When Glinda Harrison, the vice president for my new record company, 829 Records, was making a one sheet for radio, (a one page description that goes out to radio stations detailing a new release) for my new CD What’s This? 1976-1979, she ran into a little problem. In going over the 11 studio recordings included on the CD, she realized something. The lyrics for many of the songs, 4 in fact, might not pass FCC clean regulations. It has been over thirty years since I wrote and recorded most of these songs and I had completely forgotten how challenging the lyrics are – even still by today’s standards.
It may not be what you think, though. When you think of “dirty” lyrics, you think of the F word, swearing like a sailor and repeatedly referring to genitals in pornographic action. I would never resort to such things like using the F word, or pointlessly swearing in a recording. That’s the easy way to express something – and it means virtually nothing, especially after you’ve heard F*** F*** F*** a few times. For me, I always wanted to make my point through content and I would never say anything merely for shock value – it has always been about social commentary and heartfelt message for me. Besides, that, what’s shocking about the F word anymore? I hear 7th graders walking home from school passing in front of my house using it loudly every day.
The problem is that much of what I’ve always written about are issues that society just likes to sweep under the rug; hot buttons for most people psychologically and emotionally; things you just don’t write songs about. Whether from blatantly sacrilegious themes before anyone had done so to pedophilia just to name a few, my songs have always gotten me in trouble. It was startling for me to realize that I might have to face the same issues today, over thirty years later.
So Glinda asked me what do we do. As my new label, 829 Records, which I founded in late 2006, was specifically designed to give me the vehicle to release my music absolutely uncensored, as I have been victimized by censorship many times before throughout my entire career, there was really no question at all. “We’ll just put it out there as it is,” I responded. I would never in a million years think of bleeping out lyrics. (a common technique today, which gives the illusion of danger, while still ultimately playing it quite safe, because MTV, VHI and radio can still play it then). If your work is really dangerous or cutting edge, you don’t bleep out the lyrics for anyone or anything and make it; of all things, toned down dangerous – what an absolute oxy moron that is! In addition to that, you certainly don’t do clean versions for Wal Mart. What’s interesting about all of this though, is how it has become acceptable. Does anyone really complain that artists do clean radio / video versions all the time nowadays? Like with anything, if enough people do it, it sort of becomes culturally the norm – therefore, it’s A-OK.
To me, it is completely hypocritical and so utterly disingenuous to see a video on MTV where every twenty words or so, someone’s mouth is moving but the lyrics just are missing in action. Wait? Did the sound go out? Is there something wrong with my TV? But…I still hear the drums – not just the lyrics… OOHH! I get it! Bad words. To me, that is the ultimate sellout! If you really have something to say, your art has meaning to you and you feel it, then don’t bleep it! There is no such thing as acceptably dangerous – any more that a woman can claim that she is partially pregnant, or someone declare that they have a touch of cancer. If people don’t play it or even if they decide to attack the work and boycott it, so be it. That’s how I have always looked at it and exactly how I will always deal with it. I have to answer to myself, as we all do and the only person you can never escape from is you. I don’t want to be in conflict with myself – I need to be able to respect my choices.
However, there was still the lingering question of what do to with our little radio one sheet. In thinking about it, Glinda came up with a great idea. On the one sheet, we’ll put an asterisk next to the 4 track titles that contain questionable lyrics that says: To determine FCC clean status complete lyrics available at 829records.com. We’ll print all of the complete lyrics on the website, word-by-word, so this way, anyone at radio can see and decide for themselves. I’m not someone who’s going to try and slip one by the radio stations, which takes away their choice; I can face the music. (PTN=Pardon the Pun)
Below are the songs and the lyrics issues in question:
Track 1) Executive Exhibitionist (Recorded 8-76)
And when the kids out of class
Go snatch one quick down with you pants
Flip flop flip flop your pee pee ‘round
Doodle it doodle it up and down
Gobs of pleasure you receive
Just watching all the children scream
© 2007 Skafish
Track 2) Knuckle Sandwich (Recorded 8-76)
Your stomach is mush and you walk like a fag…
Wait till the bell rings I’m a kickin’ your ass…
© 2007 Skafish
Track 7) Sign Of The Cross (Recorded 10-77)
Do a genuflection
Maybe you will get a huge erection
Doin’ the Sign of the Cross…
© 1977 Skafish
Track8) No Liberation Here (Recorded 10-77)
Bury my head and face in crappy toilet water in shit…
© 1977 Skafish
I remember back on February 4, 1977, I was opening for 1950’s act Sha Na Na at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago to an audience of 6,000. Mother’s were covering their children’s eyes, people were throwing things at the stage, and the police stopped the show. I certainly resented being censored in that moment, but hey, looking back on it after all, the crowd was engaging in an all out riot. (LOL)
It was even worse when I was censored, not by society, but by my own team. In November of 1982, Miles Copeland, CEO of IRS Records, the label I was signed to at the time was so shocked and offended by the second album I turned in, he refused to release it. Keep in mind, that IRS Records has been considered one of the most progressive and groundbreaking record companies of all time. With graphic descriptions of a sex change operation, (Let’s Play Doctor) methodically depicting murdering an upper class family through home invasion simply because they were normal, (Home Invader) Miles refused to have any part of putting this music out there. It shocked even him!
It happened again, when on Labor Day in 1992, I was hired to play in Park Forest Illinois at a Jaycees festival. When the person there originally booked me, he asked me if I would consider censoring my show. Even though I was flat broke at the time, with not enough money to pay my bills, I flatly told him no. So after he thought about it for a few days, he said that he was OK with the show as it was and for me to just do what I do.
However, the rest of the Jaycees committee were not OK with this idea and during my performance, they were watching every move I was making on stage, waiting for one of the moments they were anticipating. One of my songs from that era where I performed my controversial solo show was named Christy, and it was about a girl on a phone sex line. I used a real life blow up doll on stage where I would jam the dolls crotch in audience members faces, hump the doll and roll around with the doll myself. I did the song about mid way through my set, and by that point in the show, the audience was mixed. The kids were really digging it and the elders were getting pretty uncomfortable, so the tension was building. During the first verse of Christy, I took the doll, spread her legs wide open, and positioned the crotch to ram it right into an audience member’s mouth, a woman who seemed to be OK with it. As soon as the doll’s crotch touched the woman’s mouth — BOOM! Instantly — DEAD SILENCE…. No sound – no lights, as if the world stopped dead in its tracks and froze…everything and everyone seemed in suspended animation – freeze framed…The show was over… they were ready and waiting for this moment so they could immediately pull the plug and did so, in a New York second.
In the newspaper story about the incident a few days later, the Jaycees recited the most idiotic reason always given for stopping a show – those lily white, 1950’s Leave It To Beaver, no one has wild sex (or any sex for that matter) community standards. What does that really mean? Are there standards that represent an entire community: different races, religions, sexual orientations, gender, ages and artistic preferences? Does everybody in a community feel the same about anything? Of course not. What “community standards” really means, is that you pander to the loudest, most judgmental (presumably religious) conservatives, who think anyone who believes anything other than them, is destined for eternal fire in hell, with a devil icon overseeing the proceedings. Who ever sets these standards? Is every single person who lives there and pays taxes polled? Does everyone really have a voice?
To reinforce that point, many audience members opposed them stopping the show and stated so in the article, believing that I had the right to free expression. It’s like the one mother who writes a corporation up in arms, threatening this and that, to boycott and stop buying their products, if they don’t placate her. Like the wimps they are, they usually suck up to her and tone it all down – to make it safe, nice and lame. And it’s not done for moral reasons – it is merely done for fear of income loss.
However, the supposed hip rock ‘n’ roll outlets pull the same stunt, but love to claim that they would never do so to protect their “cutting edge” reputation. In 2006, I kept getting emails from people telling me that they were seeing the film I was in, Urgh! A Music War on VH1 but my number, Sign Of The Cross was always left out. Funny… Why would my number, the finale, right before the encore where I join Sting and The Police, with XTC on stage, be cut?
Let me connect the dots for you. In 2005, Viacom, the corporation which owns both the Comedy Central channel and VH1, pulled a South Park episode from the air called Bloody Mary, where the virgin Mary was depicted bleeding from the vagina, which was to be shown on the Comedy Central channel. Of course, the Catholic league, along with others had a total fit about this episode and pressured Viacom to pull the episode. Just think, if Mary’s crotch was bloody, we might all, along with the planet, all animal and plant life, go into extinction forever! (LOL)
So anyway, Viacom caved in and pulled the episode (isn’t it ironic, though – later, they claimed that not airing the episode had absolutely nothing to do with the pressure they had received. (RC=Real Comedy) Well, who also owns VH1? Viacom does. So with Sign Of The Cross, they would potentially face the same problem. With lyrics such as, “Do a genuflection – Maybe you will get a huge erection,” while I’m swinging church incense and sprinkling the audience with authentic blessed (by a priest) holy water (from an authentic religious supply store) on the audience, there could be a real problem. So I got censored again.
Another number they pulled from Urgh! was by the Cramps, a group I performed with at CBGB’s in late 1977. In the number, the singer, Lux Interior, was putting a microphone in his mouth, sucking it, licking it, caressing it like a big erect penis – WAIT! He might be (don’t even say it out loud…) gay! Oh my God! If children see this, every young male in this country will be engaged in a continuing chain of anal sex with each other from coast to coast. (LOL) The Cramps number, in my opinion, was one of the true highlights of the film, powerful and raw.
With censorship, it’s always the things that need to be heard that get suppressed. Whether vulgar, crude, innovative, revolutionary or transformational for the greater good, let it all be heard. And with community standards being the issue, those standards, illusive at best, represent a minority – just a loud, up tight and vocal one. Maybe radio will play the songs on What’s This 1976-1979 or perhaps, some of these lyrics still can’t be aired on the radio even today – but that’s OK with me either way. At least, this work can finally be out there, for the world to decide for themselves: uncensored, truthful, not compromised and totally real, as it should have always been, and now, will always be.
© 2008 Skafish