The smell of new carpeting permeates the waiting room of the Back in Control Training Center. Norman Rockwell reproductions -- one of schoolchildren surprising their teacher on her birthday, another of love-struck teen-agers at a soda fountain -- adorn the walls. A circular table, covered by a homey, floor-length floral tablecloth, nestles in a corner.
All the way down the center hallway into a conference room, the new-carpet smell persists. The sense of nostalgia doesn't. In its place are vivid accounts, delivered by center director Greg Bodenhamer, of troubled children and bewildered parents. Some of the reports are, metaphorically speaking, set to music. The kind that comes with leather and spikes and studs and hints of Satanism. The kind that has been labeled heavy metal and punk rock.
Just minutes away from Disneyland, Anaheim Stadium and Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral, Back in Control is located in the upstairs office of an unobtrusive two-story professional building.
Its stairway appears well used, especially of late.
According to Bodenhamer, recent revelations in the press concerning Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez -- who reportedly was obsessed with "Night Prowler," a cut on the 1979 AC/DC album "Highway to Hell" -- have sent parents reaching for the telephone.
"We've received about 100 calls in the past few days," said Bodenhamer, who "absolutely" believes heavy metal music was a major influence in Ramirez's life and crimes. (To date, Ramirez has been charged in 14 killings in Los Angeles County and 54 other serious crimes in the same county, including sexual assaults, burglaries, robberies and kidnapings.)
"Ramirez took heavy metal to the literal extremes it talks about," Bodenhamer said.
When Bodenhamer cofounded Back in Control 10 years ago with his partner and the center's associate director Darlyne Pettinicchio, he had never heard of punk and metal. What he and Pettinicchio knew about, from firsthand experience as deputy probation officers, were kids in trouble. Specifically, kids on probation for criminal acts, including theft, drug use and drug sales.
In fact, less than 10 percent of the center's caseload involves youths caught up on the culture of heavy metal and punk music. "We've never made music an issue of what we do," Bodenhamer said. "It was the parents that brought it to our attention."
The parents, he said, brought in "punked-out" kids who were hostile and physically violent far beyond the typical alienation of adolescence. They were abusing and physically assaulting their parents and writing poems about parental murder.
Bodenhamer tried depriving them of their heavy metal music, and he says the youngsters changed. Now such deprivation is part of the Back in Control program.
"What we do is train the parents to train the kids to obey the parents' rules," Bodenhamer said. In other words, Back in Control teaches parents to say no.
That means kids hooked on heavy metal or punk must bid adieu to their Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Motley Cru e T-shirts, buttons, posters, albums and tapes. Said Bodenhamer, "Everything relating to the music goes -- friends, clothing, costumes, hair styles, the whole works. That includes phone contact with other heavy metal or punk fans."
Bodenhamer said it's a mandatory rule for the $225, four-week program, during which parents and kids attend counseling sessions together, usually with about four other families.
The program has its detractors, including Dr. Bruce Parsons, a clinical psychologist from Laguna Beach, Calif., who once debated Bodenhamer on a local radio program.
Said Parsons, "I have real problems with a program that says, 'You're only loved if you do what we want you to do.' And that's what Back in Control says.
"I also think we take too much [away] from our kids already. Does their music have to be taken as well? For a lot of these kids, whose problems stem from their parents and home lives, the music gives them a sense of identity."
Parsons said he has treated "three to four dozen" kids for whom Back in Control didn't work. "Their parents thought the program would provide a quick fix. But in most cases, problems run too deep to be solved in a few weeks of counseling."
In addition to the Orange office, which works with 500 to 600 families per year (many are referred to the center by police stations and juvenile probation officers), there are Back in Control offices in Riverside, Whittier and Pasadena, Calif. Another is opening in Pomona. Among the staff of 18 are nine "parent trainers," two marriage-family-child therapists and one clinical psychologist.
"Our business drops off to virtually nothing in the summer," Bodenhamer said. "Nobody's identifying problems at that time. You can't cut school if it's not in session . . . Then comes September."
That's when the truancy problems begin, and "that's when we start to see a big increase in referrals."
Back in Control suggests that parents personally accompany their truant-minded kids to and from school. "We ask them to take a couple of days off work, and walk with them from class to class." Bodenhamer smiled, adding, "About 80 percent of our truants never cut when they hear of that rule. And of those kids whose parents do go with them, about 95 percent quit cutting."
It's school that brings kids into contact with other kids -- and potential drug or alcohol abuse. And heavy metal and punk music.
"The number-one identifier for peers in high school and in junior high -- at least here in Southern California -- is the music they listen to," Bodenhamer said. "As recently as 10 years ago, the social groups on campuses were not identified by music. You had your jocks, your preppy types, your rednecks and various racial groups. There were separate groups unrelated to music.
"You go onto almost any high school campus today, and the groups are identified by their music. Punkers, Stoners, New Wavers. Even girls who dress like Madonna."
The musical identity results in instant peer rapport.
Bodenhamer believes heavy metal and punk music can become a criminal influence: "It's not that it takes a child and crazes him to where he can't think. What it does is essentially take away all the family values -- family love -- and destroys that."
To counter a reporter's look of disbelief, he noted that of the five Orange County kids who killed their parents in the past year, three were avid fans of heavy metal and punk (a fourth was "into the occult and Dungeons and Dragons").
Asked about the legions of Judas Priest and Scorpions fans who would never lay a finger on Mom and Dad, he said, "That's right, that's right. But, there is no way to know which child who starts to listen to the records will become a believer."
As for the shock value inherent in rock 'n' roll from its rebellious beginnings, he challenged: "Give me a drug song of the '50s. Give me a sex song of the '50s. There weren't any." Despite Elvis Presley's troubled personal life, Bodenhamer said, "the image he portrayed in his songs was essentially that of love and romance." The Beach Boys "have had problems with drugs and alcohol, but they haven't done songs promoting those things."
John Calodner, a talent scout with Geffen Records in Los Angeles, believes such talk is "silly." Calodner worked closely with the band AC/DC in the '70s, including its now notorious "Highway to Hell" album.
"I never saw them attempt to put any of the meanings into their lyrics now attributed to them," he said. "If you met the people involved with that album, you'd be laughing . . . They were all so straight! What people fail to realize is that the level of violence and general bad behavior so much a part of the concert scene in the '70s has diminished."
To hear Bodenhamer tell it, heavy metal and punk music promote what is, in essence, a "life style -- a belief in sex, a belief in drugs and booze, a belief in nobody telling you what to do. A belief in living your life the way you want to, just like the bands say they do . . ."
The warning signs aren't hard to detect, he added.
"Oh, it's real easy. His -- or her -- attitude is the giveaway. You take a kid who's been a regular normal kid. And all of a sudden, their whole being is filled with heavy metal."
Such as? "The clothing, the jewelry, the graffiti. The symbols of heavy metal -- like writing upside-down crosses, drawing pentagrams and writing 'Ozzy' [Osbourne, of Black Sabbath] with a devil's tail on the 'o'."
Some kids, said Bodenhamer, might even dabble in Satanism. "For most of the kids, it's doing stuff they can find in any bookstore. It doesn't usually involve killing anything. Instead, they'll poke a finger to get some blood out. And they'll do hexes and little rituals with pentagrams and candles."
There are also extreme cases, Bodenhamer said, referring to kids who might kill and mutilate small animals.
Bodenhamer was quick to add that, despite all their startling theatrics, "with very few exceptions" he doesn't think that the members of heavy metal and punk bands are into Satanism. "They are performers, delivering an act. But the kids don't know that."
A 16-year-old named Bobby introduced Bodenhamer and Pettinicchio to punk music.
Brought to Back in Control six years ago by his widowed mother, he was on probation for burglary. Bobby was also a drug user who sometimes physically assaulted his mother.
"This boy was beating the hell out of her," Bodenhamer said. "On two occasions he held a kitchen knife to her throat until she gave him money from her purse. Then there were the times that he slugged her."
When Bodenhamer and Pettinicchio squared off against Bobby, what they found, Bodenhamer recalled, was "a violent, angry, hostile kid."
"Bobby was unlike any kid we'd ever seen. Not because of his appearance, which was definitely 'punked out,' but because of his defiant attitude.
"One frequently expects juvenile delinquents to be defiant. But he was way beyond the norm. You'd say 'hi' to him and get 'screw you' back. This kid was hostile."
While Bobby's mother went through "the basics" of Back in Control, as well as a suggested judo course, Bodenhamer and Pettinicchio found themselves wondering if the punk music he listened to hadn't played a decisive role in his life.
"Then, about three weeks after we first saw Bobby, we saw our second 'punk,' " recalled Bodenhamer. This time it was a girl, "but with that same, defiant 'screw-you' attitude. That was the commonality we saw."
"We talked about it, and what we finally decided on was to see if taking it all the way worked."
According to Bodenhamer, 2 1/2 to three months after participating in Back in Control, the punks underwent a change. "The anger was gone. The defiance was gone."
"Have you ever read the ads in the back pages of those heavy metal magazines?" asked Marge Smith (not her real name). She said she and her husband John had never bothered to read the magazines their children brought home. "And we didn't pay any attention to the songs they were listening to. When we finally did -- well, we were floored."
The Smiths have two children in Back in Control -- a son, 15, and a daughter, 16. "Yes, they're pretty mad about it," admitted Marge, who described how she and her husband "raided" their kids' rooms, destroying records and ripping down heavy metal decorations.
They came to the decision that the music was harmful after they found their daughter, on numerous occasions, curled trancelike in a fetal position on her bedroom floor, listening to the pounding music.
And then there was the time their son, who previously had been arrested for theft and had a history of running away, purposely slashed his arm with a knife. "He had gotten to the point where he'd just sit and watch videos all day long," Marge said.
Participants in Back in Control since August, Marge's children still balk at the family's stringent new rules. Admitted Marge, "It's going to be a rough ride, but I'm determined to make this work. This is it. And it all comes down to common sense. In our house, that means no more heavy metal."
The new household rule does not please son Greg.
"Hey, I still like my music, and I always will," he said.
No longer able to listen to radio stations that specialize in playing heavy metal, he now keeps his dial on rock-oriented stations.
Nor does he get to wear heavy metal attire. ("But I never really did that anyway -- I always just dressed like myself.") And he can only wear stud earrings, as opposed to the dangling variety, in the two pierced holes in his left ear.
He said he doesn't hold "a major grudge" against his parents for putting him in the program, but he also insisted that heavy metal wasn't ruining his life. ("And that time I cut myself, well, that was just something that happened. And now my mom, she's obsessed with this thing about the music making me do it. That's ridiculous.")
At first reluctant to discuss his feelings about Back in Control ("You're a grown-up, so I don't know if you'll understand me"), he admitted that the program has had at least one major benefit: "My grades are a little better." In fact, where he was once getting Fs, he is now looking forward to a report card of Bs, Cs and "maybe even an A in Spanish." Back in Control asks that students get daily assignment sheets signed by their teachers, to be presented to parents nightly. "I guess those sheets work. I do do my homework," Greg said.
Without skipping a beat, he added, speaking about the program, "Basically, I think it's a waste of time, really. Because nothing's going to take the music away from me."