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The Sad, Strange Tale of Judas Priest

RENO, NEVADA — By the rolling green banks of the Truckee River, under a nearly full moon, a tall, vaguely Hispanic-looking man with beautiful shoulder-length black hair, a foot-long beard, and a perfectly re­laxed body comes over to tell me that Satan is walking proud these days. He slips his small U.S. Army pack off one shoulder, introduces himself as Jacob, then says he just missed the midnight bus out of Reno.

“Satan’s walking proud through the cities,” he amends himself, taking a deep whiff of grass and river. “That’s why I’ll only work migrant, out in the country. I know the joy of the mountain cat’s full belly,” he says with a devout smile. “And I know the pain of the deer that’s in there.”

It’s my third night in Reno, and before turning in I’ve come down to the river that cuts right through downtown for some fresh air. I was hoping to spare myself the 24-hour passion plays of the casinos, but there’s no escaping it here: Heaven and Hell are married on every 01her street cor­ner in Reno. A block down, across from the Washoe County District Courthouse where I’ve been spending my days watching the Judas Priest “subliminals” trial, a store­front window advertises summer cut rates for “QUICKEST MARRIAGES IN RENO”; a block up, the Truckee glistens weirdly as it cross­es under the Virginia Street Bridge — from all the wedding rings thrown in after quick­ie divorces.

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And Jacob, though his voice is warm and clear as a bell, has blue-green eyes that flash from one extreme conviction to another with a scary rapidity. I’ve gotten used to people like him by now, picking me out, of a neon-lit crowd of thousands on Sierra Street to announce the Apocalypse to, or spilling out of the casinos at 2 a.m. on a 90-degree Saturday night and offering to mow my lawn for $3

“I’m just here,” I tell him, “to cover the Judas Priest trial,” then instantly regret having dropped that particular name.

“Three times,” Jacob says stonily, “thou shalt betray me before the cock crows.”

While I consider the wisdom of pointing out that his Biblical quote concerns Peter, not Judas, Jacob continues:

“Oh, I’ll go to the cities,” he admits. “Salt Lake, Sacramento, Vegas. But I tiptoe through town. Satan’s walking around.”

“No. that’s Mammon,” he says matter-of-factly, as though I’d misidentified a crow as a raven. “Robbing, cheating, beating people up in the middle of the night’s no good,” I hear him say from 10 paces behind me. It’ll come back to you, sooner than you think. Good and evil. Heaven and hell. Life and death. The mountain cat’s joy”— he’s beginning to shout now — “and the deer’s pain. Gain and loss! People who want something for nothing will lose their souls to Satan!”

Reno, depending on how your cards are flopping, might or might not be a town for Satan, but it is a town for losers. You see your first half-dozen before clearing the plane’s disembark ramp, grim old ladies in bright holiday dresses feeding the 25-cent slot machines at three-quarters a pull Downtown, the slots become progressive, with red six-figure jackpot numbers “progressing” digitally and fast into the hundreds of thousands of dollars everywhere you look; before you lose all sense of the value of the money in your pocket, its obvious these beautiful numbers aren’t spelling anything but the losses, one coin at a time, of hundreds of thousands of people.

This is a fleeting awareness though, if you harbor the slightest conviction that life owes you something. Within hours of land­ing in this former whistle-stop on the Union Pacific Railroad, this three-square-­mile block of concrete and neon plopped in the middle of the Sierra Nevada mountain­-desert range, you feel indignant, hopeful, and a little out of control every time you put a quarter in a pay phone.

By various estimates, 50 to 70 per cent of the people actually living in Reno and Sparks, the adjacent bedroom community, have moved here within the last 10 years. The migration pattern — families that failed elsewhere and have come to Nevada for a last chance — becomes clear quickly enough. To sit quietly for more than five minutes in a public place in Reno — be it a diner counter, casino lobby, or poolside at a $25-a-night motel — is to invite the person to your right or left to tell you his troubles. And, however dubious these confessions seem at first, the statistics are there to back them up: Nevadans — the last of the free thinkers — have among the five highest rates per capita of marriages, heart disease, cancer, AIDS, alcoholism, prostitution, cocaine use by adults, divorce, population growth, churches, legal handguns and rifles, incarceration, child abuse, teenage pregnan­cies, and successful suicides by white males ages 15 to 24.

Two “progressions” of that last statis­tic — Raymond Belknap, 18, by a sawed-off shotgun blast to the chin in a Sparks churchyard on December 23, 1985, and his best friend, Jay Vance, 20, who managed only to blow the bottom half of his face away (he spent three years enduring $400,000 of painful reconstructive surgery to his face before dying of a methadone overdose in 1988) — have led to the strang­est media circus (and what one Vegas book-maker called the “biggest crapshoot”) in Reno history: A multimillion-dollar prod­uct liability suit brought by three Reno law­yers against CBS Records and the band one recent critic called the “doyens of British heavy metal,” Judas Priest.

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Seven subliminal (audible only subcon­sciously) commands saying “Do it” were allegedly embedded on one song of Priest’s 1978 release, Stained Class — the album that was on Ray Belknap’s turntable the afternoon he and Jay formed their suicide pact. Coupled with four alleged “back-­masked lyrics” (audible only when playing the record in reverse) on three other songs— the exhortations “Try suicide,” “Suicide is in,” “Sing my evil spirit,” “Fuck the Lord, fuck [or suck] all of you” — the Do its, say the lawyers, created a compulsion that led to the “wrongful death” of Ray Belknap and to the “personal injury” of Jay Vance. The Vance family is asking for $5 million. The Belknaps for $1.2 million. “If you’re going to hurt someone,” jokes one of plaintiffs’ lawyers, “you’re bet­ter off killing them. It’s a lot cheaper.”

The suit was brought in 1986 after Jay, in a letter to Ray’s mother, Aunetta Roberson, wrote: “I believe that alcohol and heavy metal music such as Judas Priest led us to be mesmerized …” The lawyers initially cited the alleged suicidal content of the Stained Class songs “Heroes End” (“But you you have to die to be a hero./It’s a shame in life./You make it better dead.”) and “Beyond the Realms of Death” (“Keep your world of all its sin./It’s not fit for living in”). The suit seemed dead in the water, however, after the California Dis­trict Court of Appeal ruled that the lyrics of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution” — cited in a similar suicide/product liability suit — were protected by the First Amendment.

The Reno suit made its bizarre beeline into the unconscious a year and a half later, when six Sparks metalheads, hired by plain­tiffs’ lawyers to decipher the lyrics of the entire album, reported concurrent, identical nightmares of going on killing sprees with semiautomatic weapons in their neighbor­hood shopping malls. On the advice of Dr. Wilson Bryan Key, the grandmaster of the subliminal exposé (his books, Subliminal Seduction, Media Sexploitation, The Clam­-Plate Orgy, etc., have sold over 4 million copies), plaintiffs’ lawyers hired a self-taught audio engineer named Bill Nickloff (then marketing personalized subliminal self-help tapes through his firm, Secret Sounds. Inc.) to examine a CD of Stained Class. Using his original “backwards engineering” process — by which the audio signal of a piece of recorded music is decon­structed into its component 24 tracks on his Mac II home computer — Nickloff “dis­covered the smoking gun”: seven subliminal Do its in the first and second choruses of the song “Better By You, Better Than Me.”

Key, a 65-year-old Henry Miller look­alike with a MENSA belt buckle and a young wife he is able to put to sleep with a simple posthypnotic suggestion, lives out­side of Reno, off a highway running through surreal, sage-scented moonscape that yields some very exotic roadkill. As he is quick to point out, the issue of sublimin­als and the adverse effect of music is not entirely without precedent. The Billie Holi­day ballad “Gloomy Sunday” was banned from the radio in the early ’40s when several war widows killed themselves after lis­tening. And the foreman of a jury in Penn­sylvania cited subliminals as a mitigating factor in the 1989 guilty verdict for Steven Mignogna, a 19-year-old metalhead who murdered two 10-year-old kids after 12 hours of listening to AC/DC, Ozzy Os­bourne, Mötley Crüe, and Judas Priest. Mignogna, who was defended by the Bish­op of Sardinia (then in Pittsburgh for medi­cal reasons), was given two consecutive life sentences rather than the death penalty the prosecution had asked for.

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The Do its — uttered, said Nickloff, by a different voice than lead singer Rob Hal­ford’s — were allegedly punched into (or lay­ered beneath) the swirling chords of a Les­ley Guitar (a guitar played through a synthesized organ), a tom-tom beat and backward cymbal crash, and the prolonged exhalations of Halford’s falsetto rendition of the lyric, “Better by you, better than meee-uh! [Do it!]/You can tell ’em what I want it to beee-uhh [Do it!]/You can say what I can only seee-uhh [Do it!].” Nickloff also speculated that enhancements of the Do its had been spread across 11 of the 24 tracks by a second machine, perhaps a COMB filter. This he couldn’t prove, how­ever, simply by testing the CD.

Thus began a three-year hunt for the 24-track masters, not only of “Better By You” but of every other Judas Priest song, album, rehearsal, and live tape in CBS’s posses­sion. The song left a long paper trail, and discovery of the 24-track proved far easier than other Judas Priest masters (CBS said they still hadn’t located any others by the time trial began): The album’s only number not written by band members, it was added when CBS’s New York a&r men decided none of the album’s original eight songs had hit potential.

CBS located the tape in September of 1988: they delivered a safety copy to Nick­loff three months later — an “18-minute-like gap” that became plaintiffs’ second “smok­ing gun”: CBS, they alleged, had used the three months of studio time to cover up the embedded Do its. Nickloff asked for the original master, then refused to examine it when it arrived. The original tape’s zinc oxide, he said, had begun to flake (suspi­ciously so, he thought), and he wouldn’t accept responsibility for it.

A series of motions and court orders re­garding CBS’s cooperation in the search for other masters followed, leading to two years of immensely mistrustful exchanges be­tween plaintiffs and defense lawyers. It de­generated quickly into one of the most con­tentious suits since Bleak House‘s Jarndyce v. Jarndyce: public accusations of complic­ity and conspiracy; shouting matches at prehearing depositions (Nickloff’s in partic­ular): detectives (including a former Scot­land Yard man) digging into the silt of CBS corporate policy and procedure, and the Oedipal dramas of the plaintiffs’ families.

It culminated in a 14-day trial, starting July 16, that featured exquisite dramatiza­tions of humility, rage, and bathos; incredu­lity and condescension; Rob Halford’s a cappella singing from the witness stand; the repeated playing of his ee-uh! heavy breath­ings that made the court stenographer cover her face in embarrassment; the defense’s strident attacks on the existence of a Freud­ian unconscious; and a Manichaean court­room divided between the local born-agains and metalhead autograph hounds.

Courtroom melodrama isn’t something that bothers a man like Ken McKenna. A lik­able, unabashed media animal (“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since 1986,” he boasts), he’s the man responsible for the suit’s enormous publicity. The inevitable epithets — “tort twister,” “slip-and-slide man,” and “ambulance chaser” — only bring a bemused, faintly proud smile to McKenna’s lips, and he’s not one to linger on the moral or emotional aspects of a case. Not until closing statement time, that is. Then you realize McKenna’s a pretty corny guy — fond of homespun similes and homi­lies (“I guess the lesson to be learned from all this,” etc.), and the words “gosh” and “heck.” When the subject of his work comes up, his pudgy, angelic face (at 38, he still looks like his high school yearbook photo) takes on a devilish grin.

“I was born to sue,” he says in his well­-appointed two-story office in downtown Reno. “I didn’t know who or why or where or what I was till I discovered contingency law.”

At 8 a.m., sprightly during the first of several interviews he’ll be giving this Satur­day morning, he looks like he’s just stepped onto a budget cruise liner: blue shorts, salmon Polo shirt, a big well-scrubbed smile on his face, and a solid gold Mickey Mouse watch on his wrist. Stacked next to his Catalogue of Expert Witnesses (“The expert business is big-time bizarre,” he tells me) are heaps of anti-heavy-metal pam­phlets. I leaf through one with an R. Crumb-like cartoon on the cover, Stairway to Hell: The Well-Planned Destruction of Teens, while McKenna faxes a client. A beautiful epigram from Boethius — “Music is a part of us, and either ennobles or de­grades our behavior” — prefaces a chapter on backmasked lyrics that focuses on the alleged backward content of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (“It’s just a spring­-clean for the May Queen” = “I live for Sa­tan … He will give you six, six, six,” etc.). Italicized in the first paragraph of text is the premise that drives the ultra-right’s fas­cination with backmasking: “Induction into the Worldwide Church of Satan is predicat­ed in the ability to say the Lord’s Prayer backwards!

McKenna (who represents the Belknaps), Tim Post (the born-again Christian repre­senting the Vances), and Vivian Lynch (who represents the estate of Jay Vance) deny identification with the anti-metal fa­natics, but that Southern California-based fringe (which Frank Zappa calls the “Or­ange Curtain”) is very supportive of the suit. Two of plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, Dr. Robert Demski, medical director of a San Antonio hospice for troubled adolescents, and Darlyne Pettinicchio, a Fullerton, Cali­fornia, probation officer, were recommend­ed by Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Re­source Center. Their testimony — Judas Priest’s music induces self-destructive be­havior by glorifying Satan — wasn’t allowed on record (Stained Class‘s lyric content was not at issue). Without Pettinicchio, howev­er, the metal link to the suicide probably wouldn’t have been made. It was through attendance at one of her seminars, or the reading of an anti-metal “police training manual” prepared by a disciple, that one of the detectives handling the shootings knew to advise Ray’s mother to hang on to the Stained Class LP on Ray’s turntable.

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“You can borrow that stuff if you wanna,” McKenna says, putting a heavy, distancing accent on the word stuff. Walk­ing me out to his porch after the interview, though, he can’t resist telling me that Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant did once purchase Aleister Crowley’s mansion. (McKenna isn’t far off: Jimmy Page, Zeppelin’s guitar­ist and a devotee of the Grand Old Man of English Satanism, did buy Crowley’s Boles­kine House, near Loch Ness, in the early 1970s.)

I stop to look at a gruesome photograph of a twin-engine plane’s wreckage in a copse of pine trees, given pride of place in his front office. That devilish smile comes to McKenna’s face as he tells me, “That’s two million dollars you’re looking at.”

Vivian Lynch, unlike McKenna, is a “lawyer’s lawyer.” A middle-aged woman who speaks in perfectly constructed, declarative sentences, she has a sober, battered look on her face, and pretty, penetrating blue eyes that become a rapid flutter of mascara and sky-blue eyeshadow whenever she concentrates on a point of law. Holder of the highest bar exam scores ever in Michigan and Nevada, she’s known among the defense team as the dragon lady, and several of their expert witnesses tell me how unnerving it is to be cross-examined by her. On both state and national amicus curiae committees, much of her legal work for the last two decades has been the drafting of other attorneys’ motions for the Supreme Court in Carson City. Entering the suit at the beginning of defense’s constitutional challenges in 1987, she has defeated every motion to dismiss, quash, and relocate that Reno and New York counsel for CBS have come up with.

Unlike McKenna, Lynch has no taste for publicity; she once left the suit for months, she tells me, when she felt that his media hi-jinks (particularly an interview given to the Enquirer) had crossed over into the jury-prejudicial. She also seems entirely un­motivated by Mammon: A supporter of Tipper Gore, she’s “in this suit for my children,” two of whom were “extreme me­talheads.” Lynch’s only appearance in the local headlines came in the first week of trial, when she asked bassist Ian Hill and guitarist Ken Downing for autographs for her middle son. (“My son wasn’t talking to me,” she tells me.)

When she pulls up to her office for our interview, one side of her pickup’s flatbed is stacked with Diet Coke empties, and the passenger seat of the cab has a three-foot stack of legal paper. When a local Holy Roller, overhearing us discuss the suit in a restaurant a few hours later, comes over with his two young daughters to testify that the “owner of a major U.S. record company belongs to the Worldwide Church of Sa­tan,” and that “my best friend’s brother jumped off the high bridge in Santa Barba­ra because of that company’s music,” Lynch hears him out patiently, then gives her address so he can send along his compi­lation tape of backward lyrics.

“I think that man’s insane,” I say when he shepherds his daughters from the restaurant.

“I don’t,” says Lynch, draining her third iced tea. “I think he’s tripping. Didn’t you sec how dilated his pupils were?”

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Even if McKenna and Lynch can prove the existence of subliminals on “Better By You” to Judge Jerry Carr Whitehead (both sides have agreed to forgo a jury in the trial), they still have to show the sublimin­als were the “proximate cause” of the sui­cide pact. Defense has argued that Ray and Jay decided to kill themselves because they were miserable. CBS’s three-year investiga­tion into the allegedly violent home lives of the boys focused on the marital history of Ray Belknap’s mother, Aunetta Roberson (three husbands by the time Ray killed himself), the religious conflict in Jay Vance’s life (his mother is a born-again Christian), the alcoholic and allegedly abu­sive tendencies of both boys’ stepfathers, and the bleak work prospects and fantasy­-ridden lives of the pair once they’d dropped out of high school in the first weeks of their junior years. The circumstantial evidence is enormous.

By McKenna’s and Lynch’s own lights, however, the families of Ray and Jay were enviable. McKenna’s first case was his brother Pat’s Murder 1 appeal, for the ex­tremely brutal slaying of a fellow prisoner while awaiting sentence on a separate mul­tiple-murder conviction. And though he seems an extremely peaceable man (and is remarkably polite and gentle with hostile witnesses), he is able to provide the most dramatic moment of the trial: At the end of his closing statement (which he prefaces by placing a two-foot by three-foot blowup of Ray Belknap’s 10th-grade yearbook photo on a table facing the court), McKenna’s soliloquy of a father’s rationalizing thoughts after striking his son (“I didn’t mean to hit him that hard”; “he was pro­voking me”; “I barely touched him,” etc.) has the entire court’s heads bowed (includ­ing Judge Whitehead’s) for over a minute.

“Following the defense’s logic,” says Lynch. “I should have killed myself 10 times over.” The eldest of three abused children, she and two younger sisters were taken from her parents when she was two years old and institutionalized in a Long Island orphanage till their teens. After be­ing sexually abused by a relative, a 14-year-­old Lynch and her two sisters moved into a Detroit studio with a single Murphy bed, and she went to work to support them. She went through Wayne State Law School on scholarship, saving money by memorizing textbooks and selling them back before classes started. Her own marriage, an ex­tremely unhappy one, yielded three chil­dren; she divorced her husband in 1972, four years after she’d come home from a day of practicing international law in New York. turned on the evening news, and saw her house being fired upon by tanks with 9mm anti-personnel weapons during the Detroit riots. (Weeks later, back in Detroit, she was bayoneted in the back while four months pregnant.) Four of the seven chil­dren she’s raised came from troubled households in Reno.

“The histories of the Vance and Belknap families,” Lynch tells me without batting an eyelash, “are certainly no different in kind or degree than what you’ll find across America. I can tell you for sure they grew up like most of the kids you’ll find around here.”

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The billboards along South Virginia Street arc as likely to read “HAVE YOU BEEN ABUSED?” or “DIVORCE?” — followed by a seven-digit number — as to announce Dolly Parton at the Sands, or next Saturday’s fight card at Harrah’s. Otherwise, South Virginia is a typical five-mile burger strip leading out of town: small businesses, chain restaurants, mini-golf courses, teenage boys screeching their tires on Saturday night till they find a girl or a fight; and the occasion­al mammoth concrete structure, like the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, where Ray and Jay saw Judas Priest on its 1983 Screaming for Vengeance tour. It was a big tour for the band (the album was their first to hit platinum), and it meant a lot to the boys: Ray stole the six-foot tour poster­ — one fan described it as a mythic drawing of “sort of a tank with a bull’s face, horns, missiles, guns” — and taped it above his bed for a year.

When I go to meet Scott Schilingheyde, a high school friend of Ray’s, it’s in front of the enormous Peppermill Casino, all the way out of town on South Virginia. Scott, a striking 21-year-old kid with immaculately blow-dried shoulder-length blond hair, has driven from his mother’s house up in the Hidden Valley hills: he’s recently been pa­roled after two years in the Carson City penitentiary (for selling crank, a metham­phetamine), and he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s “back in town.” Scott isn’t exactly scrupulous in maintaining his low pro­file, however: I can hear the Megadeth tape blasting in his yellow Le Mans from a block away.

It’s sadly easy to forget Scott’s tender age once you meet him: he seems far more like some hardened and prospectless maquis­ — come down from a Philippine hill town to talk to a very foreign reporter — than any American teenager I’ve met. The only clues to his age are his gape-mouthed appreciation of a 40-pound striper in the Peppermill fish-tank, and a fit of uncontrollable gig­gling when I ask it it’s true Ray and Jay played cowboys-and-Indians with live ammo (“Yeah, that sounds like Ray”). When he speaks of guns, prison, child abuse, and suicide, Scott sounds like he’s talking last night’s ballgame: “Ray and Jay weren’t all-out crazy, out-and-out violent people,” he says. “They did pretty much normal, crazy shit. They had normal prob­lems — Ray more than most. We all talked about suicide, all the time, but it was just tough-guy talk, weapons talk. They did it.”

Scott stonewalls when I ask what prob­lems Ray had: “Ray shelved that shit the moment he got out of the house, and I wasn’t allowed in there. Only Jay was. Those two were as close as close can get. I remember one time, though, we went up to shoot my brother’s gun and Ray had to go get some clothes, ’cause he couldn’t go home. I think we ripped some beers on the way up.”

“Did you guys steal most of the things you had?”

“No, no,” Scott shakes his head emphati­cally. “I think we bought our own ciga­rettes.” He blows out a long thin plume of Marlboro smoke. “Mom bought the jeans and T-shirts. We never thought much about food.”

“Did they do a lot of drugs?”

“Everything that came their way,” Scott says automatically. “Anything they could afford. Mostly, they drank a lot of beer.”

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On the day of his autopsy, the day after Christmas, 1985, Ray, six foot two, weighed 141 pounds; the only substance in his stomach was a stick of chewing gum, and his alcohol/blood tested at 0.098 (0.100 constitutes intoxication in Nevada). He wore blue jeans with long sweats under­neath, a gray Miami Dolphins “Super Bowl ’85” T-shirt with vents cut out, and brown construction boots with white socks. His belt buckle was shaped like a cannabis leaf. He had one tattoo, a green RB on his upper right arm (unlike Jay, who had many on his arms and upper body), and 25 small lacer­ations on his fists, from playing knuckles with Jay (punching each other’s knuckles to see whose bled first). Ray’s stepbrother, Tom Roach, testified that their former stepfather, Jesse Roberson, would take Ray to the garage, lock the door, and whip him with his belt till Ray could get the door unlocked and scamper back to his room, but no indications of that or any other beating showed up on the autopsy.

“Growing up,” Scott tells me, “Ray didn’t really have friends. He didn’t like no one, and didn’t like himself. He really hat­ed his red hair.”

The first and only person Ray ever really took to was Jay, whom he met in seventh grade. Jay, who’d been left back twice, had BMOC status with his two extra years, and his immediate love for Ray was an unend­ing source of pride. Ray was never at ease with girls, unlike Jay, who’d often find two girls waiting at his door when he came home from work. A pretty redhead named Carol did fall madly in love with Ray in 10th grade, and he left home to live with her for a week, but he could always be counted on to ditch her to spend the night with Jay. Their parents were pleased when the boys finally showed a sign of domestic­ity: shortly after leaving high school, they bought pit bull pups together (both of which had to be put down by the parents after the shooting).

Jesse worked at a Sparks auto parts shop for $20 a day plus commissions. Aunetta has worked for the past five years as a 21 dealer in a Reno casino for $35 a night and tips. Ray, who was good with his hands (he made a shelf for targets he and Jay would take up into the hills with them), loved construction work. On his last application form, he wrote that he had worked on a building site in Truckee, California, begin­ning as a laborer at $5.50 an hour and ending, a month later, as a $10.75-an-hour framer, but there’s no reason to believe this is true. His last job, feeding paper reams into a cutter at a Sparks print shop, paid 10 cents above the minimum wage, because he worked from midnight to 8 a.m. Two weeks before he killed himself, he was fired for refusing to work overtime. He’d lost the job before that, in a used furniture store, when he stole $454 from his boss’s desk and used the money to go see his real father in Oklahoma.

He liked to think of himself as a karate master and was very fond of his weapons: a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun, a 12-gauge pump, a BB gun, and a two-foot-long hard-­rubber whipstick. (When Tom Roach was asked what the purpose of this whip-stick was, he answered, “It hurts when you get hit with it.”) Though Ray was terrible in school (in his two years at Reed High School he flunked all but two classes), he was by far the better pupil of the two. Both were good shots, and when not stalking Tom Roach with BB guns through the house (for liking “mellow” bands like Def Leppard and Night Ranger), they would often go up into the Sierras with their .22s to hunt quail, which Ray loved to eat spit­-roasted, or to a cave within the Sparks city limits, to nail bats to the wall with air-rifle shot. Two weeks before his suicide, police came to his house to investigate a report of “animal torture” — Ray had allegedly shot a neighborhood cat with a blowgun.

Other than the occasional trip to the mall, or a night of playing “terrorize the town” on South Virginia Street, Ray’s only regular activity was up in his room with Jay, “listening to Priest” and fantasizing about becoming a mercenary. They loved Priest, Jay said later, because they got pow­er from the music — amps was Jay’s word — ­and because their connection with Priest was “more intimate” than with bands like Iron Maiden, whose “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out sort of lyrics” left the two cold. If they had a credo to live by, he said, it was “Ride Hard. Die Fast.” In the hospital after the shootings, Jay used an index finger to draw the words Life sucks, when asked why they’d shot themselves.

Of the thousands of details that surface in the Judas Priest trial, two of the few that defense and plaintiffs don’t dispute is that Ray and Jay loved Judas Priest more than any other band (in deposition, Jay said he “would’ve done anything those guys asked me to do”), and that the two boys were inseparable. Several friends testify that when they met Jay after the shooting, the first thing he would ask was if they blamed him for Ray’s death. “I ran into Jay at a gas station one day,” Scott tells me. “But I didn’t know who he was till he started talking, ’cause he didn’t really have a face yet or anything. I couldn’t understand him either, ’cause his tongue was gone. I was angry at him, though. There’s nothin’ in this world so hard,” he says, clenching his fists, slowly, “that you gotta shoot yourself over it. Nothin’.”

“What’d you say to Jay at the gas sta­tion?”

“Nothin’. Just walked away. I never saw him again.”

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Growing up, Jay wanted to be a hunting or a fishing guide. Several early backpacking trips — in the desolation wilderness of northern Nevada, and on visits to a favor­ite uncle up in Oregon, along the Pacific Coast Trail — had a huge effect on him. He started doing gardening work in junior high school, and told his school psychiatrist he owned a few landscaping companies and had made investments in pieces of heavy equipment. As he began to realize he’d nev­er get through Reed High, his fantasy of enrolling in Lassen Gunsmith College up in Susanville evaporated; at the New Frontier drug program he lasted half of, trying to cure himself of a crank addiction six months before the shooting, he spoke indifferently of becoming either a mercenary or janitor. He studied typing and applied sci­ence after the shooting, and had plans to become either a physical therapist, or, once his tongue was rebuilt, a suicide hot-line operator.

Something went very wrong in Jay’s life in the first and second grades. One school psychiatrist called him hyperactive, another diagnosed him for Attention Deficit Disor­der: he repeated both years. His mother refused to give him the nervous-system stimulant Ritalin. “Those kids on Ritalin,” she says, “were just zombies.” She agreed to see the district psychiatrist after Jay tied a belt around his head and began pulling his hair out one day in second grade, but when the man came to see the home envi­ronment she wouldn’t let him in. Driving home after being expelled from school in the third grade, Jay became incensed when his mother wouldn’t listen to his version of the argument that had led to his expulsion, and wrapped both hands around her neck. A few years later, he went after her with a hammer, and again with a pistol a few years after that.

From the age of 10 till he dropped out of high school in the first weeks of his junior year, Jay spent his school hours in the Spe­cial Ed Room, alongside Down’s syndrome kids, paraplegics, and the severely impaired (he remembered befriending one speechless boy who’d swallowed half a bottle of bleach). Though he tested low on every proficiency and IQ test (he had big prob­lems with hand-eye coordination), when you read the sharp, direct responses he gave in depositions, you realize Jay was a quick-­minded and intuitive, if ineducable, kid who never had a chance in school.

From the age of 15, when he discovered Judas Priest, Jay had a Priest album or song for every mood and period of his life: Unleashed in the East, when be needed to “get amped”; Hellbent for Leather, to party; Screaming for Vengeance when he left school and for nine months lived-in as a baby-sitter for an older woman. Both he and Ray loved the early album, Sin After Sin, with its cover: a black figure with no face. He said they listened to the songs “Epitaph” and “Dream Deceiver” when they needed to cry: “Saw a figure floating/Beneath the willow trees./Asked us if we were happy/We said we didn’t know/took us by the hands/and up we go!/We followed the dreamer deceiver.”

“Jay recited those lines like scripture,” says Phillis Vance, who agrees to see me once I swear I’m not from “one of those smut magazines like the Enquirer, or that Rolling Stone” (which ran an even-handed piece a week before the trial began). “Me and Tony [Jay’s adoptive father] would be watching TV out in the living room and he’d be listening to Judas Priest in his bed­room, so loud that even through his ear­phones we couldn’t hear the TV. And if I’d go in and tell him to turn it down, he’d point that finger at me, just like Rob Hal­ford, and scream. ‘ON YOUR KNEES, AND WOR­SHIP ME IF YOU PLEASE!’ After he was born-­again, in 1983, he sold all 13 of their albums to Recycled Records. He stopped doing drugs for a while too. Either you worship Jesus Christ, or you worship Judas Priest.”

Jay later said it was Priest’s music that turned him, temporarily, into a white su­premacist. In school, his guidance counselor once sent him to the infirmary to have his left forearm PhiSoHexed, when the swastikas and the words Judas Priest he’d drawn on with black magic marker had caused a serious infection.

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The 23rd of December, 1985, a freezing, overcast day, began for Ray with a family trip to the Happy Looker hair salon in the neighborhood shopping mall. His four-year­-old half-sister, Christie Lynn, was getting her first haircut: Ray went home to get a camera, and on the way back to the Happy Looker decided, after years of wearing his long hair back in a bandana, to have it cut into a manageable buzz.

Though he’d recently lost his first pay­check in three weeks over a few games of pool at Doc and Eddie’s Tavern, he seemed to be in a good mood: all but one install­ment of the $454 he’d stolen from his for­mer boss was still owed, but he’d had enough money to buy Christmas presents for everyone. Not one to stand on ceremo­ny, he’d opened the records he’d bought for Tom Roach and a few friends (including the hard-to-find Stained Class LP for Jay) and listened to them. And Jay had a plan to get Ray’s paycheck back from the local con­tractor he’d lost it to: “I was going to stomp on him in the back of his knee, and I would crunch his knee to the concrete and then karate chop him in the back of the neck, and he would pretty much be helpless, at that moment, because I know karate.”

The day had begun for Jay shortly after noon: in a deposition given under hypnosis two years later, he remembered that “I saw my death and looked around.” He cleared his eyes, had a piss, and took a glass of chocolate milk from the kitchen to the bathroom. He drank the milk slowly as he sat under a hot shower for 20 minutes, then put the glass on the toilet seat while he washed his newly buzzed-cut hair.

The shootings might never have hap­pened if Jay hadn’t missed his ride to the printing press that day. In his hypnotic deposition, he remembered finding a note his mother had left in the kitchen, saying she was over at her sister’s house and to call if he needed another ride; Jay, however, couldn’t find or remember his aunt’s num­ber. Perhaps he didn’t want to: Jay hated his 12-hour shifts, which left him so filthy it took up to three hours to scrub the print­-ink off his forearms.

Ray was baby-sitting Christie Lynn and a few of her friends all afternoon, but he had time to pick up Jay in his mother’s car, then stop back at the Happy Looker to get his hair recut to look more like Jay’s. They drove back to Richards Way together and, up in Ray’s room, put on The Best of Judas Priest and Unleashed in the East. After a spat over the two joints of scrub-bud they were smoking (Jay was angry Ray had “stoled the pot from a friend of mine,” which Ray denied), they got to work on their first six-pack of Bud.

They left the room an hour later, Ray to tell his sister and her friends he was going to bust their little heads if they didn’t stop running around and slamming doors, Jay to get some more beer from the fridge in the garage. He ran into Ray’s pregnant half-­sister, Rita Skulason, in the dining room, yelling at Ray to stop messing with the kids, scowling at Jay as he came into the room. Rita didn’t like Jay at all, but Jay didn’t care: He was feeling good, and had realized he had no desire to be a printer’s appren­tice any longer.

When they got back to the bedroom, Ray had a big smile on his face from a decision he’d come to: not to wait until the 25th to give Jay his present. Reaching behind his stereo for the Stained Class album, he put the record on the turntable and gave the jacket to Jay, saying, “Merry Christmas, brother.” As the opening lyric of “Exciter” played: “To find this day,/We’ll surely fall,” Ray and Jay stood up and hugged each other, then started dancing around the room.

They listened to both sides of the record two to four times (depending on which of Jay’s depositions you read) before going back out to the garage for more beer. Rita was still sitting at the dining room table. She said that Jay came over and fondled her breast, though Jay later denied that: “Rita wasn’t the kind of girl you could do that to. She’d bust you in the mouth.” Per­haps the two boys were already considering suicide: Jay asked Rita if she was going to name her baby after Ray if something hap­pened to him. “Not unless it’s a goddamn redhead,” she said.

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A few minutes after they returned to Ray’s room, Jay’s parents showed up at the front door to drive Jay to work, but they were too late. “I was rocking out,” Jay remembered. Though Phyllis tried to rea­son with him, asking, “How’re you going to buy your cigarettes if you don’t have any money?” she and Tony were out the Bel­knaps’ front door a minute later, Jay right behind them screaming, “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

It’s unclear how many more times they listened to Stained Class, and which song was on when Jay said to Ray, “Let’s see what’s next.” In depositions, Jay said it was the lyric, “Keep your world of all its sin,/It’s not fit for living in,” that led them both to understand what the message was: “The answer to this life is death.” Trying to comprehend what had happened to him in the year after the shootings, Jay went a half-­dozen times to see Susan Rusk, his former guidance counselor at Reed High; she re­members Jay mentioning that he and Ray had sat chanting “Do it, do it,” as they passed the album cover back and forth.

Ray, in any case, understood what Jay was telling him. “Yeah,” he growled, then offered his knuckles for Jay to punch. After rapping fists together, they were “psyched enough” to tear Ray’s room apart, smash­ing furniture and glass, including Ray’s prized full-length mirror. While Jay wedged a two-by-four under Ray’s door, Ray grabbed his favorite weapon, the sawed-off 12-gauge, opened his bedroom window, and crawled out.

By the time Jay had followed him out the window, Ray was already 20 feet down the alley behind his house, which led to the six­-foot wall of the Community First Church of God. Jay yelled at him to wait, and the two scaled the wall together. At 5:10 p.m. on the third shortest day of the year it was already pitch-black in the churchyard, and neither boy knew where they were. A neigh­borhood dog had begun to bark, and they were worried about the police coming. Nei­ther of them was old enough to be outdoors with a loaded gun.

Ray stepped onto a small, rickety carou­sel in the corner of the churchyard and loaded up with a single shell from his pocket. He looked terrified as he heard the gun cock. It was well below freezing, and both boys were wearing only jeans and T-shirts. In several depositions, Jay remembers say­ing, “Just hurry up” to Ray; Susan Rusk later testified that Jay told her Ray was going round and round on the carousel, chanting “Do it, do it,” and that what Jay finally said to Ray was, “Just do it.”

As the years went by, it was only in dreams that Jay could remember seeing his best friend kill himself, and inaccurately at that: In his dreams he remembered fire coming out of the back of Ray’s head after he shot himself; in his depositions, he testi­fied he had his back turned when it hap­pened. Two days after the shootings, how­ever, Jay told police he watched Ray sit down on the carousel and plant the gun on the ground between his feet. The coroner’s report located the entrance wound in the exact center of Ray’s chin, and Jay remem­bered that Ray’s voice was clipped when he said, “I sure fucked up my life,” because he had the gun’s barrel “so tight under his chin.” Jay watched in amazement as Ray reached for the trigger and pulled it. The buckshot imploded in Ray’s head, causing no exit wound, but spraying the carousel, the gun. and over three feet of ground with “an incredible amount of blood.”

Jay remembers “shaking real bad” as he grabbed the gun, uncocked it, and put the shell Ray had given him into the chamber. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I thought somebody was going to stop me.” He told police he only went through with his half of the pact because he was afraid of being accused of Ray’s murder. When he tried to put the gun in his mouth the blood on it made him gag, so he put it under his chin, then stood next to the carousel for a minute, perhaps two, thinking about “my mom, and people I cared about.” The gun felt greasy from the blood, and Jay’s hand-to-eye coordination failed him one last time as he pulled the trigger. The shot took off his chin and mouth and nose and missed his eyes and brain.

He remembered feeling weightless as he dropped to his knees, then face-first to the ground. After a long numbness, he felt a stinging sensation, as though someone had slapped him. “Then somebody,” he said, “turned me over on my back … and checked out my blood.” He remembers fighting with that person to get back onto his stomach. As he was placed into the ambulance and given an emergency trache­otomy. Jay had no idea he no longer had a mouth or a tongue, and couldn’t under­stand why the simple sentence, “I don’t want to die,” wouldn’t come out when he tried to say it to the paramedic.

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As you drive out from Reno to Sparks, the buffets broadcast from the hotel marquees get cheaper, the entertainers get older, and the hold-’em games go from $1-3-5 to $3-5-10. A suburban sprawl crawling up the side of a mountain. Sparks extends higher and seemingly at random with each year into the canyons and hillocks of the surrounding Sierras: endless streets of one-story houses with one willow tree on each lawn, a car or two in each driveway-and one four-wheel­-drive vehicle, RV, or big boat in every other drive. Most of the four-wheels have gun racks in the back.

Four doors down from Ray’s old house on Richards Way, I find the Community First Church of God. A 20-square-foot patch of grass surrounded by six feet of cinderblock (interrupted only by a chain fence on the east wall), it looks far more like a prison yard. Formerly a playground for Sunday school kids, it has a spooky, cloistered feel to it. The peeling, white­washed cross on the church roof is visible between two immense weeping willows hanging over a brace of swings; only one swing is still on its chain. Two feet from the sawed-off stump of a third willow is the small foot-pump carousel Ray was sitting on when he shot himself.

Among Jay’s endless nightmares after the shootings, many were filled with Old Chris­tian symbolism and stained glass. Though there’s no such glass visible from the yard, there are three cheap panels on the front of the church that are enough to give anyone nightmares. The last panel bears a striking resemblance to the Stained Class album cover (an android’s face being pierced by a bolt of something that leaves a red halo over the android’s head), which was put into evidence for its subliminal content.

Jay lay in the hospital for three months, getting daily injections of morphine and listening to the music playing over and over in his head. He got a friend of his to make a tape of Stained Class and played it for weeks, trying, he said, “to bury my grief for Ray. It’s real weird saying goodbye to someone.”

The extent of the reconstructive surgery was enormous. Doctors at the Stanford University hospital first took a piece of skin remaining from his forehead and graft­ed it onto the middle of his face, eventually to become a nose. The skin grew hair and needed to be shaved daily. After two years, surgeons began working on a pair of lips from skin taken from the smooth crease under the knee, and he was halfway toward his third and final chin when he died. A third of his tongue remained, but he’d lost his gag reflex, and would drool and swallow his tongue. He had only one tooth, and could eat only by using his thumb as a second incisor. When Jay went to watch McKenna and Lynch work on an unrelated trial, he was ejected from the courtroom for upsetting the jury; when McKenna’s young daughter first saw Jay, she fainted.

Because Jay wouldn’t be eligible for Tony’s insurance — to pay for what he called his “$400,000 face” — unless he lived at home, he stayed with his parents. Incred­ibly, Jay’s love life didn’t slow down: he turned down two offers of marriage, and a third girlfriend came to live with the Vances after she’d been booted out of her house on her 18th birthday. She bore a child of theirs a year before Jay died. (“I told the girl that I didn’t want them mon­keying around in the bedroom,” Phyllis Vance recalls. “Jay said I had forgotten to mention the garage, the front lawn, the backyard … “)

For three years, Jay was in almost con­stant agony: coupled with the initial trau­ma, surgeons had attached skin extenders to his face, pulling down on the single re­maining flap of forehead skin to re-form his face, which caused painful swelling. Jay survived numerous addictions to Percodan and Xanax, and often said that he hadn’t known what a “real drug addiction was like” when he checked into the New Frontier program for crank abuse in July of 1985. Just after the shooting, he’d begun injecting up to two grams of cocaine a day into his arm to ease the pain, but he’d been able to overcome that addiction by getting nerve-block injections (a one-and-a-half-­inch needle in the base of his neck).

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Despite being placed on suicide watch in Washoe Medical Center (Jay got enormous­ly depressed every year around the holiday season), he died of a methadone overdose on Thanksgiving Day, 1988. Though it’s listed a suicide, it isn’t clear how he got enough of the drug to kill himself, and Vivian Lynch, who represents Jay’s child, is considering suing Washoe. Phyllis Vance is convinced it was malpractice: “Jay felt he had everything to live for. He used to say that he was literally reborn after the accident.”

Before he died, Jay put his mother in the hospital on two occasions — during seizures of cocaine toxicity and withdrawal agony: He split her lip the first time; the second time he fractured her nose. “But we were never closer than after the accident,” Phyl­lis Vance tells me over Diet Cokes in her backyard, where we’ve come because she won’t let me, or her husband Tony, smoke in the house. “Jay would wake up scream­ing in blind terror in the middle of the night, and I’d be right there beside him. His face was so swollen he couldn’t see any­thing except what he’d seen in his dream, the same one, night after night: Ray blow­ing the back of his head off. He’d see fire coming out of the back of his head, hear the thud of his body, and he knew Ray was dead.”

Tony, sitting beside her, lights a Marl­boro and nods his head. I ask if he’d like to respond to reports that Jay’s was a violent home. “I remember one time,” he answers with a flat, emotionless voice, “when Jay came back from California with his eyes all glassy. I told him, ‘Show me your eyes’ and he wouldn’t. So I went into his room to punish him. He said, ‘Daddy, I’m too old for you to be spanking me.’ So, I haul off and belt him, two or three times, with my fist. I don’t know if it did any good,” he says, “’cause I never did it again.”

Tony’s a quiet, broad-shouldered guy, a Blackfoot-Cherokee from Kentucky who never seems at ease, either in the court­room or in his backyard. During the suit, defense lawyers often raised the question of his alleged alcoholism and gambling, and cite an incident where Phyllis pulled a gun on him when he tried to go out gambling with his overtime pay, but Tony didn’t drink until the Oakland GM plant he drove a forklift for closed down in 1979, and he didn’t gamble much till they moved to Ne­vada. “That gun thing only happened,” Phyllis explains, “because Tony was used to gambling with his overtime. After the acci­dent, though, we needed the money for Jay.”

A short, enraged-seeming woman with a strident voice and piercing stare, after an hour of talking with her in her backyard I’m able to see her for what she is: a power­ful and very angry mother who, five years later, finally knows why her son shot him­self. “One thing I’ll never be able to get over,” she says, with a sweet, mystified look, “is that he did it in a churchyard, and without even knowing where he was. Piece by piece, though, you put it all together, and you can finally stop asking ‘Why? Why?’ It was the subliminals.

Though I try to concentrate on what Phyllis is telling me, my eye keeps wander­ing across her yard. But for a few tons of concrete Tony laid down for Jay’s pit-bull to run in, it looks exactly like the First Community’s churchyard: a 20-foot patch of grass bordered by a six-foot-high wall, the sawed-off stump of a willow tree, and two big weeping willows overhanging a brace with only one chain swing left.

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By the last week of the trial, the horde of kids protesting outside the courthouse has dwindled to a few aging stoners with goa­tees and Motorhead and Houses of the Holy T-shirts and one 90-pound girl wearing white pumps, a white bustier, and jeans with a copper zipper that goes from front to back. Their tinny cries of “Let the music live” are drowned by the right-to-life pamphleteering of a slack-jawed scarecrow of a man named Andy Anderson, who’s been running for lieutenant governor of Ne­vada for several decades. (“But I still haven’t found the right man to share the ticket with.”)

Of the 75 media people who’d come to Reno from seven different countries, all three networks, four cable channels, and most of the major newsweeklies and dailies in the country, only four rather cynical stringers for the wire services and local pa­pers, three local TV and radio people, and a documentary team from New York sur­vived the first week of the trial, which be­came extremely technical once opening statements were read. Three-quarters of the testimony given was from “expert witness­es” — psychologists, audiologists, and com­puter experts for the most part — several of whom seem to have confused their testimo­ny for Oscar acceptance speeches. “We had a suicide shrink here last week,” one string­er says, “who thanked everyone in the Yel­low Pages for his long career. He was so deadly the bailiff was talking about putting speed bumps by the exit.”

The 83-seat courtroom, no more than half-filled till the last day of trial, is notice­ably devoid of metalheads, whose atten­dance was successfully dissuaded by Judge Whitehead’s strict dress-code order after the second day of trial. Other than Phyllis Vance (who comes every day, accompanied by a visionary-looking young man dressed in impeccable linen), there are very few “magic” Christians here, born-again or oth­erwise: a 15-year-old strawberry blond, who sits behind me, telling her rosary; the man whose friend’s brother jumped off the San­ta Barbara bridge (with his daughters); and one very anxious elderly woman, wearing the same emerald pants and midnight blue shirt every day, who seems poised to rise and object to every question posed by de­fense’s lawyers. (On the last day of the trial, she finally stands to say, “Please stop this! I have 25 children I work with downtown and someone has to care for them. Some­one has to stop this.” As she was led out, she pleaded, “Your honor, please put me on the stand. I’m an electronics expert too.”)

The empty jury room, formerly needed to handle the overflow press, has been given over to defense’s entourage for recess breaks: band members, U.S. and U.K. man­agement people, a half-dozen independent producers and recording engineers, a few CBS corporate types, and two very jolly 275-pound security toughs from Tempe, Arizona, Rick and Nick, who have the de­fense team addressing each other with “Hey dude.”

After a first decade of opening shows for bands like AC-DC, UFO, and Ratt, Judas Priest has been on a roll since their 1980 release, British Steel, the album that establishcd them as a hardcore metal band. They’ve been accused of glomming — a la Spinal Tap — from the metal trends set by other groups: Kiss’s leather and two-tiered stage sets; the guitar pyrotechnics, dry-ice smoke, mythic-medieval themes, and on­stage monsters of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath; and even some “hell-oriented themes” here and there, when bands like Venom, Mercyful Fate, Scorpions, and Me­gadeth started hitting gold by reaching the various covens and Satanic wannabees across the country. But from the time Priest learned that heavy metal is show biz — and shed their ’70s kimonos and velvet robes for leather, studs, spurs, and choke collars; added smoke machines, whips, fire pits, flamethrowers. and a 15-foot robot that shot laser beams and lifted the two guitar­ists into the air during lead breaks; and began riding onstage on Harley-Davidson two-tone Low Riders — they have had their own sound and their own following.

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Skip Herman, promotions director and “morning mutant” DJ of Reno’s heavy metal FM station, made friends with the band in the early days of the trial, and has been hanging out with them near Lake Ta­hoe, where they’ve rented a suite of deluxe cottages. (Skip, who tells me, “This back­-masked stuff is all bull,” later invites me to his radio station to hear what are obviously unintentional reverse-direction lyrics on Diana Ross’s “Touch Me in the Morning”: “Death to all. He is the one. Satan is love.“) Over and above a mutual love for music, Skip shares Priest’s other guiding passion: golf. “They talk about the trial for the first two holes,” he says, “Then maybe a little music, girls, a lot of old times. Ian and Glenn talk about their kids. From there to the clubhouse, it’s nothing but setting up a good, steady tripod with your legs, and es­tablishing that perfect pendulum for your swing.”

“It’ll be another 10 years before I’ll even be able to spell ‘subliminals,'” Downing says as he signs autographs on the way into the courtroom. Halford and Tipton, howev­er, don’t see the joke. “It’s terribly wrong, y’know,” says Tipton, “for my family to have to turn on the tube, see this poor kid with his face blown off and have the finger pointing, ‘Judas Priest did this.’ I have a lot of work to do. but you can’t go ’round to court every day, sit down behind your law­yers. have the knife twisted in your gut for eight hours, then go home and pick up your guitar.”

“These people act like we drink a gallon of blood and hang upside down from cruci­fixes before we go onstage,” Rob Halford says. “We’re performers, have been for two decades. We do the show and we wear the costumes our audience expect us to.”

A polite, soft-spoken man with a slow, working-class Birmingham accent and bright, caricatural droopy eyes, Halford says the trial is “degrading and tedious,” but also admits it’s good publicity. “It’s been murder on my creativity as an artist, though. I can’t wait for this tour. I’m going to explode. You can’t fight back the way you should. because you’re in a court of law. Legal proceedings are so frustrating.”

The proceedings are also extremely class­ist — from plaintiffs’ evocations of CBS’s enormous capital resources (“and they still couldn’t find the master tapes”) to de­fense’s portrayal of the Vance/Belknap fam­ilies, the clipped King’s English spoken by half their witnesses, and the ridicule of plaintiffs’ expert witnesses’ credentials. Nickloff, for example, is often cited as “the marine biologist” — his major in college. The testimony given by Dr. Bruce Tannenbaum (Jay’s psychiatrist in his last two years) — that Jay wouldn’t have shot him­self without a subliminal command to Do it — is colored by several references to Tan­nenbaum’s dabblings in “jam essence” and “block flower” therapies, and his claim to be “the only white man ever to have en­dured the Native American’s fire-sweat ceremony.”

But there are even more unorthodox wit­nesses called, and by both sides of the bench: An advocate for subliminal self-help aids, who claims his tapes have been docu­mented to promote the regrowth of hair, enlarge breast size, cure homosexuality, and turn a local college’s worst football team in its history into a division contender; a To­ronto psychologist who recites the entire “Jabberwocky” section of Through the Looking Glass backward; and five friends of the deceased who contradict reams of evidence as to Ray’s and Jay’s whereabouts on December 23, 1985. One kid, whose testimony places Ray and Jay in his pickup a half-hour after the shooting, is asked by Judge Whitehead to show his glassy eyes “to the court” before he leaves the stand.

Whitehead, whose decision in the suit will set major precedent, is the last person in Reno I’d play cards with, for his eyes show absolutely nothing. An austere Mormon, with a quiet (almost inaudible) sense of his own dignity, he seems like a man who has grimly determined to catch more flies with honey than vinegar; whether he sustains or overrules an objection, his rul­ing is delivered with exactly the same measured deference, care, and consideration. His courtroom has a statewide reputation for running by the book and to the minute; entering each morning at precisely 8:45, he says. “Thank you, will you please be seated,” and clears his throat away from the microphone. But except for a question he’ll interject now and again, and the occasional wince when a witness refers to the ”back­-masked lyric” “F— the Lord” as “Fuck the Lord” (after 11 days of trial, he still listens to that section of tape with his face averted from the court), he sits impassively till 5 p.m., then whispers the day to a close without the slightest clue as to what he’s seen, heard, or thought.

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After Lynch files a Motion in Limine (asking to be awarded the decision outright, on 1he basis of CBS’s lack of cooperation in producing evidence) and a motion for sanctions (money), the first three days feature endless declarations of the impossibility of “punching” anything into a mixed-down two-track (or even 24-track) tape. Several witnesses cite CBS’s impossible task in locating the tapes (probably the first time in legal history an American arts corporation has argued for its lack of control of the matrix of production). Whole mornings and afternoons arc devoted to very unconvincing testimony as to the difficulty and scarcity of backward lyrics in the recording business, either phonetic reversals (lyrics forming a sensible fragment when played backward), or backward-recorded reversals (words recorded forward and added to the mix in reverse direction). After eight court-hours of such testimony (by men who engineered or produced such records as Electric Ladyland, four Zeppelin albums, The Wall, and lier Satanic Majesty’s Request), a 32-year-old engineer/producer named Andrew Jackson (called to testify because he served as assistant engineer on the “Better By You” recording session 13 years ago) is asked if he knows of any backmasked lyrics in the rock industry.

“Yes I do,” he says with a Cockney accent so thick he has Judge Whitehead straining to understand him. “I produced a band just last month had a song with the lyric. ‘And I need someone to lie on./And I need someone to rely on.’ Played in reverse that becomes ‘Here’s me/Here I am./ What we have lost./I am the messenger of love.'” (The singer memorized the backward phrase, with all its reversals and sibilants and plosives, sang it on one track, and that rack was used — backward — as a forward-running vocal overdub.)

“And do you know of any instances of backward-recorded lyrics in the rock industry he was asked by Judge Whitehead to show his glassy eyes “to the court” before he leaves the stand.

Whitehead, whose decision in the suit will set major precedent, is the last person in Reno I’d play cards with, for his eyes show absolutely nothing. An austere Mor­mon, with a quiet (almost inaudible) sense of his own dignity, he seems like a man who has grimly determined to catch more flies with honey than vinegar: whether he sustains or overrules an objection, his ruling is delivered with exactly the same measured deference, care, and consideration. His courtroom has a statewide reputation for running by the book and to the minute: entering each morning at precisely 8:45, he says. “Thank you, will you please he seated,” and clears his throat away from the microphone. But except for a question he’ll interject now and again, and the occasional wince when a witness refers to the “back-masked lyric” “F··· the Lord” as “Fuck the Lord” (after 11 days of trial, he still listens to that section of tape with his face averted from the court) he sits impassively till 5 p.m. then whispers the day to a close with­out the slightest clue as to what he’s seen, heard, or thought.

After Lynch files a Motion in Limine

“Yes, I do,” Jackson say with barely concealed pride. “A Pink Floyd song I worked on has the backward-recorded lyric: “Dear Punter. Congratulations. You have found the secret message. Please send an­swers to Pink Floyd, care of the Funny Farm, Chalford, St. Giles.’ ”

I get to hear two of the back masked lyrics and the alleged Do its on the antepenultimate day of the trial, when the court adjourns to a 24-track studio across town. Two of the stringers look harrowed as we enter a dark room that, through a two-inch plate-glass window, looks onto the console room the court is reconvening in. “We were in Carson City last month to report on a death-penalty execution,” one of them tells me. “It was set up just like this.”

From the four-foot UREI Studio Monitors in our room we hear the title cut’s first chorus, forward first:”Long ago, when man was king./This heart must beat, on stained class./Time must end before sixteen/So now he’s just a stained class thing … ” and then the reverse of the next line, “Faithless continuum into the abyss,” which is supposed to be “Sing my evil spirit.” Though it is a creepy sound, inhumanly high-pitched and extremely emphatic somehow, I can’t say I hear anything more than “S-s-eeg mahee-voh speeree.”

In the song “White Hot, Red Heat,” played next. I do hear something that sounds remarkable, like a dolphin saying “F-f-f-fuck the Lor … S-ss-suck-ck tolleyuse” When the lines, “Deliver us/ From all the fuss,” are played backward. Its existence is important to plaintiffs’ case, since they’ve argued that its backward appearance confirms the “message” of “White Hot, Red Heat.” Which desecrates the Lord’s Pray­er: “… Thy father’s son/Thy kingdom come/Electric ecstasy/Deliver us/from all the fuss …”

“Better By You. Better Than Me” is exactly the type of song Jay said he and Ray loved Judas Priest’s music for, “a steady, galloping rhythm … only changing for the chorus. [when] the beat would get more dramatic or more intensified.” After the screeching line. “Tell her what I’m like within/I can’t find the words, my mind dim,” comes the first chorus, with its pro­longed ee-eh, exhalation sounds. Though I don’t hear anything that sounds like Do it, there is an extra, syncopated beat falling just on the third beat of each measure, a discolike mesh of noise that has nothing to do with the musical/lyrical content of the song. It does sound — if not “punched in” — ­added on.

As the song moves into the second chorus with the lyrics,”Guess I’ll learn to tight and kill./Tell her not to wait until/They find my blood upon her windowsill,” the extra beat seem, to land with greater emphasis, more elaborated and groanlike with each ee-uh sound till, yes. I hear the words Do it — a, a kind of antiphonal chant — falling, with relative clarity, on the last rendition of “You can tell her what I want it to be.”

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The issue of backward masking seems resolved, forever, on the last day of testimony Halford, noticeably absent from court all morning, arrives late in the after­noon session with a large, black double­-deck, and a cassette. Put on the stand, he says that he’s spent the morning in the recording studio, spooling Stained Class backward would like to play what he’s found for the court. Ever the showman (Halford began as a theater apprentice in Birmingham and switched to metal when he realized he’d “stay in the limelight longer that way”), he asks if he can play the tape forward, sing the lyric once, play the “backmasked stuff,” then sing that.

Lynch objects furiously to the tape’s admission, and to Halford’s request to per­form for the court. Whitehead agrees there’s no need for Halford to sing again, then cracks his first smile of the suit. “I want to hear this though.”

“Some of these aren’t entirely grammatical.” Halford deadpans apologetically. “But I don’t think ‘Sing my evil spirit’ would”­

“Objection,” says Lynch.

“Sustained,” says Whitehead.

A blast of heavy bass and Glenn Tipton ‘s 32nd-note trill accompanies the fragment, “strategic force/they will not,” from “Invader.” Its reverse is the insane-sounding but entirely audible screech: “It’s so fishy, personally I’ll owe it.” When Halford plays, “They won’t take our love away,” from the same song, the backward, “Hey look, Ma, my chair’s broken,” has the courtroom howling. McKenna and Lynch are livid.

After a week of suspending my own dis­belief, I lose it completely when Halford plays his last discovery — the lines “Stand by for Exciter./Salvation is his task”­ — which come out backward with an emphat­ic and high-pitched, “I-I-I as-sked her for a peppermint-t-t/I-I-I asked for her to get one.”

The band is exultant after Halford’s perfor­mance. Up in their Reno counsel’s offices (on the 15th noor of the one bona fide office building I see in Reno), Downing and Ian Hill are talking of issuing a Greatest Hits album. Judas Priest: The Subliminal Years, their American manager is on the phone booking Tipton’s family on a morn­ing night to the Grand Canyon, and Hal­ford, giving an interview to the New York documentary team, lets his hair down: “I’ve never known such a lull in my sex­-life, y’now. I don’t think I’ve had an erec­tion since we’ve got here.”

I ride down with Ian Hill and Ken Down­ing to the bar in Harrah’s, where both they and their drink orders are well-known by the maitre d’. The two original members of the band (they dropped out of their second­ary school in Birmingham in the same year), and the only two members of the defense team that don’t seem compelled to shower plaintiffs’ every statement with scornful smiles, they watch the proceedings with a mixture of curiosity and incompre­hension till the late hours of afternoon, when they both look ready for a long nap, or a stiff drink. Over second Bloody Marys, I tell Downing I’ve noticed that his ears seem to prick up any time Ray’s or Jay’s name is mentioned in court. A 38-year-old man with a shoulder-length permanent and deeply receding hairline, he tells me that he’s been wanting to go to the churchyard the two shot themselves in.

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“I’ve got some strange feelings about those kids,” he says. “It’s not guilt, y’know, but I do feel haunted when I hear about their lives, ’cause they were the same as mine. I hated my parents, y’know, terribly. These kids just didn’t get to live long enough to put all that past them.”

“So you made up with your parents eventually?”

“Oh, I talk to my Mum all the time.”

“Is your father dead?”

“No. he’s alive. But I don’t talk to him. I don’t hate him anymore, though. I don’t feel that I ever really matured till I stopped carrying that anger around with me, and that wasn’t till a year or so ago. The music was the only real release, till then. I do feel angry, though, when they play all that back­ward surf music and talk about the harm our music did these kids, ’cause I think it was the best thing they had. I remember citing sophisticated stuff verbatim to my folks — like they say Ray and Jay did all the time — Hendrix lyrics like, and they’d look at me, like, Where’s all that coming from? My parents aren’t clever people, you know. They’re just people.”

Halford and Tipton, finished with their interview, come in with the security guys, Rick and Nick. Rick is opining on Neva­da’s other major court case — the libel suit brought by Las Vegas’s Stardust Hotel against the animal rights group, PETA — on our way into the adjoining three-star res­taurant. “Some guy slaps an orangutan in the face, and they’re asking for $800,000,000.”

I don’t remember much of that dinner, but I won’t forget the next morning’s hang­over soon. Between repeated calls for “one more bottle of this Chateau Neuf-de … POP!, Captain Bong,” to our suave Fili­pino headwaiter and leading a backward­sounding finger-chorus by everyone at the table on our Diamond Optic crystal wine-glasses. Halford, wfto sat at the head, regaled the table with recitations from his favorite Mafia movies. Rick and Nick or­dered the Chateaubriand for Two apiece, and I remember an argument starting when Nick told Rick he must have the plaintiff and defendant confused in the Vegas case. “It would have to have been the animal rights guy who slapped the orangutan.”

Ken, who sat to my left, ordered a second appetizer rather than an entree (he was worried about fitting into his stage clothes), and told me how much he hated secondary school. “I was all thumbs in Woodworking Shop. Metalworking, which is a biggie in Birmingham (Tipton worked for British Steel before joining the band), was even worse. The only thing I liked was Chess Club. where I got to beat up on the kids with perfectly pressed uniforms, and Cooking.”

“Why Cooking?”

“‘Cause you got to watch the girls bend over. I went to work as a cook after I left school, and loved it. I mean, how many people do you know, even at this age, who can bake an egg?”

Sometime between the third bottle of Moet and the warmed Grand Marnier, I remember a silver plate with an $800 check hitting the table. Happy Verdict, Captain Bong was written on the back.

On the long walk back to the lawyer’s office to get their dry cleaning, Ken and Ian looked thoughtful, and 1000 light years from home; riding up on the elevator, they both admitted they’d heard a couple of Do its in the recording studio on Tuesday.

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Judge Whitehead’s decision on both the suit and Vivian Lynch’s Motion in Limine and motion for sanctions was handed down two weeks after the end of the trial. An impressive document, it runs 68 pages, stopping en route to cite Sir Edward Coke’s 17th century interpretation of the Magna Carta and Thomas Payne’s and James Madison’s arguments for the right to trial.

After criticizing CBS’s actions in the dis­covery process, he awarded plaintiffs’ law­yers $40,000. Finding (I) that the 24-track of “Better By You” submitted by CBS was authentic and unaltered, he declared (2) that there were several Do its; (3) that they were subliminals; (4) but they were placed on the record unintentionally; (5) and that lack of intent establishes lack of liability under invasion of privacy theory; (6) that plaintiffs established a sufficient founda­tion for the effectiveness of subliminal stimuli, and that the decedents perceived these: (7) but that plaintiffs failed to prove these stimuli were sufficient to explain con­duct of this magnitude; and (following a lengthy disclaimer of any intent to demean the Vance and Belknap families) (8) that a number of other factors existed that explain their behavior.

Whitehead’s final findings concerned backmasked messages, which he rejected out of hand. Though he had “grave con­cerns” as to their possible use if perceived by the unconscious, he found no reason to believe they could be so perceived. And though he indicated his displeasure with heavy metal several times, he closed by thanking the members of Judas Priest for their courtesy during the trial. In Los Ange­les to film a video, Judas Priest has report­edly decided to call their upcoming tour “Subliminal Criminals.”

Vivian Lynch, reached for comment after the decision, felt Whitehead was wrong in construing this as an invasion of privacy case. “This is product liability. If somebody explodes in a Pinto, you don’t have to prove Ford intended that to happen.” She said she’ll be filing a motion for a new trial this week: “I feel Judge Whitehead’s find­ings were entirely correct. I’m appealing on his application of the law to his findings.”

She also expressed satisfaction with the trial: “We accomplished what we set out to: give congressional committees and state legislatures enough reason to take a solid look at what these subliminals are doing to our kids. And I’ve still got Jay’s daughter’s wrongful death suit to file against CBS. It’ll be the same thing all over again.”

McKenna was more succinct: “Hey man.” he tells me. “I’ll take the $40,000.” ❖

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Wanted for Attitude: The FBI Hates This Band

The Right-Wing Attack on Rock

HOW’S THIS FOR GOVERNMENT intimidation? In early August, a letter arrived on the desk of Priority Records president Brian Turner. Written on Department of Justice stationery, it was just three paragraphs long:

A song recorded by the rap group N.W.A. on their album entitled “Straight Outta Compton” encourages violence against and disrespect for the law enforcement officer and has been brought to my attention. I understand your company recorded and distributed this album, and I am writing to share my thoughts and concerns with you.

Advocating violence and assault is wrong, and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action. Violent crime, a major problem in our country, reached an unprecedented high in 1988. Seventy-eight law enforcement officers were feloniously slain in the line of duty during 1988, four more than in 1987. Law enforcement officers dedicate their lives to the protection of our citizens, and recordings such as the one from N.W.A. are both discouraging and degrading to these brave, dedicated officers.

Music plays a significant role in society, and I wanted you to be aware of the FBI’s position relative to this song and its message. I believe my views reflect the opinion of the entire law enforcement community.

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THE LETTER WAS SIGNED by Milt Ahlerich, an FBI assistant director, who describes himself as the bureau’s chief spokesman and who says he reports directly to Director William Sessions. Ahlerich says his letter represents the FBI’s “official position” on the record by N.W.A. (Niggers With Attitude), hip-hop’s most streetwise and politically complex group. But he also says he hasn’t heard the song. Neither he nor the bureau owns a copy. Ahlerich didn’t ask N.W.A. or Priority for the oft-unintelligible lyrics; he got them — or something purporting to be them — from unnamed “concerned officers.” Ahlerich says the FBI has never adopted an official position on a record, book, film, or other artwork in the four years he’s worked there nor, so far as be knows, in its entire history.

Ahlerich claims writing the letter was justified because N.W.A.’s song, “**** Tha Police,” allegedly advocates violence against the police, (The group sings “Fuck the police,” but the album just uses blanks.) “I read those lyrics and those lyrics spoke of violence and murder of police officers. That to me did not seem to be in the public domain at all,” he said, strenuously objecting to implications that the letter was censorious or intimidating,

Ahlerich isn’t the only cop incensed by “**** Tha Police.” An informal police net­work faxes messages to police stations nationwide, urging cops to help cancel concerts by N.W.A., a group based in Compton, California. Since late spring, their shows have been jeopardized or aborted in Detroit (where the group was briefly detained by cops), Washington, D.C., Chattanooga, Milwaukee, and Ty­ler, Texas. N.W.A. played Cincinnati only after Bengal linebacker and City Council­man Reggie Williams and several of his teammates spoke up for them. During the summer’s tour, N.W.A. prudently chose not to perform “**** Tha Police” (its best song), and just singing a few lines of it at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena caused the Mo­tor City police to rush the stage. While the cops scuffled with the security staff, N.W.A. escaped to their hotel. Dozens of policemen were waiting for them there, and they detained the group for 15 min­utes, “We just wanted to show the kids,” an officer told The Hollywood Reporter, “that you can’t say ‘fuck the police’ in Detroit … ”

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In Toledo, N.W.A. performed only af­ter Reverend Floyd E. Rose complained publicly about police pressuring local black clergymen, “Rightly or wrongly, the perception in our community is that the ‘police think they have the authority to kill a minority,’ ” he wrote the police chief, quoting the song, “and that [police] think that every black teenager who is wearing a gold bracelet and driving a nice car is ‘selling narcotics.’ … I must say that while I do not like the music and abhor the vulgar language, I will not be used to stifle legitimate anger and understandable resentment.”

Anger and resentment are at the center of N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, a two-million seller that slices current r&b fashion to ribbons, then goes on to pretty up the latest in gang-culture bad-mouth­ing. It rocks harder than any other album released this year; if the abusive, profane language didn’t keep N.W.A. off the ra­dio, the sheer assaultive sound probably would, N.W.A. is, above (or below) any­thing else, not nice. But the profanity exists not for shock effect or as a bohemi­an art stance, but as an organic expres­sion of south-central L.A.’s half-hidden gang world. The group wouldn’t be half so politically important, or half so exciting, if they were just rap’s answer to Andrew “Dice” Clay. Much if not most of what the group has to say — especially about women, but also about drugs, guns, and the sanctity of private property — will make any civilized soul squirm. They don’t just épater les bourgeois, they rub its face into its own merde. This is music to make the blood run cold, and if only a dimwit would salute its values, only a fool would completely disrespect them.

As Reverend Rose and most everyone who has heard the song realizes, “**** ­Tha Police” isn’t about shooting cops. It’s about being bullied and tormented by them. A hip-hop barrage, the song tells of a young black man who loses his temper over brutal police sweeps based on appearance, not actions, like the ones fre­quently performed by the LAPD. In the end, the young man threatens to “smoke” the next flatfoot who fucks with him. The same point is made even more clearly in the “Straight Outta Compton” video, which presents docudrama footage of a gang sweep in which the L.A. police vio­lently round up street kids (played by N.W.A.) just for wearing dookie ropes and beepers. Finally, the kids retaliate — ­or to put it another way, defend them­selves. (Ahlerich isn’t so eager to mention that 339 Americans were gunned down by peace officers last year in “justifiable ho­micides.” Or as Brooklyn rapper KRS­-One puts it, “Who Protects Us From You?”) N.W.A.’s Ice Cube calls his songs “revenge fantasies.”

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

ADVOCACY? “The song does not consti­tute advocacy of violence as that has been interpreted by the courts,” says Barry Lynn of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It doesn’t come close.” As for saying “fuck the police,” attorney Charles Rembar, an obscenity expert, remarks, “It’s far more clearly protected than burning the flag.”

To Lynn, what is legally questionable is Ahlerich’s letter. He cites several court decisions that hold that government com­munications can have an unconstitution­al chilling effect “even if they don’t threaten direct action.” And Ahlerich says that his letter was not personal but an official FBI policy statement, albeit adopted “on my authority” without con­sulting his superior, Sessions.

Lynn says, “It would not violate the First Amendment for an individual working for the FBI to personally write such a letter. But it’s incredible for the FBI to send this kind of official letter to any person in the creative community.”

“Oh, I didn’t know they were buying our records, too!” Ice Cube told his publi­cist when she first told him of the Ahler­ich letter. “People overreact,” he told us. “Getting a letter from the FBI seemed kind of funny to me.” Does he feel threat­ened by what might come next? “No. Money conquers all. There’s a lot of peo­ple that’s making a lot of money off N.W.A. as far as record companies, dis­tributors, and concert promoters.” But by the end of the conversation, he was saying, slightly more seriously, “Maybe they’ll send the CIA after me, arrest me for treason.”

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INTERESTING AS IT is that Milt Ahlerich chose to have the FBI take an official position on a record nobody in the bureau has bothered to buy, it’s even more inter­esting that he can’t explain how word of that record’s existence reached him. Pressed he said only that he received a copy of the purported lyrics from “re­sponsible fellow officers.” He wouldn’t, or couldn’t, name them.

Police officials in Toledo and Kansas City say officers in Cincinnati faxed them the information about N.W.A. and “**** Tha Police,” according to Gregory San­dow the Herald Examiner rock critic who tracked the informal anti-N.W.A. cop network. Cops began receiving the anti-N.W.A. warnings in late spring, about the same time an article about the group appeared in the June issue of Rev­erend James C. Dobson’s Focus on the Family Citizen under the headline “Rap Group N.W.A. Says ‘Kill Police.’ ” Its readers are urged: “Alert local police to the dangers they may face in the wake of this record release.”

The article was written by Bob De­Moss, Focus on the Family’s “youth cul­ture specialist.” DeMoss formerly headed Pennsylvania-based Teen Vision, which produced Rising to the Challenge, the Parents’ Music Resource Center’s video. This video was recently withdrawn from circulation and re-edited after revelations that it ended with a phony endorsement attributed to Bruce Springsteen. The PMRC contends that they were not aware when the video was made that the Springsteen quote was false.

The Dobson/DeMoss/PMRC connec­tion is instructive and important because, while the Washington wives like to boast of their respectable affiliates (the PTA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the political board members), they don’t like to admit their role in stirring up the Christian right. In fact, the PMRC’s offi­cial position is that it has no relationship with any group except the PTA and the pediatricians. It does everything it can to deny other ties.

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Since October 1985, when the PMRC coerced the Senate Commerce Commit­tee, composed largely of PMRC’s direc­tors’ husbands, into holding antirock hearings, rock has been attacked from city halls, statehouses, fundamentalist pulpits, and the executive echelons of the FBI. The PMRC has become a key link connecting right-wing Christian groups like Reverend Dobson’s with such theo­retically respectable entities as the PTA, the pediatricians, and PMRC advisory board members like Atlanta mayor An­drew Young.

Tipper Gore has been every rocker’s favorite basher, but the most powerful of the PMRC’s founders is Susan Baker, whose husband, the secretary of State, is now four heart attacks away from the White House. Susan Baker, who incar­nates the stiff-necked, antisexual Born Again, sits on the Focus on the Family board of directors. (Several members of the board come from the investment and banking business that James Baker, as secretary of the Treasury, “regulated.” Secretary and Mrs. Baker refused to comment on their ties to Dobson and his organization.)

Although the PMRC’s ties to the Christian right are numerous, the most crucial of them is Focus on the Family and Dobson. The ACLU’s Lynn says that with the breakup of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Focus on the Family makes Dobson “the most powerful fundamentalist in the country.” Perhaps the flakiest of all the Meese Pornography commissioners, Dobson came to prominence as Ted Bundy’s final confessor, claiming that the mass murderer/con man’s crimes were the result of addiction to pornogra­phy. Dobson campaigns stridently against abortion, and his Citizen maga­zine is a forum for activists like abortion­-center terrorist Randall Terry and Nixon administration felon Charles Colson. His plan for American education calls for get­ting evolution out of the classroom and putting prayer back in. Susan Baker, as a director of this 500-employee, $57-mil­lion-a-year organization, presumably shares those goals. We know that Dobson shares her views on rock ‘n’ roll, because Citizen’s July 1988 issue ran an article on her complaint that record labels were dragging their feet on warning label compliance.

The rest of the PMRC’s ties with Dob­son aren’t so casual, either. In the June 1989 issue of Citizen, which contains DeMoss’s anti-N.W.A. article, PMRC exec­utive director Jennifer Norwood says. “We want music critics and organizations like Focus on the Family to disseminate this information to their constituencies. This is something that needs to be done.” Norwood insists that this call to Chris­tians to crusade against rock is the same as dispensing “consumer information” to moms and dads at the PTA.

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If Dobson is the most important of the PMRC’s Christian cronies, he’s far from the most dubious. None of the groups listed below is an official PMRC affiliate. But all of them use the quasigovernmen­tal clout and the credibility of the PMRC to legitimize their endeavors, and the PMRC shares many of their goals. Whether it also shares money, no one knows. The PMRC refuses to reveal the sources of its funding.

• The Back in Control Center, the Ful­lerton, California, “de-metaling/de-punk­ing” center, is endorsed by Tipper Gore in her book, Raising PG Kids in an X-­Rated Society. Its de-metaling handbook lists a variety of satanic/occult symbols, including the “six-pointed star represent­ing the Jewish Star of David.” Director Greg Bodenhamer, a former probation of­ficer, accused the rock group Kiss of us­ing the Jewish star to worship the devil; on more than one occasion, Bodenhamer has flashed a picture of Kiss members wearing such stars as “proof.”

Back in Control also produced Punk Rock & Heavy Metal: The Problem/One Solution, a 20-page training manual used by several California police departments. Printed over the name Sergeant M. Shel­ton, of the Union City PD’s now-defunct Youth Services Board, the manual likens rock ‘n’ roll to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party and makes sure to point out that music can be used as a very effective medium of rebellion against the government. Besides the usual heavy metal targets, it also attacks “Huskerdo,” Rush, and Van Halen, and rock magazines like Circus, Hit Parader, and Creem. (Through the press office of her husband, Senator Albert Gore, Mrs. Gore said that Bodenhamer’s misrepresenta­tion of the Jewish star was a “mistake.”)

• Truth About Rock, the St. Paul, Minnesota, ministry of Dan and Steve Peters, pastors of Zion Church. The Peters brothers and their antirock writings have been repeatedly touted in PMRC litera­ture. The brothers specialize in record album burnings; they also condemn Tina Turner, among others, for non-Christian beliefs. (She’s a Buddhist.) The Peters also claim, “The Jewish star is the uni­versal symbol for Satan.” (Jennifer Nor­wood says the Peters brothers book Why Knock Rock? — recommended by the PMRC — doesn’t endorse record burn­ings. However, the book has a photo of the brothers at an LP bonfire.)

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• Missouri Project Rock, which was founded by Shirley Marvin, a lobbyist for Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. Marvin cites an Eagle Forum meeting with Tip­per Gore as her inspiration, and an MPR brochure claims that it works in coopera­tion with the PMRC. A Memphis rock-­monitoring group called the Community Aware of Music and Entertainment Co­alition, praised in Gore’s Raising PG Kids, is also listed as an ally in MPR literature. (Norwood denies any PMRC ties with MPR and says she asked Marvin to delete its claim of one in the brochure.) MPR’s “musical director,” Reverend Shane Westhoelter, calls Catholics “cannibals, because they eat wafers which are the body of Christ.” Project Rock’s literature says that Bruce Springsteen has a satanic backwards message in “Dancing in the Dark,” and their infor­mation kit includes tapes from Victory Christian Church in St. Charles, Missou­ri, asserting that Hollywood promotes race-mixing, that the Holocaust never happened, and that Hitler didn’t write Mein Kampf. The tapes also refer to “Martin Lucifer King.”

• The American Family Association, best known for Reverend Donald Wildmon’s campaigns against Madonna’s Pepsi com­mercial, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Mighty Mouse’s sniffing of flower petals. Wildmon’s anti-Semitism finally led to disavowals by such erstwhile supporters as Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis, and the leaders of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and the Mennonite Church.

Wildmon’s National Federation for De­cency magazine reprinted 14 pages of Raising PG Kids with permission, accord­ing to the book’s publisher. Mrs. Gore, through Norwood and her husband’s of­fice, claimed that she never learned of the reprint until we asked about it.

On September 14, Gore’s office said the Gores “have never and would never coop­erate with any effort in any way connect­ed to anti-Semitism … Mrs. Gore had no knowledge whatsoever and did not au­thorize in any way the excerpting of her book in the magazine of the National Federation for Decency. She does not know and has never met Donald Wild­mon.” Does this constitute a repudiation of Wildmon? Gore press officer Narla Romash said, “Yes.” Asked for a com­ment, a Wildmon official hung up.

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AS EVEN THE NEW YORK TIMES recog­nizes, bigotry is rock’s fastest-growing problem. Jennifer Norwood told us the PMRC has taken a firm stand on this topic, corresponding with the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP. Tipper Gore made similar claims on Entertainment Tonight September 22. Norwood says that the PMRC has been vociferous in its condemnation of Guns N’ Roses’ racist, homophobic “One in a Million,” though only after the song became na­tionally notorious did the PMRC attack it (for instance, on the ET broadcast). The PMRC didn’t mention the tune in its summer 1989 newsletter, a peculiar omission in that GNR’s “I Used to Love Her” from the same album was included in a list of objectionable “Top 40 Lyrics.” That song was placed under the heading Murder. The only other headings are Vio­lence, Sadomasochistic and Sexually Explicit.

Meanwhile, the record industry silently but effectively participates in the repression. Contacted about the FBI letter threatening N.W.A., neither the Record­ing Industry Association of America, the record lobbying group that numbers N.W.A.’s Priority label among its mem­bers, nor the National Association of Record Merchandisers, the lobbying group for record sellers, had any com­ment. Nor did Russ Bach, president of CEMA, the Capitol/EMI-owned compa­ny that distributes Priority. Billboard, the industry’s leading trade publication, has rarely taken an editorial stand against censorship. On the odd occasion when it has published anticensorship guest editorials, it has immediately fol­lowed up with articles by the PMRC spreading the same old half-truths.

At the National Record Mart chain’s July convention, a not-so-silent Russ Bach said that he has recommended to the labels CEMA distributes — which in­clude not only Priority, but Southern California Civil Liberties Union chief Danny Goldberg’s Gold Castle and Frank Zappa’s Barking Pumpkin — that they should more carefully scrutinize and sticker their albums. “It’s obvious that there is a wave of conservatism in this country,” Bach said. “If anything, we should err toward the conservative.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”304833″ /]

With a few exceptions (Zappa, Don Henley), rock stars have been equally si­lent. Most prefer to treat censorship as an issue that affects only the music’s vul­gar fringe: rap and heavy metal. Many still believe that the notoriety of a stickered album is good for business.

The PMRC would like to wipe the smirk from their faces. Its recent quarter­ly newsletters carry Red Channels-style lists of “Releases Without Consumer In­formation” (that is, warning labels) and “Releases With Consumer Information.” Norwood says this is legitimate consumer information; she was unable to specify either where her group draws the line in deciding which unlabelled albums to re­port, or why it does not report on records that don’t need labels. The PMRC doesn’t just provide consumers with neu­tral information. On September 22 Nor­wood told radio station KSD-FM in St. Louis that the PMRC “endorses” the Rolling Stones tour.

Aside from proving that even pleading guilty-by-implication with a sticker won’t keep the censors off you, this particular package of “consumer information” has other revealing implications. On the most recent “Releases With Consumer Information” report, every stickered act is black — including N.W.A., Prince (hon­ored for Batman), and L.L. Cool J. According to Norwood, this indicates that rappers are among the most compliant rockers; in reality, it tells you who the record industry most easily pushes around.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717668″ /]

Harsher days are coming, even for art­-rockers, college radio favorites, and main­stream stars. On the “Without Consumer Information” chart are a number of rap and metal records, but also Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Peepshow and XTC’s Or­anges and Lemons. The spring edition of the PMRC blacklist includes Iggy Pop’s Blah Blah Blah, the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work, the Cure’s Standing on a Beach, the The’s Infected, Big Audio Dynamite’s No. 10 Upping Street, Simply Red’s Men and Women, and the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack.

Although the PMRC has failed to get the record companies to comply with its deepest stickering desires, it has had far less trouble with retailers, who are much more vulnerable to picketing and boy­cotts. The 130-store Hastings chain now is refusing to sell certain rap and heavy metal records to minors; Camelot Music told Billboard that it would pull records from stores rather than be picketed. The PMRC says it doesn’t want government legislation against rock, and no wonder — ­look how effectively the marketplace does the job. But as the FBI has shown, legis­lation isn’t the only way for the the gov­ernment to become involved.

The record industry is testing the civil liberties idea that, for every inch the cen­sors are given, they’ll demand a kilome­ter. The major labels and distributors’ November 1985 concession to the PMRC, which created the warning labels, is an implicit guilty plea that gave Susan Bak­er and Tipper Gore the credentials to write a Newsweek column conflating the tabloid connection between rap and the Central Park rape and the need to control what our children hear. (You can be sure that they won’t be contributing a piece on the connections between bel canto and Bensonhurst.)

[related_posts post_id_1=”724836″ /]

Not everyone is so cowardly. In Rapid City, South Dakota, the local PMRC af­filiate tried to get city officials to block a June 16 Metallica/Cult show. Opposed by citizens connected with Music in Action, the music industry’s anticensorship group (the authors of this piece are mem­bers), they lost. The concert produced the most integrated white/Indian audience ever seen in the Black Hills. In Kansas City, where N.W.A. played after the city’s acting mayor, Emanuel Cleaver, tried to stop the show (saying “Take your trash back to L.A.”), Ice Cube concluded the performance by saying, “We just showed your City Council that blacks, whites, Mexicans, and Orientals can get together for a concert without killing each other.”

Nevertheless, rock world opposition to the censors remains small and unfocused. The $6.2 billion record industry has no defense budget at all. The record business has nothing to say about the FBI’s abuse of artistic liberty — maybe because it pro­tects its investment with the FBI’s Special Task Force against record piracy. Li­beled by bullies, liars, reactionaries, and bigger weirdos than rock ever knew in its psychedelic heyday, corporate rock ‘n’ roll can’t even find the strength to whimper. ■

[related_posts post_id_1=”713841″ /]

COPS ‘N’ ROCKERS

Police pressure forced the cancellation of a June 17, 1987, Run-D.M.C./Beastie Boys show at the Seattle Center Coliseum, beginning a new cycle of such abuses that trace back to the heyday of Alan Freed. Last May, Ouachita County, Arkansas, sheriff Jack Dews seized rap and heavy metal tapes from a Wal-Mart and from the Heart of the Blues record store in Camden, claiming the music was obscene under state law and couldn’t legally be sold to anyone under 17. In August, the 203,000-member Fraternal Order of Police declared a boycott of any musical group that advocates assaults on police officers, a significant stand since off-duty cops staff most security teams.

Billboard‘s September 9 front page detailed nationwide efforts to repress acts “that swear, engage in erotic posturing, and sing lyrics touting violence.” It reported curtailment or cancellation of shows by Skid Row, Too Short, GWAR, and N.W.A., as well as arrests of Bobby Brown in Columbus, and Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Among other towns where local officials censor rock are Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Poughkeepsie and Syracuse, New York. GWAR manager Bill Levine says that in Toledo, “We couldn’t say fuck or shit, but it was OK if we cut the heads off people.” (The decapitation of mannequins and pseudo-dismemberment of each other is a focus of GWAR’s oeuvre.)

The New York area is not immune to governmental shenanigans against rock. Some months ago, Middlesex, New Jersey, district attorney Alan Rockoff formed JUST (Joint Unit To Stop Terrorism), alleging the task force is necessary to stop cemetery vandalism caused by kids listening to rock. “There’s a healthy way to be Big Brother,” says Rockoff, whose unit tracks heavy metal bands and their fans with a computer.

N.W.A has not yet played New York. According to Ice Cube, nobody’s made the multiplatinum hip-hoppers a worthwhile offer.

— D.M.

[related_posts post_id_1=”725619″ /]

RETURN TO SENDERS

In July, I obtained the suspiciously uniform batch of letters that Priority Records received protesting N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton. To find out why the letters were so often alike, I called their authors, who came from all over the country. I checked more that 100 letters.

Most of the letters claimed that the authors would “never buy an album from your label again,” but my interviews with their writers indicated that none of them had ever bought any LP, cassette, or CD in the last 18 months excepts two who said they’d purchased a “Christian record.” (How can you boycott product you never buy?) None were aware of a wide range of rap acts, including Run-D.M.C.; several said they’d never heard of N.W.A. Those who were aware of the group said they’d learned about them from Reverend James Dobson’s Citizen magazine. Not one of these anti-N.W.A. letter-writers had listened to their record, although many were quick to respond to questions about the group by saying that “**** Tha Police,” as one put it, “calls on blacks to kill police officers.”

Only a single letter-writer acknowledged living in a household with anyone who buys “rock ‘n’ roll records.” And that respondent was the one who asked for advice on how to organize a rock-bashing group. She said she’d already started working on it.

— P.P.

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

1989 Village Voice article by Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack about FBI tracking NWA-THE FBI HATES THIS BAND

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‘Twisted Sister Presents A Twisted Christmas on Broadway’

What’s more metal than fire? Apparently chestnuts roasting on it, if you’ll believe mascara’d ’80s metal troubadours Twisted Sister. No other heavy band has made the yuletide season its business quite like Dee Snider & co. In the three years since they released holiday disc A Twisted Christmas, they’ve performed annual “Twisted Christmas” revues (this one even gets the added tag “on Broadway”—so hold onto your sharpened teeth for what that might mean). It’s a far cry from challenging Tipper Gore and the P.M.R.C. in front of Congress, but truth is, nobody sings “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to presents.

Sun., Dec. 6, 6 p.m., 2009

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Blowfly+Anal Cunt

Easily the most inspired booking of the week, the Knitting Factory brings together the twin totems of vulgarity, a double bill of swear-laden, fluid-soaked low-jinks that seems to exist only to annoy Tipper Gore. A legend to dirty rappers everywhere, Blowfly was doing triple-X soul parodies as early as 1973—though his last album tackled punk rock in a way that could make GG Allin blush (see the Clash rip “Should I Fuck This Big Fat Ho?”). Anal Cunt are notorious grindcore button-pushers who have never found a combination of ironic racism, ironic sexism, and ironic homophobia that they couldn’t turn into a 30-second blast of noxiousness. With Ninjasonik.

Sat., Nov. 21, 10:30 p.m., 2009

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The Daddy Shady Show

So when you’re born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas Day, and then suddenly your daddy’s not a pawn and you’re not a pauper anymore, do you get more presents on your birthday, or less, or what? Hard to say, but Hailie Jade Mathers, who turns seven December 25, already has a whole Toys “R” Us worth of stuff, not to mention an indoor pool to swim in (at least that’s what her great-grandma, Betty Kresin of St. Joseph, Missouri, who hereby wishes Hailie happy birthday and Hailie’s dad Merry Christmas, says), so she’ll probably do OK. Word is that her daddy maybe spoils her a little, and why not?

“If Hailie wanted a hamburger at one o’clock in the morning, he’d go get it,” Great-Grandma Kresin says. “If Hailie wanted to go to a movie, Marshall (her dad, born in St. Joseph himself) goes with her; he doesn’t have a nanny do it. They just have to sneak in through the service door.” He even has her name and picture tattooed near his right shoulder.

“He lets her play with the neighbors, and has cookouts,” Kresin continues. “He loves children. I think if he had his way, he’d have a lot of children. He always wanted to have a family.” As a matter of fact, she says, Hailie’s dad has also been taking care of another little girl lately. “Marshall adopted one of Kim’s sister’s kids,” Kresin explains.

Kimberley Anne Scott is Hailie’s mom; her relationship with Marshall has been a little rocky, seeing as how he pulled an unloaded gun on her once when he caught her playing tonsil hockey with some doofus ex-nightclub bouncer. Plus he has this habit of enlisting Hailie to help him record hilarious and obnoxious and highly moving songs where he murders Kim and stuff, but the couple seem to be back together now. “I think it’s for Hailie,” says Kresin, who won’t absolutely confirm that the pair have reunited. Kim’s sister’s daughter is two years older than Hailie, Kresin explains. So is the adoption legally binding? “She’s got his last name,” Kresin answers. “What would you call it?”

Marshall and Kim and Hailie and Hailie’s cousin—plus Marshall’s aunt Betty and uncle Jack, who help out with child care—are all said to live together in a great big house in Clinton Township, Michigan, a lovely suburb situated around three branches of the Clinton River. Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker live in town, too, as do about 95,600 other people, according to the 2000 Census. (92.8 percent of them are white; 4.7 percent are black.) Marshall, who is just 30 years old (and contrary to his previous predictions isn’t yet in the nursing home pinchin’ nurses’ asses while jackin’ off with Jergens), reportedly paid more than a million and a half for the mansion.

It’s part of a gated yuppie community called Manchester Estates; the subdivision is located near Cass Avenue (named for onetime slave-owning Michigan governor Lewis Cass), more or less in between 18 and 19 Mile roads—i.e., about 10 miles north of where Marshall grew up. The title song from his new movie goes like this: “I’m free as a bird/And I turn and cross over the median curb/Hit the burbs and all you see is a blur.”

He moved from his last house because the city of Sterling Heights wouldn’t let him build a 12-foot fence to keep kids from littering his lawn with M&M wrappers. But Manchester Estates is working out better. Marshall’s neighbors like him a lot. “I personally have dealt with Marshall. I know Marshall. We live right next door, so we see him all the time,” says Cathy Roberts. “He is a wonderful performer, he is a wonderful father, he is an awesome neighbor—you can imagine—and he is a great person.”

“He’s normal, down-to-earth, and puts his pants on the same way everyone else does,” Roberts continues. “A very, very good father.”

“Couldn’t ask for a better neighbor, that’s all,” agrees Mary Russo, who has grandkids. “He’s been really good around here. Sorry, I know you guys don’t want to hear that.”

“He’s introduced himself to my husband and we see him around the neighborhood trick-or-treating. He always waves when he goes by. They’re real friendly,” says yet another neighbor. “He plays with his little girl. He never lets her out by herself. He scooters around the block with her on her bike. Now he’s teaching her to ride her bike without training wheels.”

At Halloween, according to the Detroit News, Marshall’s lawn was decorated with haystacks, yellow chrysanthemums, and three smiling scarecrows. Neighborhood kids come over and shoot hoops with him.

But at the center of his universe, there’s his little girl, who likes watching The Powerpuff Girls with her dad and jumping on the trampoline. She started making friends in town not too long ago, thus reportedly squelching any plans the family might have had to move to California. Pretty much every afternoon when Marshall’s not on tour, he heads over to the school where Hailie attends first grade, and brings her back home. (Word is that Marshall’s leasing a Benz, but foreign cars in Metro Detroit are ill-advised, of course. Around town, he opts for Fords.) Though Hailie’s dad could no doubt afford to send her to Cranbrook, he makes fun of the famous Bloomfield Hills private school toward the end of his movie; no hypocrite, he sends her to a public elementary—albeit one located at the end of a quiet, secure, secluded little street, where paparazzi or stalkers or anyone else out of the ordinary would stick out.

[

Though no one will divulge whether he cooks up brownies for the school’s bake sale, sources say that Marshall’s been known to show up for PTO meetings. The school’s Web site, in fact, boasts that 99 percent of parents attended fall conferences. “Parent involvement is directly associated with student success,” the Web page says; parents are asked to read with their children for 15 minutes every evening, and to “also please work on math facts.” (“Everywhere I go, a hat, a sweater hood, or mask,” Marshall rapped this year. “What about math, how come I wasn’t ever good at that?” But sometimes parents learn from their kids.)

“The Elementary Schools Student-Parent Handbook” for Chippewa Valley Schools prohibits weapons and unauthorized medication and “boom-boxes,” as well as tank tops, halters, and “pants not worn at the waistline.” “Verbal threats or assault may result in suspension and expulsion,” the handbook informs. “Any behavior or language, which in the judgment of the staff or administration, is considered to be obscene, disrespectful, profane and/or violates community held standards of good taste will be subject to disciplinary action.”

“With the right of expression comes the responsibility to use it appropriately,” the student-parent handbook concludes. Which might sound familiar to Hailie’s dad, given the words concluding this Hartford Courant review by Eric Danton: “He raps on The Eminem Show about freedom of speech as an inalienable right, but Eminem seems unwilling or unable to accept the accompanying responsibility.”

Eminem, of course, is Marshall’s alter ego. And sometimes Eminem goes by the name Slim Shady. And sometimes he plays a movie character who shares a name with the protagonist of John Updike novels about suburban midlife crises. In 8 Mile, when Rabbit’s buddies are doing their ceremonial Devil’s Night-style arson on the eyesore shell of an abandoned Motor City crack house, he salvages a torn, burnt snapshot of a happy (black) nuclear family, gets all choked up, and says, “When I was little, I used to want to live in a house like this.”

When Marshall Bruce Mathers III was tiny, his maternal grandma Betty remembers, “The little boy would give me letters, and say, ‘Could you give them to my daddy?’ ” He never met his dad, who left when he was six months old. And he hates him for it, says so in his songs, and imagines kids who listen to him feeling the same way: “He’s a problem child, and what bothers him all comes out/When he talks about his fuckin’ dad walkin’ out/’Cuz he just hates him so bad that it blocks him out/If he ever saw him again he’d probably knock him out.”

Marshall didn’t call his grandma on Thanksgiving, she says, but that’s OK; she heard he was in the studio till 4 a.m. Besides, she’s got 12 other grandchildren, and she didn’t hear from all of them, either. “He’s an excellent grandson. I’m very proud of him,” she says. “You get him offstage, and he’s so polite—he says, ‘Yes, Grandma, no, Grandma.’ And he never talks bad around his little child. He’s still kind of shy.” Betty’s doctor recently asked her for an Eminem T-shirt.

She’s met other fans, too. “I had a person who was abused growing up tell me not too long ago, ‘ “Cleanin Out My Closet,” he wrote that for me,’ ” Kresin says. “He’s not just making up words. I can relate to the songs, too. When my grandmother [who raised her] wasn’t switching me till I was black and blue, she used to put me in a spooky closet full of mothballs, and lock me in it.” She says she’s been looking for a ghostwriter to help her finish a book about all this.

Deborah Mathers-Briggs—Betty’s daughter and Marshall’s estranged mom—was due to be born on what would eventually be Hailie’s birthday, Kresin says. Instead, she wound up being born on January 6, just like Kresin’s grandmother. “Debbie was born on her birthday, and I feel she was under a curse. My grandmother is shoveling coal now; God doesn’t want her, and Satan won’t have her.”

[

In 1972, Debbie gave birth to Marshall. And Kresin wound up raising Marshall—who was born the same year as her son, his uncle Ronnie, who first introduced him to rap music—when Debbie couldn’t, or wouldn’t. “I had a baby and a grandson at the same time,” she recalls. “It was like having twins.” Sometimes when they were acting up in the backseat of the car, she’d scold them; Marshall would “start chanting, ‘If we don’t stop, we’re gonna have to walk! If we don’t stop, we’re gonna have to walk!’ “When Debbie would take him up to Michigan and leave Ronnie in Missouri, Kresin says, both boys would feel empty and beg to see each other at Christmastime.

Kresin says she thinks Debbie took her “hurt and bitterness” out on Marshall. “When you have verbal and mental instead of abuse that’s physical, you can’t really see it,” she says of the boy’s upbringing. “If it’s snowing in New York, and your mom tells you again and again that it’s 80 degrees out, you’ll believe it.” In the early ’90s, Ronnie committed suicide, and Kresin says Debbie blamed it on Marshall.

“She put my poor little grandson on such a guilt trip,” Kresin remembers. “She told him that Ronnie was trying to call and call when Marshall was out rapping. Which isn’t true, because I was with Ronnie the entire time! She said, ‘I have some bad news for you—Ronnie’s dead, and he wouldn’t be dead if it weren’t for you,’ ” Kresin says. Marshall wound up taking an overdose of Tylenol on the day of the funeral and couldn’t go. (Debbie—who Kresin says is “in hiding, up north”—could not be reached, and Eminem himself was unavailable for comment.)

Deborah Mathers-Briggs, for her part, has insisted she never abused drugs, that she actually spoiled Marshall and never raised her voice to him when he was growing up, and that she sacrificed to support him and his 16-year-old brother Nathan (who still lives with her). She told the BBC that her relationship with Marshall started imploding when she also took in his girlfriend Kim, who was 12 at the time; she said Marshall, who is two years older than Kim, didn’t move out until he was 25. A couple years ago, she even sued him for defamation and put out a CD single called “Set the Record Straight.” The case was settled before trial by Marshall paying $25,000.

“He was an excellent son,” counters Kresin. “He never said anything bad about Debbie, and it’s coming out now. It’s his way of healing.” (Possible examples: lyrics about how he doubted his mom’s breast-feeding abilities due to her lack of tits, how his mom took his bike away ’cause he stuck his guinea pig in the microwave, how his mom always taught him the important lesson of “goddammit, you little motherfucker, if you ain’t got nothin’ nice to say then don’t say nothin’,” how all bitches is ‘hos even his stinkin’-ass mom, and how he never meant to hit her over the head with that shovel.) “I love that boy,” Kresin says. “I’ll defend him till the day I die.”

And if his relationship with Kim is any indication, he seems to be reliving part of his grandma’s life. Starting at age 15, Kresin was married to, but repeatedly split up then reunited with, the same man. “He was the boss of me, and he was cruel to me,” she says. “And I’d never heard the word divorce.” Kim and Marshall were married in St. Joseph in June 1999; Eminem filed divorce paperwork in August 2000; they made up in December 2000; Kim filed for divorce in March 2001; and now they’re apparently back together. Last time around, they wound up agreeing on joint legal custody of Hailie after a months-long battle, and a Macomb County court recommended Eminem pay $2740 a week in child support, $156 a week in health insurance, and 90 percent of health care costs.


Too many fathers are absent from the lives of their children,” Al and Tipper Gore write in their feel-good tome Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family, published last month. “We believe that most single mothers do an excellent job of raising their kids, but it must be acknowledged that families are almost always better off with two loving parents present in the home, sharing both the work and the joy.” In early editions of Baby and Child Care, they say, Dr. Benjamin Spock warned against “trying to force the participation of fathers who get gooseflesh at the very idea of helping to take care of baby.” But these are different times, and what constitutes a family is changing. The Gores’ book is organized around a bunch of examples—their sole in-depth discussion of fatherhood, in fact, immediately follows their story about the Logan family, a white gay couple named Josh and John raising two adopted sons of color.

[

Forty pages later, Tipper talks about getting upset at the dirty words on an album her daughter brought home, then co-founding the Parents’ Music Resource Center, leading an effort to put warning labels on objectionable albums, and writing a book called Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society. Which might partially explain why Eminem has a song where he tells Tipper “fuck you.”

But in “My Dad’s Gone Crazy”—a track prominently featuring Hailie’s looped vocal—Eminem concedes, “I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t let Hailie listen to me neither.” And by now, there should be no doubt that he’s obsessed with the exact same transformation-of-American-family issues that Al and Tipper are obsessed with. For one thing, he’s probably written as much about being a father as any popular songwriter of the past half-century.

Who else is there? John Lennon and Stevie Wonder and Bobby Goldsboro and Harry Chapin and that creepy “Butterfly Kisses” guy had a song or two each, maybe. John Prine, Art Alexakis of Everclear? Not out of the question. But Eminem came out of hip-hop, where the prevailing attitude about fatherhood was stated by the great Spoonie Gee, over 20 years ago. “When I got into my house and drove the female wild/The first thing she said is let’s have a child,” Spoonie postulated in 1980’s “Love Rap.” “If I had a baby I might go broke/ And believe me to a nigga that ain’t no joke.” Give or take isolated instances of parental pride from, say, Will Smith (who don’t have to cuss to sell records but Hailie’s dad does) or Coolio or OutKast (but not Big Daddy Kane), that’s where rap music remains.

And in 2002, for some reason, pop-icon pops have been especially visible. Ozzy became the latest in a long line of TV fathers-know-worst, right up there with Dan Conner and Homer Simpson and Tony Soprano. Michael Jackson, whose greatest hit ever had him insisting “the kid is not my son,” made a spectacle of himself on a Berlin balcony. Liv Tyler’s old man played Santa on Lizzie McGuire. And a People magazine cover even proclaimed, “Jon Bon Jovi: Secrets of a Rock Star Dad.”

Hearing about all those other papas, though, sometimes gets Betty Kresin’s goat, especially when congresspeople pick on Marshall. “I just think, well, they don’t know my grandson. Have you ever seen my grandson take Hailie to the fourth or fifth floor of a hotel room—like, well, I won’t mention any names—and dangle her out the window?” she protests. “Did you ever see him bite the head off a bat or a dove?”

In a way, though, the real precedent for Eminem’s handy tips on modern parenting might not be a fellow dad at all, but rather his fellow Michigander Diana Ross—the one who wailed in the Supremes’ “Love Child” about how she “started my life in an old, cold tenement slum/My father left, he never even married mom. . . . We’ll only end up hatin’ the child we may be creatin’ “; the one who, in “I’m Livin’ in Shame,” hid her life from her embarrassing mother, “who had a grandson two years old I didn’t even show her.” Is Detroit the real deal, or what? Though Eminem’s mom probably won’t pass away making homemade jam.

“Ninety-nine percent of my life I was lied to,” he complained in an early lyric. “I just found out my mom does more dope than I do.” His songs went on to tell us how he felt like someone else since hanging his original self from the top bunk when he was 12, how his brother and sister never called him until they saw him on TV but now everybody’s so proud he’s finally allowed to set foot in his girlfriend’s house, how he yelled “you fuckin’ homo” at his dad’s funeral, and how he won’t let his daughter attend his mom‘s funeral.

A couple of which stories, one can possibly conclude, might even be true! But mostly, ha ha ha, he’s just playin’, ladies (and America). You know he loves you. “If my music is literal, and I’m a criminal, how the fuck can I raise a little girl?” he asks. Which isn’t to suggest he doesn’t have issues. Has anybody mentioned how oedipal his first movie is—how he and Kim Basinger are always falling all over each other, even in bed? Weird. Still. “How the fuck you supposed to grow up when you weren’t raised?”

And by that, he doesn’t just mean himself; he means his audience—all those little hellions feeling rebellious, embarrassed their parents still listen to Elvis. He never knew he’d get this big; never knew he’d affect these kids, never knew they’d slit their wrists. He’s a role model: “Don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me/Smack women, eat ‘shrooms, and OD?” White America, he could be one of your kids—little Eric looks just like him, and Erica loves his shit. “How many retards will listen to me, and run into the school shooting when they’re pissed at the teacher?” He’s the one they can look up to better, so tonight he’ll write his biggest fan a “fuck you” letter.

[

He only cusses to upset your mom, he says, so kids hide his tape like bad report cards. Then they get drafted: “All this terror, America demands action/Next thing you know, you’ve got Uncle Sam’s ass askin’/To join our army, or what you do for their navy/ You’re just a baby, getting recruited at 18.” But since he makes “fight music for high school kids,” at least the grunts will be well trained. He’ll take seven censored kids from censored Columbine, stand ’em all in line, add an AK-47, a revolver, a nine, and that’s a whole school of bullies shot up all at one time. “I was put on earth to annoy the world/And destroy your little four-year-old boy or girl.”

Or maybe not. Last year, though nobody much noticed, he decided to donate part of his pay-per-view special’s ticket proceeds to Boys and Girls Republic, a suburban Detroit school whose mission is “to help at-risk youth, one at a time, become contributing members of society.” The Republic, though, refused Eminem’s gesture, opting to avoid endorsement by a performer whose lyrics seem to run counter to the school’s sense of nurturing.

Drawing on statistics from the Census Bureau, Center for Disease Control, Department of Justice, and more, an (admittedly probably not entirely unbiased) organization called the Father’s Rights and Equality Exchange computed a few years back that kids from fatherless homes are five times more likely to commit suicide, nine times more likely to drop out of high school, 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances, 14 times more likely to commit rape (“this applies to boys, of course”), 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and 32 times more likely to run away from home. But by all sane measures, current workfare and child-care laws are stacked starkly against single mothers; think of Bowling for Columbine‘s Flint, Michigan, mom, working two minimum-wage jobs while her six-year-old son finds his uncle’s gun and accidentally shoots a classmate. And as Queens College political scientist Andrew Hacker pointed out earlier this month in his New York Review essay on the Gores’ new book, single-mother families “now account for more than a fifth—21.9 percent—of all households with children, over double the proportion of a generation ago.” Even more surprising, Hacker notes, is the increasing number of families in which no mother is present. Single-father households “now make up 5.7 percent of all those with children, almost five times the ratio for 1970,” Hacker writes. “Fathers now make up 20.1 percent of all single parents.”

While he’s yet to quote any such statistics verbatim, it’s impossible to listen to much of Eminem’s music and not conclude that he’s thought a lot about what they add up to. “It’s a sick world we live in these days,” he says. Think of little Eric, who’s gonna jump off the terrace because the people who should’ve been watching him apparently aren’t parents. Or Em’s number one fan, Stan: “I never knew my father neither/He used to always cheat on my mom and beat her/I can relate to what you’re saying in your songs/So when I have a shitty day I drift away and put ’em on.” Next thing you know he’s on the freeway with his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk, and he just drank a fifth of vodka. So Slim Shady suggests counseling, but doesn’t get the letter to him fast enough to change Stan’s life, which Slim has somehow decided is his responsibility.

Frankly, Eminem seems convinced that the state of a lot of America’s youth is his responsibility right now. Or his fault. Or something. No wonder his grandma thinks Marshall wants a whole brood of kids. If he’s not Michael Jackson (and they sure do seem to share certain neuroses: about how sex is kinda icky, for instance), maybe he’s Bing Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary’s. Except where Bing said if you hate to go to school you may grow up to be a mule, Eminem says he can rap so fuck school, he’s too cool. But that’s just a minor detail.

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And it’s not hard to understand why he’s so determined to properly raise the one kid who really is his responsibility. “How do I rate myself as a father?” he pondered on WKQI-FM’s Mojo in the Morning show in Detroit earlier this year. “My Aunt Betty’s screaming 10, 10; I don’t know, I do the best I can. On a scale of 1 to10, like a 20.” And OK, maybe that doesn’t take into account the time he told both Kim and Hailie that he was taking Hailie to Chuck E. Cheese’s, then instead took her to the studio to record “’97 Bonnie and Clyde,” the goofier of his two Kim-murdering classics. (But hey, have you ever hauled rugrats to Chuck E. Cheese’s? Flying pizza slices everywhere! It’s hell on earth.)

And anyway, that was ages ago; times have changed. “I look at Hailie and I couldn’t picture leaving her side/Even if I hated Kim, I grit my teeth and I try to make it work with her at least for Hailie’s sake/I maybe made some mistakes, but I’m only human/But I’m man enough to face them today.” He loves his daughter more than life itself, he says in the sappy ballad with her name in its title; she’s maybe the only lady he adores. But his insecurities could eat him alive. “I’m a responsible father, so not a lot of good I’d be to my daughter, laying in the bottom of the mud/Must be in my blood ’cause I don’t know how I do it/All I know is I don’t want to follow in the footsteps of my dad, ’cause I hate him so bad/The worse fear that I had was growin’ up to be like his fuckin’ ass.” There’s a hellhound on his trail. “I sold my soul to the devil, I’ll never get it back,” he says in “Say Goodbye Hollywood.” “It’s fucking crazy, ’cause all I wanted was to give Hailie the life I never had.”

And here he is in 8 Mile‘s title track, talking about his little sister from the movie, played by Chloe Greenfield (“Yo, she’s the cutest girl in the world, besides Hailie,” he told Mojo), who, while working on the film, he invited home for a play date with Hailie so she could know him better: “Ain’t no tellin’ what really goes on in her little head/Wish I could be the daddy that neither one of us had.” He’s always wishing life could be more normal. In “The Way I Am,” he hopes “you freaks” would at least have the decency to leave him alone when he’s out feedin’ his daughter.


Ever wonder why people are so determined to reach for white picket fences, supposed normalcy, a nuclear family? Well, try growing up without one. My own parents both died when I was a kid (mom: uterine cancer; dad: suicide), and my stepdad walked out on Christmas Day when I was in high school. Before that, I’d spent over a year at the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Home for Children, just up the Farmington Hills road a piece from the Boys and Girls Republic. Got married at 21, had three kids by the time I was Eminem’s age, got divorced (very amicably, fortunately) a few years later. Sherman, who’s 11, likes Eminem the most. He was psyching himself up for an early-Sunday-morning peewee hockey practice in Bucks County last month, listening to “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile (“Lonely roads, God only knows/He’s grown farther from home/He’s no father/He goes home and barely knows his own daughter”), and said, “Eminem makes being a dad sound hard!” So I answered, “Yeah, Sherman, and Eminem only has one kid!” But Sherman was right. And so is Eminem. And Sherman also has a point when he can’t figure out why some people get so upset about so many things Eminem says (even on the clean versions that Sherman’s allowed to listen to, not that I’m naive enough to think kids can’t hear whatever kids want these days), after everybody already heard him tell Stan outright that he’s saying that shit just clownin’, dawg.

“My little girl knows me even if nobody else does. She knows that, at the end of the day, Daddy is not what he says in his songs,” Eminem told Megastar last year. “There may be part of me that’s like that, or that gets angry and wants to say those things, or maybe wants to actually do those things. But when I’m with my little girl, I’m not like that all. I’m Daddy to her.”

So hopefully the guy who jokes about grown-ups sucking his wee-wee back in pre-school wasn’t too fucked up by his childhood. Thing is, I have a feeling he’s not clownin’ at all when he criticizes parents who let their 12-year-old daughters wear makeup. For Hailie, that’s five years away. He says hip-hop was never a problem in Harlem, only Boston, after it bothered fathers of daughters starting to blossom; what happens when Hailie starts to blossom? What happens when she starts to date? In two years she’ll be in third grade, when a song by her dad says Slim Shady used to sniff glue through a tube and play Rubik’s Cube. And in three years she’ll be in fourth grade, and by then kids have the Discovery Channel so of course they’re gonna know what intercourse is. And in 2012 he’ll “be 40 with a 40 on the porch tellin’ stories/with a bottle of Jack, two grandkids on my lap/Babysitting for Hailie, while Hailie’s out gettin’ smashed.” At 17, if you haven’t already done the math. Happy birthday, Hailie. And papa, don’t preach.

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Additional reporting by Daniel King

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Proxy Music

In 1822, Noah Ludlow dressed himself in a buckskin hunting shirt and leggings, donned moccasins and an old slouch hat, put a rifle on his shoulder, and changed American politics forever with a song called ”The Hunters of Kentucky.” As his audience let out Indian war whoops, Ludlow retold the story of Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans:

But Jackson he was wide awake, and wasn’t scared of trifles

For well he knew what aim we take with our Kentucky rifles

So he marched us down to “Cypress Swamp”

The ground was low and mucky

There stood “John Bull,” in martial pomp

But here was old Kentucky!

Never mind that the battle was fought after a treaty resolving the War of 1812 had already been signed (news traveled slowly overseas), or that it was cannons, not backwoods marksmanship, that finished off a misdeployed British force. When the legend becomes fact you print the legend, and “The Hunters of Kentucky” blared everywhere as Jackson took office in 1828. (You can hear it, sounding like the Beverly Hillbillies theme, on Oscar Brand’s excellent Presidential Campaign Songs.) Twelve years later, in 1840, the Whig Party overcame the forces of Jacksonian democracy by aping its methods: “Tip and Ty,” set to the minstrel song “Little Pigs,” made “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” a national slogan, and former general William Henry Harrison swept into office.

The two-party system as we still know it, umbrella parties co-opting each other’s strategies in a sometimes gripping, sometimes bogus barrage of democratic rhetoric, was born to an essentially rock-and-roll backbeat. With their intoxicated parades, raucous theme songs, and manic get-out-the-vote crusades, presidential campaigns were the birthplace of national popular culture: The party that made the biggest splash usually won. In the 20th century, naturally, they became consumerist and spectatorial. Woodrow Wilson’s campaign tune mimicked a whiskey ad; Al Jolson sold Harding; Hoover’s 1928 song was a Lindbergh endorsement, his 1932 flop an attack on FDR as “that slicky wacki wicki Bolsheviki Mickey Mouse.” A president now represents a pop-cultural base as much as an electoral one: When Frank Sinatra, whose Rat Pack had helped Kennedy win in 1960 to a rewritten “High Hopes,” switched his allegiance to Reagan in 1980, it spelled the end of the New Deal coalition.




Rock too much and you’re not presidential; don’t rock and you’re not only “stiff,” you’ve left grave doubts about your tastes.


In this, the first election to feature two baby boomer candidates, America is called upon to pick not just a leader, but a successor to Bill Clinton as rock-and-roll president. But the wildness that draws people to rock runs the risk of bringing scandal and disreputability down upon politicians. Rock too much and you’re not presidential; don’t rock and you’re not only “stiff,” you’ve left grave doubts about your tastes. So Bush and Gore dance around the issue like radio stations afraid to play a nervy song that would turn off as many people as it turned on.

Except as a whipping boy like R-rated movies and violent video games, music has factored negligibly in this campaign, as when Tom Petty asked W. to quit using “I Won’t Back Down,” or Republicans accused Democrats of hypocrisy after a stickered record by the Eels, with a song on it called “It’s a Motherf#&!@r,” was handed out at a Nita Lowey event. Gore’s use of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” seems no more or less absurd than the Fatboy 2000 campaign poster that’s up on Norman Cook’s Web site. It scarcely matters that Bush recruited Tejano singers as governor (Republicans wrote campaign songs in Spanish as far back as Ford), or that the Zappa kids made up with Tipper and Al after dad’s PMRC battles.

Greil Marcus argues in his new Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a Land of No Alternatives that Clinton won the 1992 election when he went on Arsenio, picked up a saxophone, and blew “Heartbreak Hotel.” America couldn’t resist electing Elvis, the baby boomers had their first presidential icon, and the Clinton-Gore ticket found the perfect theme song: Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow).” The tune was mainstream but not hackneyed, lightly on-message, reaching Garth Brooks suburbanites and MTV’s Rock the Vote cohort alike. Clinton evoked it in his farewell address at this year’s convention, but Gore should have found some way to recycle it, the way the Democrats drew on “Happy Days Are Here Again” for decades.

Because the Gore-Lieberman theme, “Let the Day Begin” by ’80s U2-wannabes the Call, is a nonstarter: not only completely unfamiliar, but a litany that’s the musical equivalent of an overstuffed Gore stump speech, the way the tune he usually exits to, BTO’s moldy “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” parallels his comic attempts to seem like a guy who stands tough politically. Even worse is Bush’s campaign tune, Billy Ray Cyrus’s “We the People,” a would-be Chevy ad that goes out on a godawful voice-over of the Preamble. Cyrus admitted to the L.A. Times that he offered the song to the Democrats first and isn’t sure who he’s going to vote for. Another track on Cyrus’s new album, Southern Rain, says it all: “Hey Elvis, where the hell are you?”

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Simple. Neither Gore nor Bush has the guts to unleash him. A Clinton speechwriter told Marcus: “That night on the Arsenio Hall show might have won him the election, but it also ruined his presidency.” To many Americans, Clinton never seemed fully presidential because he’d proven he’d do anything to get elected. He was an illegitimate commander in chief. It’s not just that, as Marcus suspects, the hint of rock and roll made Clinton seem low class. He was violating a historic taboo. Rock, or its Uncle Sambo ancestor blackface minstrelsy, has been used to sell presidents ever since Jackson dispelled the notion that presidents should manifest the patrician dignity of the Founding Fathers. But there’s an enormous gulf between a rowdy, pandering campaign and a candidate wearing blackface.

Minstrelsy, filtered through vaudeville and ragtime, galvanized politics through the 19th century and beyond. As Irwin Silber recounts in Songs America Voted By, the Whigs endlessly recast the minstrel hit “Old Dan Tucker,” not so much outarguing their opposition as outsinging them: “If a Democrat tried to speak, argue, or answer anything that was said or done, he was only saluted with a fresh deluge of music,” one newspaper editor wrote. But the Democrats sank much lower: Jean Baker’s Affairs of Party documents a workingmen’s party united on the principle of white supremacy. When the Republicans emerged, they were greeted with serenades like “Free Speech, Free Niggers, and Fremont.” The pattern continued even after the Civil War; in the Democratic songbook, Zip Coon now worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau. On the Republican side, in 1900 blackfaced singers performed “Hooray for Bill McKinley and That Brave Rough-Rider Ted” in coon dialect. The first Hound Dog was Champ Clark, who ran for the 1912 Democratic nomination to a chorus of “You gotta stop kickin’ my dawg aroun’.”

But the crucial distinction is that the candidates themselves weren’t presented as comical, “Get on the Raft With Taft” excepted. “You’re All Right, Teddy,” for instance, cowritten by James Weldon Johnson, makes a simple claim: “You’re a man indeed.” It’s the oldest line in presidential song: “Monroe Is the Man,” “McClellan Is the Man,” “McKinley Is the Man!,” “Harding, You’re the Man for Us,” even Tricky Dick’s finally outdated “Nixon Is the Man for Me” in 1960. As McCain’s pop- rather than organizationally driven rise should remind us, Americans still seize upon war heroes to reconcile their need for someone both extraordinary and common. While Grover Cleveland survived an 1884 song accusing him of fathering a bastard (“Ma! Ma! Where’s My Pa?”), proving that our sexual tolerance goes way back, he was bumped from office in 1888 amid musical accusations that he’d been a Civil War draft dodger—paying to hire a replacement, as was legally but not politically permissible.

So Clinton’s Elvis act (long before he started referring to himself as our “first black president”), coupled with his own draft-evading past, raised hackles even though the pop presidency had been building for decades. Theodore White noted “the jumpers,” teenybopper JFK fans: “Thousands of bodies would, helplessly but ecstatically, be locked in the rhythmic back-and-forth rocking. One remembers the groans and the moans.” Jimmy Carter quoted Bob Dylan in his acceptance speech and hung with Southern rockers and country singers. Reagan’s military duty was limited to war movies, though he blurred the difference, but he went out of his way to try to seize rock’s mantle for himself in 1984, embracing Bruce Springsteen, who quickly demurred. Raffish Republican strategist Lee Atwater engineered Bush Sr.’s win in 1988, then fitted the president with a guitar at an inaugural ball. The famous photo of the two, lips stuck out, pretending to play the blues, is minstrelsy at its worst: I’m surprised Spike Lee didn’t stick it into the history lesson at the end of Bamboozled.

Trying to differentiate themselves from Clinton, the candidates in 2000 don’t wish they were rock stars—they wish they had war medals. The vice president never ceases to cite his Vietnam service; the governor is all about leadership. Still, Gore, who claims to have thrown jelly beans at Ringo’s drum set at the first U.S. Beatles concert, wastes no opportunity to prove he’s hip. A Being John Malkovich fan, he hired Spike Jonze to direct a campaign biography shown at the convention, wherein he looks fondly at Tipper and sings, “I don’t have to speak, she defends me,” a line from the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.” Lucinda Williams and Thelonious Monk admirer or no, sometimes his instinctive blandness defeats him: Asked on MTV what CD was on his stereo, he said Sister Hazel, a lesser-known Hootie and the Blowfish; he also named Lenny Kravitz as a top choice for the inaugural balls. But he fields questions about MP3 downloads like an insider, raising the possibility of online micropayments and telling Red Herring that “the American democratic system was an early political version of Napster.”

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Bush is a cultural cipher: Responding to an Oprah question about his favorite song, he said, “Wake Up Little Susie,” credited it to Buddy Holly, then caught himself. Otherwise, he keeps mum, concerned he’s already perceived as too shallow to be president. He’s been trained to hold down his inner Elvis and play the debates “smirk-free,” though features like Nicholas Lemann’s New Yorker piece (now up on Slate) capture his teasingly arrogant social interactions, which surely resemble Presley and the Memphis Mafia.

Elizabeth Mitchell, who recently published W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty, says she heard stories of him buying a guitar or drums as a kid and joining a vaguely rock “clapping band” at Andover called the Torques. His frat at Yale fit the Animal House model, with blues bands on weekends. His party the night of his 1978 congressional primary victory had to be shut down because the rock band was too loud. There are accounts of him cackling John Anderson’s “Swingin’ ” over the phone to Texas buddies during his oil days. Take it all for what you will. Until John Kasich, the Radiohead-worshiping, corporate-welfare-bashing, stridently right outgoing House Budget chair, runs for prez there’s unlikely to be a national pol with bravura taste.

Obviously, rock fans don’t have a horse in this race. Tipper Gore cofounded the Parents Music Resource Center in the ’80s after daughter Karenna had questions about Prince’s “Darling Nikki,” which led to “voluntary labeling,” which led to labeled records being banned from stores like Wal-Mart. Al Gore called the PMRC-inspired Senate hearings a “mistake” in 1987, prior to his first presidential run, and “not a good idea” in 1992, but expediently revived the issue this year to distance himself from Slick Willie, picking a vice presidential candidate who along with Bill Bennett gave out “Silver Sewer Awards” to pop culture they didn’t like. W. signed a toothless but symbolic 1997 bill banning Texas from doing business with corporations tied to music with violent or graphic lyrics; Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne, is a pop-bashing moralist on a par with Lieberman—both testified at McCain’s recent Senate hearings. Ralph Nader’s views are the anticapitalist equivalent. “This poison has got to stop,” he wrote after Littleton. “Corporations [are] governed by profiteering that impels them to respect no boundaries in their exploitation of teenagers’ vulnerable minds.”

Still, what about Nader? At a packed Madison Square Garden October 13, he called out minstrelsy for what it is: “I’m sick and tired of white politicians like Clinton and Gore going to black churches and, with that rhythmic cadence, pandering to them.” Great sentiment, though one couldn’t help noticing the near-total whiteness of the Naderite flock. The Nader campaign is funny that way. His message is outright populism. “It’s time for people to take control of the commonwealth they already own,” he thundered. “Our country has been sold to the highest bidder.” But the reason he could run isn’t just his record of commitment. It’s his long-standing, well-tended celebrity: Early in the evening, video screens showed his ’70s appearances with John and Yoko on Mike Douglas and hosting Saturday Night Live; he’d promoted the MSG event by bantering with Rob Lowe in an October 7 SNL skit.

When Nader stoops to pop, though, it doesn’t come off as minstrelsy, because he never deviates from his obsessively issue-oriented, monklike persona—isn’t he really a civilian soldier? He hasn’t even learned how to pump his fists when thousands cheer. Anticommercialism is his commercial identity, and he assumes it with telegenic expertise. You’d never think to inquire what Ralph Nader listens to: It’d be beneath him to answer. Asked at the MSG press conference for his thoughts on Napster, he sniffed, “Of all the thousands of issues, there are a few that I know nothing about.”

Yet his campaign has made the most effective use of popular culture of all. The Rage Against the Machine video “Testify,” directed by Michael Moore, which uses Bush and Gore footage to prove they’re really one person, is brilliant agitprop and a belly laugh. And the Garden rally, featuring Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder, Ani DiFranco, Bill Murray, Ben Harper, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Phil Donahue, and local rappers Company Flow, and culminating in a marching band that escorted cartons of voter registration ballots across the street to the post office, had a rah-rah-rah to it that blew away the Rolling Stone-, VH1-, and Miramax-sponsored, suits-dominated, corporate-rock Gore-Lieberman benefit at Radio City Music Hall. The Nader finale was Smith’s “People Have the Power,” which finally seemed other than impossibly corny in a political context where popular participation was essential.

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“Nader Rocks the Garden,” the Green Party called it, but at its heart the event was a folk rally, hearkening back to the Henry Wallace events Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger led in 1948, when “The Same Merry Go-Round” was the song of the day. There’s a huge appeal to that tradition all of a sudden, the tradition of abolitionism and progressive farmers too, because rock’s minstrel legacy isn’t offering much to democracy right now—just more shuck and jive. And not even the kind of shuck and jive that redeems itself with its own contradictory exuberance, the way America sometimes has. Timid tidbits, when only the right niche audience is watching. Rock and roll shares one thing with politics: They’re both almost always better when they’re messy.

Research assistance: Amber Cortes and Tyler Kord

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Music

Programmed to Receive



Al Jolson or Al Gore? “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” boomed the vice president from the Radio City Music Hall stage last Thursday, revving up the Democratic baby-boom power elite. Then he treated us to one-liners from his Letterman appearance. “The Concert,” as it was billed, organized by Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein, VH-1’s John Sykes, and Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner, with the hall provided by Cablevision, raised $6.5 million in “hard” money for the ticket. Two movie presidents, Michael Douglas and Harrison Ford, hailed the would-be chief. In this atmosphere of piety and self-congratulation, Gore’s constant pop-culture bashing was simply not taken seriously—he made one passionless comment about marketing inappropriate material to children, to light applause; his running mate stayed mum on the subject. Introducing Joe Lieberman, Weinstein fondly called him “a guy who isn’t making my life any easier.” “Joe Lieberman is smiling at me now,” said Bette Midler, who’s got a new sitcom debuting this fall and understands the necessity of pandering as thoroughly as either candidate. “But wait until sweeps!”

Metal detectors and bag searches at the entrances notwithstanding, the show had been declared a no-rap zone. Macy Gray, the hippest performer slated, canceled at the last minute. Perhaps, after she traded barbs about her pubic hair with the Wayans brothers at the Video Music Awards—held at Radio City one week earlier—she’d been judged too much of a risk. So comedian John Leguizamo had what Hillary might call the chutzpah to offend. “We push a lot of sexual and very deviant material that hurts the youth of America,” he said proudly, then declared Lieberman the perfect veep pick: “It takes a Jew to lick Bush.” Lynne Cheney would allude to Leguizamo’s remarks over the weekend, as an example of Democratic hypocrisy on the culture issue. I’d call them a reminder that art inevitably takes issue—it’s supposed to be impolitic. The going-on-40 kids’ table, appearing early, made vague motions: Sheryl Crow said “Shake your ass!” and shook hers; Lenny Kravitz played loud; k.d. lang dedicated a love song to Tipper; Bon Jovi did a track from an album called Slippery When Wet.

Then the boomers took what was theirs, proving by the time the mass singalong “Teach Your Children” arrived that classic rock is at the core of Clintonian sanctimoniousness. (“Bridge Over Troubled Water” or bridge to the 21st century?) Midler, Jimmy Buffet, Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Eagles, Paul Simon: The best way to stay entertained was to think subtext. CSN did “Love the One You’re With,” and they did it right after Stephen Stills said of Gore, “He has a wife who plays drums. I’ll take it.” There’s a ringing endorsement. More grudging acceptance: Was Don Henley’s “Desperado” an anti-Nader anthem? (“Why don’t you come to your senses? . . . Freedom, oh freedom, well that’s just some people talkin’.”) Which put the earlier Crow-Kravitz-Bon Jovi cover of Gore’s favorite band, the Beatles, in a new light: You say you want a revolution? Well, you know, we all want to change the world. It’s gonna be all right.

As a message, this last seemed singularly appropriate for the talent on display at Radio City. Save for Simon (who tastefully omitted “You Can Call Me Al”), The Concert featured performers who are commercial powerhouses but few rational people’s idea of first-caliber artists. But the liberal entertainment complex hammer at us to revere them, like we’re supposed to embrace Gore-Lieberman. Because they’re pretty good, they have their hearts in the right place, and anyway, imagine what evil crap would be charting if they weren’t. —Eric Weisbard


Perfect Sound Forever

“We’re going to brisk it up a little,” Roy Kral says, introducing the second encore he’s doing with his partner and wife, Jackie Cain. Well, leave it to a jazzman to wiggle an adjective into a verb. But while Jackie and Roy may brisk the Jimmy van Heusen-Sammy Cahn “Come Fly With Me” at the FireBird Cafe, they never brusque it.

That’s because they hold Ph.D.’s from Cool Jazz U., where the basic teaching is: Music is intended to soothe and delight. In songs that turn introspective and even painful, the idea is to anesthetize feelings with quiet chords and feathery vocalizing. When Jackie sings “Lost”—for which Roy supplied the melody to Fran Landesman’s Jean-Rhys-forlorn lyrics—she makes sure that in chanting about losing “books and my looks,” it’s subdued desperation she reveals. The same for the impressionistic “Through the Windows of Cars,” another Landesman-Kral item.

Featuring Landesman songs, incidentally, is one key to what distinguishes Jackie and Roy. They choose nothing obvious. If they’re doing Frank Loesser, it’s the rarely traveled, slyly metaphorical “Sand in My Shoes” with the provocative couplet, “That’s why my life’s an aimless cruise/All that is real is the feel of the sand in my shoes.” If they include George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” it’s because the rhythm they got is not run-of-the-mill. If they deliver “Moon Over Miami,” it’s because Roy plays the melody once through with pungent chord clusters.

After harmonizing and/or swapping musical lines for 53 years(!)—i.e., since before their accomplished sidemen Dean Johnson and Rich DeRosa were born—they’ve honed a formula so skillfully it’s almost undetectable. A repeated conceit has one of the pair holding a note while the other slides around, under, or over it. And if Jackie’s voice was tentative on these maneuvers, it probably had to do with first-night nerves. In the living museum of contemporary singing, they claim a room, if not an entire wing. —David Finkle

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Down With Alpha Males!

Whatever Naomi Wolf’s sins may be—and they are mostly sins of intellectual crudity—you have to feel for her after the mangling she took last week. Hired to help Al Gore project a macho mien, she became the target of stand-up savants from Jay Leno to Maureen Dowd. “The moral equivalent of an Armani T-shirt,” was Dowd’s judgment on this postfeminist pundit whose take on women as “sex goddesses” brings to mind nothing more original than Helen Reddy in a teddy.

For Wolf, female sexuality is a naturally derived source of power—a creatine of the clitoris. This is a perfect corollary to her ideas about the alpha male. Both spring from the current concept of sex as an expression of primate reality. You can’t pick up a paper these days without hearing about the “hard wiring” that makes women and men alike swoon for a Power Dude. He may be as homely as Rudy Giuliani, but when it comes to running for office a dominant demeanor is an aphrodisiac (except when the candidate is a woman). In the coming presidential race, it threatens to become a litmus test.

Why this fixation on alphatude? Precisely because it’s under siege. As macho loses its real-world prestige, it becomes that much more important to preserve it as a political and cultural fantasy. The feverish quest for a natural narrative that can sustain an archaic idea has produced all sorts of experts on what might be called biosexuality, from Lionel Tiger—who invented the term alpha male—to Wolf, for whom women’s “erotic nature” has a “magical potential.”

It’s one thing to turn this mumbo jumbo into a line of rather sophisticated self-help books. (The New Female Power and How to Use It—why didn’t Simone de Beauvoir think of that?) It’s quite another to combine a sex-rad persona with a career as a high-priced political consultant. A male advisor might get away with toe-sucking, as Dick Morris has, but woe to the woman who proposes that girls be taught about masturbation and heavy petting so they won’t rush into intercourse. That kind of thinking is what pushed Joycelyn Elders into early retirement, and it hardly helps a candidate freighted with his predecessor’s transgressions to have a funky female flack.

On the great puritan plains, most people think girls should be seen but not sexed while boys should be fucking, not ducking. These beliefs coexist quite nicely with piety, producing a louche tension that can easily pass for virility. It’s the Jimmy Swaggart contradiction, and it shows in George W. Bush’s face.

He sure looks like he’d approve of teaching girls how to give a good Lewinsky, which is why Bush, like Clinton, pushes abstinence instruction. But unlike Slick Willy, his true mentor, Bush is all fidelity on the stump. He used a prior obligation to his wife as an excuse for his failure to attend a New Hampshire debate last week, allowing the New York Post to boast, NO DEBATING THAT BUSH IS A LOYAL HUBBY. Yet he’s a master of the Clintonian wink, that narcissistic spark so central to the “gusto” of the alpha male. In short, Bush is fuckable. Why isn’t Gore?

No matter how artfully he opens his collar to show a sprig of chest hair, Gore is caught between Tipper and a hard place. His professions of devotion only make him look cowardly, and his impressive record on women’s issues reads like pandering. The closer he snuggles up to the female electorate, the more it recoils, giving Bush an ample lead among women (though the gap is half what it is among men, and growing smaller). No wonder Gore felt compelled to bring a professional carnalist like Wolf on board. And no wonder pundits pounced on the spectacle of a man relying on a babe to give him macho tips. Alphas don’t come crying to a woman; they blow up the world on their own.

In fact, submission is the least of Gore’s problems, as was clear in his 1996 debate with Ross Perot. So why the alpha gap? Leave it to the Post to round up a posse of shrinks—drawn from the Dr. Laura pool, no doubt—to explain it all. “Look at the issues,” says one Manhattan therapist. “The environment. That’s like gardening. That’s what women do. You want someone like Jesse Ventura—into blood sport.” Then there’s the loving-husband-and-father factor: “He’s perfectly decent, and real men aren’t perfectly decent.” By these criteria, the ideal president would be Donald Trump—or maybe O.J.

Fortunately for America, this is not a standard Franklin D. Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln tried to meet. Even George Washington turned down the chance to be king. These were not alpha males as we know them; they were leaders. The difference goes to the heart of authoritarianism. An alpha feeds himself; a leader feeds the people.



— So when did macho become a wedge issue? Most likely during the Carter years, when America was besieged by stagflation and bested by Iran. It was the era of that famous prank headline calling a Carter speech “more mush from the wimp.” But it was also the time when feminism began to make significant inroads on the political process. By now, it’s clear that the rise of women is dramatically changing American life. Gore’s stance on women’s issues—for all the calculation at its core—reflects this new reality, yet the image of a feminized president also raises intense anxieties. So intense, it seems, that we’d rather have an airhead in the oval office than another humane wimp.

That’s why fidelity plays as a liability to Gore, but not Bush, and why his background as a political scion makes Gore seem effete, but not Bush. Even W’s gaffes affirm his masculinity. (After all, no one ever lost butch points for being stupid.) We need an anchor to the old way of being manly, even as we expect it to be oiled with postmodern irony, and Bush projects a knowing wryness—a certain distance from ideas—that trumps Gore’s glaring lack of pomo style. “Women are impressed with swagger and paternalism in presidential candidates, just as men are,” writes the very pomo Dowd. So we are—especially since we live in an age when macho is a cultural artifact, an image that plays well on TV, an empty jock.

But feminism is not responsible for the state of the American presidency, an office with less and less power to actually run things. The real alpha males are the stewards of corporate capital, and they see the U.S. as one market in a global economy. America is entering the new millennium as a superpower in an age of invisible empires. The president has become the symbol of a world that is vanishing before our eyes. And in our rush to find a real man in an ambiguous time, we seem to have forgotten the lesson Europeans learned at such a catastrophic price: The ultimate alpha is a tyrant. 

Research: Jason Schwartzberg

Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES Living Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Using their noodle

What I’m thinking When a restaurant decides to concentrate on pasta, it’s always a good idea to put the word “pasta” in the name to avoid any confusion. If a place has the word “pasta” right in front of grill, café, cucina and -eria, you don’t expect to get cheeseburgers there. Here, they named the place twice: Pasta Pasta. The original owner also opened Salsa Salsa around the corner. This guy would do well in New York, New York.

Casing the joint About three months ago, Pasta Pasta pushed into a storefront next door, doubling the size of the 8-year-old restaurant. Half the new room is filled with eight tables or so and the other half is a waiting room with wicker couches and chairs and several tables for two along both walls. On the night of the first World Series game we wait along with four or five other parties for our tables to be readied. This is where a bar would be if the state liquor authority allowed one this close to a church. A bar with a TV with a game. But there is beer and wine, which a waitress finally begins to take orders for by circulating through the growing crowd as if this were a cocktail party, only without the cocktails. We aren’t the only ones wondering why so much space was dedicated to this lounge area. Had they elected to buy more tables instead of couches, we could have been seated at the time our reservation called for.

In their bigger incarnations, the rooms are still inviting and cozy. Maybe even romantic. The noise level is low and so are the lights. I remove the cute little shade from the lamp on our table in order to read the menu. The bottom of the menu cautions: think TWICE before answering your cellular phone!!” These people are big believers in thinking twice (see name of restaurant).

What we ate A delicious crusty loaf of bread with a surprise ribbon of roasted garlic inside hits the table. The chef changes the bread innards daily, according to whim. Our waitress resembles a younger, slimmer Tipper Gore and memorizes our order. The menu is divided between starters, brick-oven pizza, pasta and no-pasta selections. For starters, we order the pot of baby clams steamed with garlic, butter and white wine ($8.50). Sure enough, it arrives as a black cauldron with a dozen or so bivalves bathed in savory broth. The bread quickly gets baptized. The portabella mushroom stuffed with Alaskan crab meat ($8.50) is large and infused with the bold flavors of ginger and cilantro.

Perhaps the restaurant has a reason for serving each dish with different shapes of pasta. But it’s what’s on the pasta that really counts, isn’t it? The cavatelli ($14) are longish shells covered with sweet sausage, spinach, roasted bites of eggplant, thick plum-tomato sauce and shaved romano cheese. Angel hair pasta ($15) comes with chicken, bits of pepperoni, fresh mozzarella and garlic. Both are outstanding. We’re mmm-ing as we eat, always a good sign. One of four seafood pastas, penne with sauteed shrimp, scallops, chicken and andouille sausage ($17), is another winner. Meat lovers can get filet mignon on crisp gnocchi ($22). There’s also a blackened filet mignon pizza ($12), veal chops ($26) and rack of lamb ($18). When a place is named Pasta Pasta I don’t order pizza pizza. As it is, I keep hearing that Little Caesar’s dude going “Pasta Pasta” in my head.

Vegetarian alert With choices like these, you may never eat tempeh again. Penne comes with either artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, shittake mushrooms, plum tomatoes and scallions in a garlic olive oil sauce ($15) or in marsala wine with basil, sautéed plum tomatoes and fresh mozzarella if you’re still eating dairy. Broccoli rabe and garlic jumbo ravioli are covered with plum tomatoes and asparagus ($14). There’s also a grilled vegetable pizza topped with mozzarella ($12.50).

Cavity patrol The cheesecake of the day ($6.50) is apple crumb. It’s light and incredibly good. Fruit with zambaglione also gets my vote.

Damage With pastas in the $15 range and appetizers about half that, your meal will top out over $22.

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Hillary on Elba

Are you wearing a wire? [HRC’s nervous laugh lasts quite some time.] That’s just my little joke–I mean, of course you are. We know the rules. So long as Bill, Vernon, and I stay on the island, we can’t be extradited. But every visitor from the United States is working for Mr. Starr, and please, don’t pretend you aren’t–it’s wasted breath. How is he, by the way? Hah, gotcha!

You just tell him I’m not ready yet. Not this frequency, Kenneth. But go on, sit down; I really don’t care. It gets pretty samey when it’s just the three of us. How does it go: Able was I ere I saw…

What’s it been–a year now? Look, we never thought Bill’s story about that emergency summit with Saddam would fly, but what could we do? The marshals were streaming across the South Lawn when we got into the helicopter. Then we got here, and whoopsie: no Saddam. Well, Arabs are unpredictable–blah, blah, blah. It took everyone a while longer to figure out we weren’t coming back.

What’s left of the press is staked out on that cliff. The Secret Service has the beach. We’re on the rocks.

I don’t know about Bruce [Babbitt]. He’s got his own island. But we don’t really have a hell of a lot to do here. Bill air-golfs, and sometimes he makes speeches to the seagulls; he wants them to stop eating fish. Vernon has a cell phone made of twigs he plays with. And me? Oh, what do you think–I stay home and bake cookies. Last month, to pass the time, we had a contest: ”Name the Best-Dressed Dude on Elba.” It was Vernon’s idea. He won.

Oh, yes, that’s true. We do both call Vernon ”the Skipper.” But have you heard what Bill calls me? Mary-Ann. That hurts–after all these years, you’d think at least I’d get to be Ginger. I mean, I’m the only one left.

It’s hard for me to remember what that last week in Washington was like, before we broke and ran. Mainly, I was just like everybody else–I watched a lot of CNN. Maybe the worst part was having to hear Gennifer Flowers tell Larry King that she felt sorry for me. That skank! Oh, well–it’s all hair dye under the bridge, now.

We started with the usual drill. Shove all the White House women out the front door to talk about what a wonderful guy Bill is–honest, what did we care about making Madeleine Albright look stupid?–while all the men came in the back way to figure out how to get him off the hook: Mickey [Kantor], [Harold] Ickes. We had one team working around the clock just to weed anything iffy out of the State of the Union Address; that line about asking America’s young people to pay more than lip service to their ideals had to go. So did the one about the heavy blows this president has had to endure. By the time they’d taken out everything that might get a laugh, there wasn’t a lot left besides, ”Country’s fine! Yow! Gotta go now!”

But this time, it really didn’t matter what we did. Not a lot you can do when every time you turn on the TV, Ted Koppel’s wondering out loud if oral sex counts. When he was at the White House, Arafat asked me if it doesn’t in our culture; I told him that if you’re talking about Bill Clinton, there’s a good argument to be made that it doesn’t count for much. He thought that was pretty funny. But you know Yasir–when he’s in the United States, he thinks everything’s funny.

And then everybody kept rerunning that old 60 Minutes interview from ’92, which was so embarrassing. You know, the time machine: there I am in the hairband, jest a-droppin’ my ”g”’s like I’m Ma Joad or something. I’d almost forgotten I used to talk in that fake down-home accent, back before we got elected.

I know you didn’t see a lot of me that week. They’d practically kept me locked in the attic since the Second Inaugural. People must’ve thought I was up there talking to Mrs. Roosevelt again, or something. I’ll tell you, though–nobody ever understood about that. Who cared what that old bucktoothed biddy thought? I was trying to reach Vince [Foster]. ”Please, Eleanor,” I’d say. ”Just let me hear his voice. Just once.” She’d always come back and say Vince didn’t want to talk to me. That’s why I stopped.

But I can’t say I was surprised. I knew what I was in for from the start–ever since Bill and I made our deal, back at Yale. If people really want to think of us as these cornpone Corleones, let’s face it: I was Michael; he was Fredo. In this country, if you want to win elections, you’ve always got to put Fredo out front.

But yeah–deep down, I guess we both always knew Bill’s zipper would do us in. To be honest, neither of us ever worried too much about Whitewater, since nobody in America could make head or tail of it. My god, even we weren’t sure what we were up to with Whitewater. I mean, tell Bill and me that something is corrupt, and we’re there with bells on, and a brass band on the platform playing Sousa. [Laughter] But we didn’t really know what it was all about; just that it wasn’t legal.

But the sex? Even a blind man could make head or tail out of Monica Lewinsky. Betsey [Wright] and I used to say it was only a matter of time until they found the smoking cock. Of course, he never stopped once we were in the White House. Imagine telling someone like him, ”Sure, you could screw around all you ever wanted back when you were just the dipshit governor of Arkansas. But now you’re the most powerful man in the world–and no hot buttered nookie for you anymore, Mr. Bill.” You know he’s going to think: says who? Dee Dee Myers? Michael Kinsley? Give me a break.

You don’t want to know how out of control it was. But I’ll tell you this–I was just heartsick every time we had to leave him alone in a room with Buddy. Maybe someday you’ll hear the real reason Stephanopoulos left. I wasn’t too surprised that little George was the one who started yapping about impeachment before anybody else had even finished their coffee, the day the story first came out.

Even so, it wasn’t just George, god knows. Panetta was right behind him. Good old Leon–always ready to try on another pair of elevator shoes. All those people who’d been sticking by us, you could see them suddenly asking themselves, ”What for?” Pretty soon, there wasn’t anybody left but Carville. That’s a great thing to be able to tell yourself when you first look in the mirror, believe me: ”Hey, at least we’ve got James Carville on our side.”

To tell the truth, I think everybody just got fed up. I mean, between us, Bill and I had done lots worse things, right? And gotten through them. Vernon, too–compared to what he put together to shut Web Hubbell up, this was like nailing Dillinger for jaywalking. But that morning, the whole town picked up the Post, or turned on CNN, and said, ”Oh, the hell with it. Enough.”

See, up to then, what had kept people confused was that they thought they had to take sides. You know: were Bill and I crooks, or was Starr out to get us? Eenie, meenie, minie, mo. But that week, it finally dawned on everyone that they didn’t need to choose. Starr really was kind of a kook and a creep–and we really were scum, pretty much. End of story.

To tell the truth, I think a big part of what turned it all around was that guy [William] Ginsburg, Lewinsky’s attorney. He was good. He knew just how to play it. After six years of us and them, you turn on the TV, and there’s this peppery little guy who’s acting kind of sensible and decent, and pretty pissed off about what’s happening. I don’t know if it was the contrast or just the novelty, but if you ask me, that cooked our goose right there.

Monica? You know, I’m not sure I ever spoke to her, back in the White House. Maybe once: ”Gee, that’s a nice dress, where’d you get it? You know, a little club soda would probably take that right out, hon”–something like that.

But do you remember that first photograph of her–the one that was all over TV and the papers, back when the story first came out? I think about that picture a lot. That’s all it took to turn her into the biggest victim since they pulled Baby Jessica out of the well.

I mean, you saw Gennifer, and at least you could tell she knew how to take care of herself. Paula, too. Not to mention me. But there’s Monica–and she’s so excited, she’s so happy, she’s soooo stupid. My god–Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon?! That’s where they send the rich girls whose teddy bears outscore them on the SATs.

It’s that look she’s got. You know: Golly, here I am in Washington! Look at me–I’m working for the president! With that great big smile that’s too stupid to know it’s telling the world and Bill Clinton, ”Hi, I’m really gullible. Disillusion me.”

Funny, isn’t it–30 years of feminism couldn’t get that look off that girl’s face. Clarence Thomas couldn’t; Packwood couldn’t. I never had that look.

Sure, I felt bad for her. But I also knew that unless I was all wrong about how this country works, she’d be on the cover of Playboy before Al Gore’s hand was off the Bible.

I still can’t bring myself to say it: President Gore. And while you’re here–please, please, whatever you do, don’t call Al that in front of Bill. He’ll go into one of his tantrums. Then the only thing that calms him down is Vernon and me singing ”Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” We’re both pretty sick of it, to tell you the truth.

Dear, loyal, virtuous Al. Well–he sure didn’t waste much time getting them to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment once Air Force One came back empty, did he? Bill hadn’t been expecting that. He thought that he could just go on being president from here–for a while longer than we got to, anyway.

Well, he and Tipper are welcome to it. Now Mr. Starr’s investigating them. I guess Al thought he’d buy some time by giving Starr Cabinet rank, and that stupid title–Inquisitor-General of the United States–and letting him dress up in that silly uniform. I’d love to have seen the look on Al’s face the day Starr told him he wanted the vice presidency, and the hand of Al’s youngest daughter in marriage.

Not to mention how he looked when Tipper told him that had been her deal with Uncle Kenneth from the start.

Maybe this is going to sound crazy. But looking back, I just don’t think anybody ever really liked Bill and me very much. You tell me: does anyone miss us? That’s what I thought.

Well–I guess I’d better head on in. Take it from me: you wouldn’t believe how fast it gets cold here, the minute the sun goes down. Send Chelsea love. No, don’t say who it’s from. Just love. I’m sure she’ll understand.