David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 2 — Free Speech

Free Speech

• During the McCarthy era, free speech was frowned upon — unless your free speech consisted of saying things no more controversial than this: “I love my mother.” African-American entertainer Paul Robeson used his First Amendment right of free speech to point out that at the time the Soviet Union was the only country that had made racial discrimination illegal, and as a result haters of free speech called him a Communist. Mr. Robeson was supposed to sing in Peerskill, New York, but he was not allowed to; instead, a mob called him “Commie” and shouted racial epithets at him. In addition, they beat up his crewmembers and destroyed his sound equipment. Eventually, his concert was rescheduled, and he sang — protected by 1,500 members of a New York union. Mr. Robeson sang well, but the protection by union members was necessary. A mob had gathered and threw rocks at cars as the audience left the concert. Folksinger Pete Seeger attended the concert, and several rocks hit his car. He picked up three rocks and cemented them to his fireplace as a memento of the concert.

• The record album cover for Nirvana’s Nevermind features a 4-month-old baby named Spencer Eldon swimming underwater. The baby’s penis is clearly visible, a fact that made the record company uncomfortable enough to want this particular piece of anatomy airbrushed out. Nirvana composer/singer Kurt Cobain suggested instead that the record company let the photograph remain untouched and instead put this warning label on the cover: “If you’re offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile.” The record company let the photograph remain untouched. By the way, Spencer’s father joked about his son, “He did what David Bowie and the Rolling Stones could never do: full frontal nudity.” (And when Spencer received a platinum record award due to the album’s success, his father hung it in Spencer’s room.)

• Country musicians are known for their use of free speech — on both sides of the issues. For example, in 1992 Toby Keith wrote an American fighting song with the lyric “we’ll put a boot in your *ss, it’s the American way.” In contrast, Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, a band from Texas, considered Mr. Keith’s song “ignorant,” opposed President George W. Bush, and even said in a concert in London in 2003 shortly before the second war in Iraq, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” Mr. Keith responded to the remark by performing in front of a huge faked photograph that purported to show Ms. Maines embracing Saddam Hussein. Ms. Maines responded to T.K.’s action by wearing a T-shirt at a music-awards ceremony — the T-shirt displayed the initials “F.U.T.K.”

• Because of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which became law in 2005, the Federal Communications Commission can now levy fines of up to $325,000 per violation. What kind of violation? The violations include offending viewers because of indecency. This law has led to very strange things as a result of fear of very heavy fines. For example, British singer Amy Winehouse has on her arm a tattoo of a topless woman. Before she performed on the 2008 televised Grammy Awards, the producers asked her to cover up the nipples of the tattoo. Ms. Winehouse used a ballpoint pen to draw a bra on the tattoo. (Something tells me that Ms. Winehouse was simply being polite and that she does not regard female nipples as indecent.)

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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