.C.'s anti-PMRC and anti-RIAA demos were given respectable ink weeks before in a number of alternative and music papers around the country, most of the mainstream media (with the exception of the WASHINGTON POST) was too giddy, at the prospect of getting old news Bush out and new blood Bill and Hillery in to much note our pointing to Tipper's connection to a scandal-ridden McCarthyite and antidemocratic outfit like the PMRC. But we stirred up SOME dust and (the cops told us confidentially) positively RATTLED the offices at the PMRC. We also put the RIAA on notice that 30.000 rock and rap fans were sick of their cowardly bullshit. Since that time, MUSICLAND has since initiated a heavy-handed, in-house labelling system because they felt the RIAA/PMRC system didn't go far enough. RIAA President Jay Berman--who was conveniently "out-of-town" on the day of our demo--lamely commented. "Such a list is not keeping with the RIAA's idea of how the labeling system should work." No, duh, Jay, R.O.C. has long warned liberals like Berman that even the SLIGHTEST capitulation to would-be censorship forces only causes such forces to "smell blood" and demand more and MORE concessions to their agendas.) Since our Halloween '92 demos R.O.C. has collected an ADDITIONAL 32,000 names of fans opposing arbitrary industry labeling; is another R.O.C. assault in D.C. imminent? Stay tuned...