Many pop devotees have argued that no one has influenced the topsy-turvy course of rock ‘n’ roll more than Jerry Lee Lewis. But now Lewis has got some competition in the family. No one is causing more consternation in rock circles today than the Killer’s cousin, the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart, the TV evangelist.
On June 1, Swaggart gave a televised speech that lambasted various rock groups and rock magazines as “the new pornography.” He told Pop Eye last week that he views rock as “pornography and degenerative filth which denigrates all the values we hold sacred and is destructive to youth.”
In the wake of Swaggart’s remarks, at least one major retail outlet, the 800-store Wal-Mart discount department store chain, has pulled 32 rock and teen magazines from its racks as well as comedy albums by Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor and records from such bands as Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest.
Wal-Mart officials refused to comment to Pop Eye. However, while chain executives downplayed any connection between their move and Swaggart’s remarks, sources at Wal-Mart confirmed in a recent Washington Post article that company officials spoke with Swaggart about his speech, contending that they asked for further clarification of his remarks.
Swaggart also acknowledged that he had spoken with Wal-Mart staffers, but told Pop Eye: “I really don’t know if their decision was based on anything I said or not. It may just be coincidental. But I’d be pleased if this kind of filth was taken off the racks in every store in America.”
Swaggart singled out pop magazines Hit Parader and Creem, and the heavy-metal band Motley Crue, as prime offenders, citing a story in Hit Parader that chronicled the sexual escapades of the Crue. However, Swaggart was unable to pinpoint any other precise examples of allegedly pornographic material in magazines or current songs.
“Let’s just say there are scores of magazines like Hit Parader, which are sold to teens, that are full of four-letter words and graphic descriptions and language which gives teens the impression that premarital sex and perversion is just fine,” he said. “I bought a whole stack of magazines last week and they contain lurid pornographic detail about these groups. The whole rock scene--the records, the magazines and the concerts--couldn’t get any worse. They’re taking a deadly toll.”
Swaggart denies that he’s advocating censorship: “I don’t want to violate any individual rights, but these are 13-year-old children that I’m talking about. I predict that it’s going to get so bad that the public good is going to have to come before everybody’s individual rights. I think we have to find a way to make these stores aware of their responsibility to the citizens of this country by encouraging them not to carry this filth.”
Coming just weeks after the publication of the findings by the controversial Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, this latest attack on rock struck a raw nerve with many industry insiders, who predict that anti-rock crusaders may soon broaden their attacks.
Creem magazine Publisher Arnold Levitt heatedly disputed Swaggart’s remarks, saying: “They would be laughable if they weren’t so frightening. It’s a clear abuse of the First Amendment. I think the public should be able to decide for themselves rather than have any one person setting themselves up as an arbiter of public tastes. I can categorically state that we have never published anything remotely pornographic, and I’ve challenged Rev. Swaggart to show me just one specific example. We’ve even publicly offered him a free page in our magazine to state his case because we believe that if what he’s saying were held up to public scrutiny, it wouldn’t hold any water.”
Levitt said the Wal-Mart ban has “not had a big effect on us,” but added, “If this were to spread to other major outlets, it would certainly have a major impact on our sales.”
Execs at most major record companies said they had no plans to alter or recall any current albums, though they voiced concern that these rock attacks may gain momentum in the near future. “We certainly don’t feel very good about it,” said Warner Bros. Records Vice President Bob Merlis. “Any time that the complaints of a very small group of crusaders begins to effect the public’s freedom of choice, it can’t be a good thing, not in an open society. By this logic, what’s to stop someone from advocating that book stores take J. D. Salinger’s books off the shelves? You wonder where they’ll draw the line.”