When Tony Carnesi, a 34-year-old singer-songwriter living in Alexandria, heard about the Tylenol poisonings, he felt he had to do something.
So he wrote a song.
And then he made 475 tapes of "Madman in Chicago," and sent them out to 475 radio stations all around the country. As of yesterday, only two stations had played it. But lots of people were talking about it.
"I wouldn't have done it if I thought it was in poor taste," said Carnesi yesterday of the criticism that has been pouring in. "People have been been terrified by what's going on, and it just keeps growing, it seems. We wanted the song to be played. We thought it was a good tune. We just wanted people to hear it. The response we got wasn't anticipated at all. Now I'm just trying to explain to people why I wrote the tune, what was on my mind when I did it."
In San Francisco, after radio station KCBS played it, public reaction was so strong the management barred it from being played there again.
In Manahawkin, N.J., radio station WJRZ said yesterday the song was played there during a talk show.
"We had to expand into a two-hour program because of the controversy," said WJRZ news director Art Sarnoski, who hosted the call-in show Monday morning. "The calls went probably 80 percent against the song for all types of reasons.
"About 20 percent felt the record and composer didn't condone the Tylenol tragedy, which they didn't," Sarnoski said. He added that the smaller percentage felt that "in a free society it should have a chance to be played."
Carnesi wrote the song two weeks ago in the wake of the Tylenol poisonings and recorded it with his band Rio in Washington's No Evil Recording Studio several days later.
Some stations have used portions of the song as a news item, but most seem to be refusing to play it. The song, which does not mention Tylenol by name, has much of the tension of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Ohio," written after the Kent State shootings 12 years ago.
Carnesi said last night that he sent the recording to five Washington-area stations but that "they thought it was in poor taste: At least that was the response from one station. I asked why and they said because it dealt with the Tylenol issue.
"I said I know that but that doesn't necessarily mean it's in poor taste. The program director said it was just too hot to do a tune on it right now, which I don't agree with. Songwriters ought to be able to say something about what's going on."
Carnesi said he has never before responded to an issue with a topical song. He said that while he is hoping to interest a record label in releasing "Madman in Chicago," he doesn't expect to make any money from his tapes.
Madman in Chicago put the poison in the pill
And terror in the hearts of those he didn't kill
Madman in Chicago took seven lives away
And when the children ask us why what will their parents say
That a madman in Chicago has his finger on our fate
Into this world that's on the edge he injects his dose of hate
(refrain) Madman killer on the loose
I wonder what's going on inside your head
Madman kills without excuse
Touched seven lives and now those lives are dead
Madman in Chicago do you think that he'll be found
He's done his work, shown others how
To spread this sickness around
Madman in Chicago so ruthless and so sly
The spirit of justice cries in vain
There'll be no eye for eye
As the victims ingested poison
That quickly took its toll
Now the survivors take their dose of fear
The cyanide of the soul.