Amid the furor raised by the Washington-based Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) over what it considers objectionable rock lyrics, some people wondered where the PMRC stood on country music lyrics, particularly since the husband of Tipper Gore, a key PMRC official, also happens to be a senator from Tennessee -- the heart of country music. When musician Frank Zappa testified on Capitol Hill recently, his statement suggested a bit of Nashville protectionism.
"Shouldn't the ladies be warning everyone that inside those country albums with the American flags, the big truck and the atomic pompadours there lurks a fascinating variety of songs about sex, violence, alcohol and the Devil, recorded in a way that lets you hear every word, sung for you by people who have been to prison and are proud of it? . . .
" The PMRC proposals would have the effect of providing more security for cowboys than it does for children," he said.
"That's not true at all," says Tipper Gore. "From the beginning, we've said, 'If the shoe fits, wear it for anything.' We've talked about rock music because that's where the excesses exist, and also for a logical reason: it's not that we're avoiding any other genre, but because rock's the music that's most appealing to the young, and to younger and younger kids. That's the reason it looks like we've been targeting rock music. We have, in that sense. But country music has explicit lyrics, too, though I don't think they have the violence or any of these other things to quite the degree that we've talked about."
Gore says she talked to label heads in Nashville over the summer, explaining the PMRC's goals and objectives and, she says, eliciting a pledge from Country Music Association President Jo Walker-Meador that "if anything's labeled, country will go along with it, too."
"We don't have the cleanest lyrics in the world, but it's never been a real big problem," says Walker-Meador. "There's a little bit of drinking, and cheating and making love in our songs, a reflection of life in general, but not to the point of the violence and explicit language in rock ."
"When asked, I always say ratings would apply to any music," Gore points out. No New Agreement on Lyrics
A joint PMRC/PTA press conference scheduled for last week was called off at the last minute amid rumors that the parents groups and the Recording Industry Association of America had an agreement in principle on several key issues, including new wording on a generic warning sticker (the RIAA's proposed "Parental Guidance -- Explicit Lyrics" was deemed too tame) and an alternative plan for record labels refusing to place warnings on potentially offensive albums. Gore had no comment about the group of labels, which include majors like MCA and A&M, that have now indicated they will not participate in any labeling process, or about any of the other major points still under discussion.
"Once there is agreement made, then we will make an announcement," Gore says. "There are still some fine points we are talking about in many different areas. I'm optimisitic there will be an agreement in the future, I just don't know how near it is." A Wammies Post-Mortem
Now that the self-congratulatory good spirits engendered by the first Washington Area Music Awards -- the Wammies -- have simmered down, the criticism has started to mount. Many people agree there were far too many awards, and that nominees should be chosen by a professional panel of peers, rather than by public ballot. There also have been charges of cronyism, racism and elitism. As a result, says Mike Jaworek of the Washington Area Music Association board, "there will be some changes next year in such areas as voting procedures, category headings and tightening the length of the program."
There are two major areas of concern. The first revolves around the domination by the bar band Downtown, which copped seven Wammies. Downtown, a '60s-style R&B band popular on the singles circuit, has admitted that it used its large mailing list to send fans sample ballots marked in the appropriate categories. There's no rule against what could be described as clever electioneering, but the WAMA board doesn't want the Wammies to become a popularity contest.
The other concern, and a more serious one, has to do with the Wammies' inability to reach the city's black musicians and communities. WPFW blues deejay Bill Barlow, a presenter at the ceremony, has since charged that "the black and Third World communities -- jazz, blues, R&B, gospel, reggae, salsa, et cetera -- were systematically short-changed, at times ignored and even insulted."
"We were basically ignored by the black community in Washington," counters WAMA's Mike Schreibman. "We made a strong effort to reach out and have participation from every part of the Washington music community and the only involvement we had from much of the black community was after the event, when people started complaining."
Ballots were available primarily through the yuppie-ish City Paper, which has little reach into the city's black neighborhoods, and the subsequent voting certainly reflected a white (and a younger-generation) bias. A WAMA official indicated that the group will be enlisting a local black public relations firm to address the problem. WAMA should consider a similar outreach to the blue-collar suburban constituency that apparently was left out of the voting as well. AIDS Aid: Benefiting Research
Dionne Warwick's "That's What Friends Are For," written by Stevie Wonder and featuring the voices of Wonder, Warwick, Gladys Knight and Elton John, will be released by Arista a week from Friday, with proceeds from the sale of the record and a video now in production going to the National AIDS Research Foundation, chaired by Elizabeth Taylor.
Already out is "Respect Yourself," a rap single produced with a grant from the U.S. Conference of Mayors by the Philadelphia chapter of Black and White Men Together, a gay activist organization, and the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force. The record, which features a tough but upbeat message on the need to take appropriate health precautions, is targeted to teen and young adult black and Hispanic audiences.