August 2003

Michael Schaub

propaganda

The new anti-rockers: Godz original gangstas

It's not easy raising a kid these days. Trust me, I know. I don't actually have a kid, but I see people who do in restaurants and stores, and I think to myself: Wow, what a pain in the ass; I'm sure glad I don't have a kid. I am very sensitive.

Anyway, there's a million things you need to worry about when you have a kid. Health insurance, vaccinations, nutrition, education...oh, and heavy metal songs from the mid-'80s that are now, in all probability, out of print. You have got to watch out for that. You could have a kid who's on his way to winning a Nobel Prize -- for economics, let's say -- but one Slayer song about fucking a dead woman could ruin his prospects forever. Don't thank me for informing you of this very real danger to America's youth. Thank Steve Peters and Mark Littleton, who have braved countless decibels of immoral music to bring you The Truth About Rock.

This slim volume is essentially a retread of Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society, the Tipper Gore book that became a manifesto for the Satan-rock witch hunt of the '80s (and the subject of the very first Propaganda! column. What's that? No, I'm not running out of ideas already. Fuck you!). It features some of the same "shocking" lyrics from '80s cheese-metal mainstays like Megadeth and Iron Maiden. It quotes the same Dead Kennedys song ("I Kill Children") and the same Guns 'n' Roses song ("Used to Love Her"). It even has a few black and white photos, similar to a section in Gore's book, that showcase offensive album covers.

But The Truth About Rock was published in 1998, eleven years after Gore's book, so it theoretically has a lot more material to mine. And that's where the fun comes in. Gore picked on easy targets like Prince and Motley Crue, and so do Peters and Littleton. But they're also quick to chastise Ani DiFranco and Michael Stipe for their bisexuality, and Portishead and Radiohead for their alleged nihilism. See? This book was written for our generation!

It's even funnier than Gore's book, too, because the authors are even more clueless. Take, for example, a subsection called "The Three-Letter Universal Rock Theme: S-E-X." It consists of quote after quote from supposedly sexually explicit pop songs. Tone Loc is chastised for rhyming about "doing the wild thing." Janet Jackson is called out for "allud(ing) to oral sex" in her song "If." And then, Peters and Littleton bust about with this:

"The Spice Girls, a global sensation from Britain, sing on 'Wannabe:' If you wanna be my lover, you've got to get with my friends." After that, there's a sentence about how one of the Spice Girls "posed for nude pictures in her teens," then it's onto Prince and song about doing his sister.

I stared at that passage for several minutes until it hit me: Holy shit, these guys actually think that Spice Girls song is about group sex or something! He's reading it as "If you wannabe my lover, you first must engage in sexual intercourse with all of my friends." Which is just about the most hilarious misreading of a song ever. Luckily for Peters and Littleton, there seems to be no marked increase in the number of teenagers who demand their prospective sexual partners hook up with all their friends. I think I read that in a poll somewhere.

The anti-rock thing has been going on for decades, and what's most remarkable about it is that none of the dire predictions ever seem to come true. Peters and Littleton offer some almost certainly apocryphal stories about teens who were led to their deaths by rock music. It's kind of hard to check them out, though, because many of their footnotes refer to a book called Why Knock Rock? which was written by...Steve Peters. I suppose in academia there are some cases in which it is necessary to cite your own work. But here, it just sort of seems like they're pulling this out of their ass.

The best parts of The Truth About Rock are the two last chapters. The first is sort of a question-and-answer deal in which the authors refute your foolish questions about rock and the fact that it is evil. Peters and Littleton use this opportunity to deftly deflect accusations of censorship: "Not so many years ago, African-Americans couldn't use certain restrooms, go into certain buildings, or sit at the front of buses because they were black. New laws 'censored' this evil." There are so many things wrong with this, it would take hours to list them all. The last chapter is an A-to-Z guide to randomly selected rock musicians and their respective worldviews, as interpreted by Peters and Littleton. It is chiefly funny for a very long psychological profile of Liz Phair in which the authors speculate that maybe, just maybe, she was treated badly by a man somewhere along the way. This is trenchant insight you won't find in the pages of Rolling Stone. (Seriously, I'm not being ironic. Rolling Stone sucks that much.)

Weird as these guys seem, they're actually pretty moderate compared to other Christian writers who think that all rock -- even Christian rock -- is evil. Apparently some people are just whipped into a sexual frenzy by DC Talk and Creed. Peters and Littleton are hip to Christian music, though, and even provide a long list of acceptable Jesus-lovin' pop bands. (Entries include bands named Code of Ethics, Lust Control, The Crucified, Vengeance Rising, and, of course, God'z Original Gangstas.)

They even have some nice things to say about particular secular pop artists. They like Elton John, oddly enough, and Hanson. And they praise artists who "bring an excellence to the medium." Check out this sentence, which I promise actually appears in the book: "(Other songs) that may provide balm to the soul are Journey's song 'Open Arms,' the Doobie Brothers' 'Listen to the Music,' Kenny G's fine saxophone melodies, or the Beach Boys' 'Kokomo.'" If I had to listen to a mix tape that consisted of those three songs played over and over again, interrupted only by Kenny G's atonal bleating, I would kill myself. Actually, I would kill many other people, and then myself. Ozzy Osbourne's songs are going to make anyone want to commit suicide. "Kokomo" will. I promise.

I'm still no closer to figuring out why books like this exist. But next time Joe Lieberman comes to town, I'm going to ask him to autograph my copy.

The Truth About Rock by Steve Peters and Mark Littleton
Bethany House
ISBN: 0764220535
205 Pages