THE PMRC IS BACK ON THE ATTACK
That’s right--the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), the politically connected group of “Washington Wives” whose campaign against “explicit” rock lyrics led to a warning-sticker agreement and a series of Senate “porn-rock” hearings last fall, is on the warpath again.
The PMRC has announced that, in conjunction with the 5.8 million-member National Parent-Teacher Assn., it will hold a press conference in Washington Wednesday to, in essence, offer a report card grading the record industry on its compliance with last year’s compromise agreement. The pact, adhered to by most major record labels, gave the companies the option of printing lyrics or a “parental advisory” sticker on records that the labels found to contain lyrics about “explicit sex, violence or substance abuse.”
According to PMRC Executive Director Jennifer Norwood, the report will divulge, “label by label,” which companies used stickers or lyric inserts. Norwood refused to speculate as to whether the PMRC would reveal any new initiatives at the press conference. However, she did say: “We do not want to change the agreement. We’re happy with it the way it stands. We’re just not happy with the way the labels have complied.”
A PMRC statement issued earlier this month by Sally Nevius, PMRC president, makes it clear just how unhappy the organization is with the music industry’s voluntary stickering campaign. “Not only have many in the industry broken the agreement, but some companies have taken elaborate means to sidestep it,” Nevius said. “We continue to believe that labeling should be voluntary, but we won’t stand by while the industry tries to stonewall us.”
PMRC leaders would not comment on how record labels could “break” a voluntary agreement. But they have sent letters recently to many major labels, singling out albums which they felt should have been stickered. Pop Eye obtained a PMRC letter written earlier this month to Warner Bros. Records President Lenny Waronker, which named seven albums from various Warner Communication labels that PMRC execs said “should have been labeled or carried printed lyrics.”
Warners publicity exec Bob Merlis responded: “We’re still following the agreement in good faith. But they’re barking up the wrong tree, because the records listed in the letter aren’t ours. They are from other Warner Communications labels. So it seems as if the PMRC doesn’t know who’s responsible for what product.”
Several of the albums cited, including “Master of Puppets” by Metallica, “The Dark” by Metal Church and the self-titled debut album by “The Unforgiven,” were distributed by Elektra Records. According to Elektra marketing senior vice-president Mike Bone, top label execs recently met with PMRC leaders to discuss the sticker issue.
“The important thing to note is that they had no problems with 99% of our records,” Bone said. “As for the three records singled out, they felt there was a lyric problem and we didn’t. We feel we’ve faithfully complied with the agreement.”
Capitol Records also received a PMRC update that, according to a Capitol spokeswoman, raised objections to “the size of the lettering of our parental advisory stickers” on recent albums by heavy-metal bands W.A.S.P. and Megadeth. The spokeswoman said the PMRC also criticized Capitol for touting a new album by the metal group Poison in a print ad that boasted that the record was “uncensored and unanimously dissapproved by parents everywhere.” Despite these criticisms, Capitol president Don Zimmermann insisted that his label has “continued to act in a responsible manner.”
The PMRC letter to Warners also complained that while a recent album by heavy-metal group Slayer (signed to Def-Jam Records and distributed through Geffen Records) had been given a warning sticker, the wording of the label did not follow “agreed-on industry guidelines.”
Merlis responded: “It’s hard to imagine they could have a problem with the sticker, which said the record contains ‘language which may be unsuitable for some listeners.’ To us, that seems like a minor semantic hang-up.”
Still, industry insiders are worried by the new tough talk from the PMRC, noting that the group counts among its members the wives of 16 U.S. Senators and congressmen, including the spouses of four senators and seven congressmen named to the PMRC’s new board of directors. In addition to PMRC v.p. Tipper Gore, wife of Sen. Albert Gore (R-Tenn.), and treasurer Susan Baker, wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker, members now include the wives of Sens. Lloyd Bentsen Jr. (D-Tex.) and Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) as well as Reps. William Archer (R-Tex.), Anthony Beilenson (D-Calif.) and John Dingell (D-Mich).
Several other key Washington leaders, including Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) were on a benefit committee for a recent “First Annual Pig Pickin’ ” PMRC fund-raiser held Sept. 28 in Poolesville, Md.
“This has the makings of an ultra, ultra-right wing organization,” said one concerned industry exec, who asked to remain anonymous. “Once they start really labeling records, then you’ll see local shopping-mall associations coming in and saying, ‘Well, if this record’s obscene, then we can’t have stores carrying it at all.’
“We’ve already seen retail chains deciding what records they’ll carry and which ones they won’t. And don’t be surprised if one day we don’t have a real witch-hunt on our hands.”
Other industry execs have complained, off-the-record, that the PMRC has zeroed in on hard-rock and heavy-metal albums but has so far refused to issue warnings about country music records. “You have to wonder if its just a coincidence why the PMRC, which has a key leader whose husband is a Senator from Tennessee, hasn’t touched any Nashville country records,” complained a West Coast-label v.p. “If they want to find explicit lyrics, they should try country music. They’d find lots of records to keep ‘em busy.”