George F. Will (Editorial Pages, Sept. 16) indicated more problems than he intended with his article, “Porn Rock Make You Blush? It Should.”
Will contends that rock music “has become a plague of messages” about sexual promiscuity, bisexuality, incest, drug use, alcohol abuse, etc. Obviously, Will does not listen closely to rock lyrics and never has.
Where was he in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, at times when performers like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and other avowedly psychedelic or promiscuous artists exploded on the scene?
Has he listened closely to Elvis Presley’s 1950s releases like those to “Rip It Up,” or to the Beatles’ lyrics (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” for example), or to Bob Dylan’s “Everybody Must Get Stoned?”
The idea that rock lyrics are more distasteful or influential today than in past decades is ludicrous. Besides, the industry does exercise some censorship on its own, such as when Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” was partially banned and when the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Suzie” was banned (not to mention many more). Will and others should be reminded that censorship made these releases more popular.
Will believes that today’s lyrics may lead to “demoralized” children and, presumably, he feels some censorship is necessary. The problem is that once a censorship or rating system starts rolling, clear dividing lines of vulgar and acceptable lyrics would be impossible to establish and we would inevitably have to yield to some commission to regulate the music we and our children are allowed to hear.
This moves us dangerously close to George Orwell’s Big Brother image, and it must be confronted now. No interest group or government agency should have the right to ordain what our children can and cannot hear. Music and art should not be scrutinized and regulated. If it is then the concept of a free society suddenly becomes blemished.
People as musically ignorant as Will should not propose such ideas. It would probably surprise him that if censorship did occur, some of Mozart’s comic operas might be illegal to perform. And, if censorship ever included political innuendo or “un-American” remarks in songs, the very heart of folk music would be torn asunder and certain lyrics, even those of Bruce Springsteen’s (“sent to a foreign land, to kill the yellow man” from “Born in the U.S.A.”) might be banned.
It seems to me that conservatives such as Will should be content. The flagrant rock lyrics of past decades have ironically helped breed a new young set of conservatives, the yuppies. In the future, who knows? Maybe there will be super-yuppies.