Frank Zappa

Opening Statement to and Q&A with the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Rock Lyrics and Record Labeling

delivered 19 September 1985, Washington, D.C.

Audio mp3 of Statement  Audio mp3 of Q&A

 

[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

OK, thank you.

The first thing I would like to do, because I know there is some foreign press involved here and they might not understand what the issue is about, one of the things the issue is about is the -- the First Amendment to the Constitution, and I would -- it's short and I'd like to read it so they will understand. It says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

That's for reference.

These are my personal observations and opinions. I speak on behalf of no group or professional organization.

The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years, dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal’s design.

It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC[’s] demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation.

No one has forced Mrs. Baker or Mrs. Gore to bring Prince or Sheena Easton into their homes. Thanks to the Constitution, they are free to buy other forms of music for their children. Apparently, they insist on purchasing the works of contemporary recording artists in order to support a personal illusion of aerobic sophistication. Ladies, please be advised: The $8.98 purchase price does not entitle you to a kiss on the foot from the composer or performer in exchange for a spin on the family Victrola. Taken as a whole, the complete list of PMRC demands reads like an instruction manual for some sinister kind of 'toilet training program' to house-break all composers and performers because of the lyrics of a few.

Ladies, how dare you.

The ladies’ shame must be shared by the bosses at the major labels who, through the RIAA, chose to bargain away the rights of composers, performers, and retailers in order to pass H.R. 2911, The Blank Tape Tax -- a private tax levied by an industry on consumers for the benefit of a select group within that industry. Is this a consumer issue? You bet it is.

The major record labels need to have H.R. 2911 whiz through a few committees before anybody smells a rat. One of them is chaired by Senator Thurmond. Is it a coincidence that Mrs. Thurmond [Nancy Janice Moore] is affiliated with the PMRC?

I can't say she’s a member because the PMRC has no members. Their secretary told me on the phone last Friday that the PMRC has no members, only founders. I asked how many other D.C. wives are nonmembers of an organization that raises money by mail, has a tax-exempt status, and seems intent on running the Constitution of the United States through the family paper-shredder. I asked if -- I asked her if it was a cult. Finally, she said she couldn’t give me an answer and that she had to call their lawyer.

While the wife [Susan Baker] of the Secretary of [the] Treasury recites “Gonna drive my love inside you” and Senator Gore’s wife [Tipper Gore] talks about “Bondage!” and “oral sex at gunpoint” on the CBS Evening News, people in high places work on a tax bill that is so ridiculous, the only way to sneak it through is to keep the public’s mind on something else: “Porn rock.”

Is the basic issue morality? Is it mental health? Is it an issue at all? The PMRC has created a lot of confusion with improper comparisons between song lyrics, videos, record packaging, radio broadcasting, and live performances. These are all different mediums, and the people who work in them have the right to conduct their business without trade-restraining legislation, whipped up like an instant pudding by The Wives of Big Brother.

Is it proper that the husband of a PMRC nonmember/founder/person sits on any committee considering business pertaining to the Blank Tape Tax or his wife’s lobbying organization? Can any committee thus constituted “find facts” in a fair and unbiased manner? This committee has three that we know about: Senator Danforth, Senator Packwood, and Senator Gore. For some reason, they seem to feel there is no conflict of interest involved.


John Denver's Senate Opening Statement on Rock Music Lyrics


Children in the vulnerable age bracket have a natural love for music. If, as a parent, you believe they should be exposed to something more uplifting than “Sugar Walls,” support Music Appreciation programs in schools. Why haven't you considered your child’s need for consumer information? Music Appreciation costs very little compared to sports expenditures. Your children have a right to know that something besides pop music exists.

It is unfortunate that the PMRC would rather dispense governmentally sanitized heavy metal music than something more uplifting. Is this an indication of PMRC’s personal taste, or just another manifestation of the low priority this Administration has placed on education for the arts in America? The answer, of course, is "neither." You can't distract people from thinking about an unfair tax by talking about Music Appreciation. For that you need sex, and lots of it.

The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of Moral Quality Control Programs based on “Things Certain Christians Don’t Like.” What if the next bunch of Washington Wives demands a large yellow “J” on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?

Record ratings are frequently compared to film ratings. Apart from the quantitative difference, there is another that is more important: People who act in films are hired to pretend. No matter how the film is rated, it won’t hurt them personally.

Since many musicians write and perform their own material and stand by it as their art (whether you like it or not), an imposed rating will stigmatize them as individuals. How long before composers and performers are told to wear a festive little PMRC arm band with their scarlet letter on it?

Bad facts make bad law. And people who write bad laws are, in my opinion, more dangerous than songwriters who celebrate sexuality. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religious Thought, and the Right to Due Process for composers, performers, and retailers are imperiled if the PMRC and the major labels consummate this nasty bargain.

Are we expected to give up Article I so the big guys can collect an extra dollar on every blank tape and 10 to 25% on tape recorders? What's going on here? Do we get to vote on this tax? Do we get to vote on this tax? I think that this whole matter has gotten completely blown out of proportion, and I agree with Senator Exon that there is a very dubious reason for having this event. And I also agree with Senator Exon that you shouldn't be wasting time on stuff like this because from the beginning I have sensed that it is somebody’s hobby project.

Now, I've done a number of interviews on television and people keep saying, "Can't you take a few steps in their direction?" "Can't you sympathize?" "Can't you empathize?" I do more than that at this point. I have got an idea for a way to stop all this stuff and a way to give parents what they really want, which is information, accurate information as to what is inside the album, without providing a stigma for the musicians who have played on the album or the people who sing it or the people who wrote it. And I think that if you listen carefully to this idea that it might just get by all the constitutional problems and everything else as far as I'm concerned.

I have no objection to having all of the lyrics placed on the album, routinely, all the time. But there is a little problem. Record companies do not own the right automatically to take these lyrics, because they're owned by the publishing companies.

So, just as all the rest of the PMRC proposals would cost money, this would cost money too, because the record companies would need -- they -- they shouldn't be forced to bear the cost, the extra expenditure to the publisher to print those lyrics.

If you consider that the public needs to be warned about the contents of the records, what better way than to let them see exactly what the songs say? That way, you don't have to put any kind of -- of subjective rating on the record. You don't have to call it "R," "X," "D" "A" -- anything. You can read it for yourself.

But in order for it to work properly, the lyrics should be on a uniform kind of a sheet. Maybe even the Government could print those sheets. Maybe it should even be paid for by the Government, if the Government is interested in making sure that people have consumer information in this regard.

And you also have to realize that if a person buys the record and takes it out of the store -- once it's out of the store you can’t return it if you read the lyrics at home and decide that little Johnny is not supposed to have it.

I -- I think that that should at least be considered, and the idea of imposing these ratings on live concerts, on the albums, asking record companies to reevaluate or drop or violate contracts that they already have with artists should be thrown out.

That's all. That's all I have to say.


Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

Audio and Video Source: C-SPAN.org

Image Source: Wikipedia.org

Page Updated: 12/6/18

U.S. Copyright Status: Text and Image = Public domain. Audio and Video = Property of AmericanRhetoric.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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