While waiting for Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer to either sign or veto that state's recently passed mandatory record labeling bill (he's expected to decide by Thursday), members of the music industry have been testing various tactics. Last week, some record dealers offered to sign a pledge not to sell records with explicit lyrics to minors if they carry the Recording Industry Association of America's voluntary parental advisory, or any other sticker imposed by a record label or artist. Since this undermines the voluntary labeling system, the move has not sat well with some of the organizations trying to persuade Roemer to veto the bill outright.
On the economic boycott front, where the RIAA, the National Academy of Recordings Arts and Sciences and the National Association of Independent Record Distributors have previously indicated they would move events out of Louisiana if the bill is signed into law, a number of artists have indicated they would refuse to play, including Sting, Don Henley, Melissa Etheridge, Oingo Boingo and the Neville Brothers (who, of course, live in Louisiana). The North American Concert Promoters Association has also announced it would cancel its semiannual convention, scheduled for Oct. 5 in New Orleans, if the bill is signed. Carl Freed, the organization's executive director, said "a handful of Louisiana politicians will inflict economic chaos on their state and constituents in order to satisfy shrill voices on the fringe, and place Louisiana's greatest natural resource, music, in jeopardy. If this bill becomes law, concert promoters, recording artists and community retailers will be driven out of business. They are being made scapegoats by soap box politicians."
In a letter to Roemer, RIAA President Jay Berman outlined the overall economic impact of the bill, suggesting it could be immediate in terms of the availability and cost of recordings to Louisiana consumers. According to Berman, the bill -- which requires labeling of records that "promote or have as a central theme" substance abuse, violence, ritualistic acts or certain kinds of sexual behavior -- doesn't provide clear guidelines for compliance, which could lead to extreme conservatism on the part of retailers. For instance, manufacturers, producers and distributors (in and outside of Louisiana) would be liable for fines of up to $5,000 for each recording sold, or even offered for sale, that a Louisiana judge, policeman or consumer believes should have been labeled but wasn't. Such risks could lead companies to refuse to sell their product in the state, or to label all their releases, thus undermining the advisory nature of the bill. And since retailers will likely err on the side of caution, they won't be likely to carry as large a range of recordings as they do now, and could even place many recordings in country and opera -- which deal with some of the "taboo" topics -- off limits to minors. "The right of Louisiana consumers to have access to the full range of recorded music will be sorely curtailed," Berman wrote, adding that manufacturers and distributors operate nationally and that the new bill would require a separate, more expensive, inventory and distribution system, with costs passed on to Louisiana consumers.
Finally, Berman noted that should Roemer sign the bill, it will irreparably damage the state's reputation as being receptive to "diverse cultural traditions and a haven for musical creativity. ... Its native artists are world renowned and it is viewed as a desired stop on any artist's or music organization's tour. This legislation is viewed by the music community as hostile to artistic expression. ... The chilling effect of this legislation could mean the loss of very profitable music conventions, festivals, and concerts resulting in a loss to the music, tourism and trade industries of Louisiana."
Drumming Up the Vote Last week a number of music industry activists met in Los Angeles to map out plans for a major voter registration drive directed at young record buyers and concert-goers. The meeting was put together by Virgin Records, which recently announced that it would sticker new releases with an anti-censorship message. The sticker, which begins with a First Amendment quotation, says: "The First Amendment gives you the right to choose what you hear, what you say and what you think. CENSORSHIP IS UNAMERICAN. Don't let anyone take away that right. Raise your political voice. Register to vote." One of the attendees was Charlotte Conway, representing North Carolina senatorial candidate Harvey Gant, who will oppose incumbent Jesse Helms. At the New Music Seminar in New York this week, a number of speakers urged the music industry to throw its full support behind Gant in his efforts to unseat Helms, who, besides his attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts, is also responsible for the FCC's recent turnaround on indecent broadcasts.
The Rise and Reissue of Bowie's 'Ziggy' As CD technology continues to improve, many consumers have noticed differences between reissues of major albums, depending on when they were manufactured. For instance, the original CD version of David Bowie's 1972 classic "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars" was released by RCA in 1984 and is now something of a collector's item, since it was only on the market for six months before Bowie's RCA contract ended and the rights reverted to him; unfortunately, RCA's CD left much to be desired on the audiophile end. Now Rykodisc has rereleased "Ziggy" in an upgraded, digitally remastered version that includes five bonus tracks and sounds oh-so-much better.
It's all part of Rykodisc's ongoing Bowie "Sound + Vision" catalogue reissue program, which this week saw the release of "Aladdin Sane" and "Pin-Ups." Besides the standard "Ziggy" CD, there is a deluxe limited-edition CD with a 72-page book tracing Ziggy's sordid history, and a limited-edition clear virgin vinyl LP that comes with a single-sided bonus record for the five new tracks. Ever adventurous, Rykodisc has announced a special program in which American consumers can exchange their RCA CD for the Rykodisc version for free. Write to Ziggy Stardust CD Upgrade, Rykodisc USA, Pickering Wharf, Bldg. C-3G, Salem, Mass. 01970; allow four to six weeks for delivery, and remember that the deal does not apply to albums, cassettes or, heaven forbid, eight-tracks.
Bowie is opening a two-night stand at the Merriweather Post Pavilion tonight on what he's been calling his greatest hits tour, with fans deciding which of the hits they want to hear. Those who miss these shows can catch a 2 1/2-hour performance live from Milton Keynes, England, on Sunday, Aug. 5, via the Westwood One network.