The Michigan Daily
Friday, July 17, 1987
New Music Seminar addresses racism
By Beth Fertig and
Special to the Daily
NEW YORK- For the thousand
plus delegates who flocked to the
eighth annual New Music Seminar
here, this week was mostly
business as usual but on a more
celebratory note. A & R scouts,
record label representatives, and the
press came to seek out the cream of
the new music crop. 200 bands
were selected to play the city's
nightclubs, all hoping to become
"the next big thing."
But while the schmoozing and
scouting went on en masse and
many N.M.S. panels talked book-
ing, promotion, and college radio,
the Seminar also provided an open
forum for issues of a more political
or social value; issues threatening
the very life of today's music
Perhaps the most disturbing
threat is censorship. Concerned
parents, Washington wives (the
Parents Music Resource Center),
and right wing activists are all
attacking rock music for its
suggestive or "obscene" lyrical
content. At the head of this contro-
versy is Jello Biafra, lead singer of
the Dead Kennedys.
Biafra is currently facing the
possibility of a year in jail and a
$2000 fine for "corrupting" the
youth of America with his band's
Frankenchrist LP. Enclosed in the
album is a reproductioin of a
phallic work by landscape artist
H.R. Giger, brought to t h e
attention of the Los Angeles City
Attorney last year by a disgusted
Sunday night, the Seminar's
censorship panel featured Biafra and
a host of colorful guests.
On tap for the occasion were two
lawyers who spoke in-defense of the
singer, a concerned mother from
Staten Island, and the Peters.
Brothers, two Minnesota reverands
whose slide presentation - which
even cited one doctor's report that
83% of his drug rehabilitation teens
listened to heavy metal - brought
jeers and heckles from the audience.
Sparks really flew when a
journalist claimed that in her
interview with Dan Peters, he told
her that the Jewish star was a
satanic symbol. When Peters denied
this charge, she played the tape into
the panel's microphone. Peters then
denied that it was his voice on the
"Rock music plays into the
hands of insecure, chicken-hearted
parents too scared to confront their
own kids," Biafra said.
His case is but one manifes-
tation of the recent increase of
concern over the dangers of rock and
roll - not felt to this degree since
the music's origin in the 1950s.
While critics charge that the
lyrics of today are more explicit
than those of yesteryear, there's no
denying that the clout of
organizations such as the
P.M.R.C., as well as groups like
Teen Vision and the Peters
Brothers, has frightened record
retailers such as Wherehouse into
removing many artists and LP's
from their shelves.
Some labels have even taken to
voluntarily putting warning stickers
on their records, while the Wal-
Mart chain no longer carries
magazines such as SPIN and
Rolling Stone . With artists from
Springsteen to Madonna under fire,
it's the public and the courts who
will eventually have the final say;
until then it's not likely to die
An issue which permeates both
the American culture as well as the
rock industry, was the concern of a
panel that met to discuss "Racism
in the New Music Industry." Rick
Dutka, Associate director of the
N.M.S., made an opening state-
ment in which he quoted an
NAACP report published last
March. Dutka said it presented
findings which everybody should
already realize - that racism per-
meates the white controlled and
dominated music industry.
Reebee Garofolo, a social
historian at the University of
Massachusetts, then gave a brief
history of music in the United
States during the 20th century. He
spoke of music which has its roots
in the American Black culture, like
Rhythm and Blues, which was
popularized by white musicians
such as Elvis Presley. When he said
this trend could continue with rap
music and the Beastie Boys, he
received boos from the predom-
inantly white audience.
Other panelists ranged from L.R.
Byrd, a consultant to the NAACP,
to Vernon Reid, the founder of the
Black Rock Coalition.
In addition, presentations were
made to the Seminar's delegates by
an animal rights group (which left
this journalist unable to eat
hamburgers again), the University
of Peace, and Tuesday's own panel
devoted to music and peace
featuring Peter Gabriel.
And Let's not forget.there were
the bands - the 200 acts on
display over the Seminar's four
nights. As artists like the Bad
Brains (newly signed to Island
Records), Thelonious Monster,
Steve Earle, The Chills, Fetchin'
Bones, The Saints, Royal Crescent
Mob, and a host of talented others
each took the stage, they provided a
living, breathing example of how
exciting and valuable the music
Against the background of the
issues Biafra and others brought to
our attention, the music hit home
all the more.
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