Art and social science teamed up against religion and law enforcement in a debate over rock lyrics and their impact on teen-agers Thursday night at Cal State Fullerton.
"If there was real scientific data showing a need to clean up the rock 'n' roll business, I'd be right there," said musician Frank Zappa, echoing a theme he has been voicing since the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) began a widely publicized campaign in 1985 to institute a ratings system for rock albums.
"But the data is not there . . . It has never been proven that song lyrics harm anyone."
Opposing that view was Darlyne Pettinicchio, co-founder of the Orange-based Back in Control Training Center, which offers "de-punking" and "de-metaling" programs to parents with problem children.
"I do not believe that punk or heavy metal causes crime any more than working mothers cause crimes or divorce causes crime or anything else," Pettinicchio said. "But it influences and supports certain kinds of activity."
The 90-minute symposium was organized by CSUF professors Lorraine Prinsky and Jill Rosenbaum, who last year gained national attention with their survey concluding that most teen-agers listen to the sound of the music and don't really pay attention to lyrics.
During the public forum, paid for by California state lottery funds and designed to stimulate debate on the controversial subject of censorship of rock music, Prinsky and Rosenbaum reiterated their position that rock lyrics are not inherently harmful, repeatedly drawing cheers from a crowd of more than 200 students decidedly biased in their favor.
But Pettinicchio argued that rock song lyrics can encourage destructive or criminal behavior in youths prone to such problems. She was joined by Al Menconi and Dave Hart, representatives of the Menconi Ministries of Cardiff, Calif. Menconi's group, much like the Back in Control center in Orange, often focuses on rock music in its family counseling programs.
Zappa, an experimental musician and songwriter known for his own irreverent songs, seemed to be the most widely known of the panel members. He received an ovation when he entered the University Center multipurpose room where the forum was held.
Formal presentations ranging from 10 to 20 minutes were given by each of the six, followed by a 30-minute session in which audience members queried panelists.
Rosenbaum, assistant professor of criminal justice, and Prinsky, a professor of sociology, recounted the findings of their survey of more than 200 Southern California junior high and high school students. According to the results released last year, most teens were unable to accurately interpret the lyrics to their favorite songs and said they listen more to the beat or sound of a record than to its lyrics.
Much of Thursday's discussion revolved around what all conceded was a small percentage of teen-agers whose behavior, attitudes or values appear to be strongly affected by the music they listen to.
"For those kids (the punk or heavy metal music and lifestyle) became a reason to live and a reason to die, and we found that the kids were doing just that," Pettinicchio said. "I want to caution you that I'm not talking about all kids, and I'm not talking about every kid who listens to punk rock or heavy metal. That's not the case."
Zappa, however, vehemently attacked the Back in Control center for encouraging parents to remove all accoutrements of punk or heavy metal from the environments of children who show behavioral problems.
"This group is deprogramming kids, but there is no guarantee the result is a bigger, better, brighter you," Zappa said. "People who are set off by rock lyrics could be set off by a Reagan speech, or by beer or by anything. They don't need regulations, they need medical help."
Zappa also charged that attacks on rock music are largely used for attention-getting by politically motivated individuals. "Any time you opt to be diplomatic or nice with people who try to promote censorship you are going to regret it, because you have the right to see things your way and speak your own mind . . . in this country anyway. If you like things a little bit more protected or more restrictive, there are a number of other places over there someplace where it's already in place."
Menconi quickly set the audience off when, following presentations by Rosenbaum and Prinsky, he discounted their survey and said the fact that most students in the room could recite the phone number in the title of the 1982 Tommy Tutone hit "867-5309" proved that rock fans do pay attention to lyrics.
But Pettinicchio, Menconi and Hart sought to distance themselves from the PMRC's call for rating system for rock albums similar to the Motion Picture Academy of America's system for labeling films.
"That would be stupid," Menconi said. "We're not in favor of any censorship. We just want artists to show a little more restraint. Everyone has the right to swing his arm, but that right stops when your fist hits my nose. When someone sings, 'The only good Christian is a dead Christian,' that hits me in the nose. I'm just asking not to be hit in the nose that way."
Pettinicchio also insisted that her organization does not advocate censorship, but said she does favor some method of advising parents of the lyric content in rock albums. Much of her talk centered on behavioral problem case studies from her years of working with the Orange County Probation Department, which provided the background for Back in Control's "Punk Rock and Heavy Metal Handbook" published in 1986.
After the session, Prinsky said she didn't think any new information was brought out and added, "I thought we'd get some better arguments from the other side."
At least one on that other side agreed.
Menconi, who faced Zappa in a music industry business seminar on rock lyrics earlier this month in Beverly Hills, said Thursday's symposium would be his last. "I expected more open minds. The people here had their minds made up when they came in. Nothing was accomplished."