NASHVILLE, AUG. 9 -- Recording industry representatives and record-labeling advocates like Tipper Gore are in agreement: Voluntary labeling of albums has eliminated the need for state legislation outlawing lewd lyrics.
Problem is, no one told the state legislators. When they got that word today, at their annual convention here, they were less than delighted.
"I think that when my forefathers wrote that First Amendment," said Kentucky state Rep. Paul Clark (D), "they never dreamed that the record industry would let someone say the F word. It's dangerous stuff we're talking about."
Clark tongue-lashed industry representatives attending a panel discussion at the National Conference of State Legislatures: "You people," he said, "are ruining our children."
Several of the legislators who have introduced their own unsuccessful record labeling bills this year, carrying criminal penalties for noncompliance, questioned the record industry's ability to police itself. They pointed out that the industry must rely on more, not fewer, record sales to survive.
Merely stamping the word "explicit" on an album cover, one legislator said, is not enough.
"We've had children who can't add 2 and 2, and you expect them to understand what 'explicit' means?" said Richard Finan (R), the assistant president pro tem of the Ohio state Senate. "I don't think you want them to."
Arizona state Sen. Jan Brewer (R) withdrew the labeling bill she sponsored this year when she heard of the record industry's voluntary labeling agreement. Now she's apparently having second thoughts. She said the agreement has given parents "a sense of false security."
"We're talking about right-out filth," said Brewer. "It's outrageous."
Industry spokesmen conceded there is a problem, but said it's being solved.
Ann Neal, a senior vice president of the Recording Industry Association of America, argued that standardized record labeling has put the onus of screening objectionable music on parents, where it belongs.
The "firestorm" of debate that has followed releases like those of the rap group 2 Live Crew, she said, has occurred as the industry was moving to solve the problem on its own.
She said objectionable lyrics are present on only a "minuscule percentage" of records released each year and that state laws would present a "serious constitutional problem."
"The industry is currently policing itself," she said. "And we ask that you let us do our job."
"Thirty years ago there was a fear over Elvis Presley and Little Richard," said William Wasserman, national field director of People for the American Way. "People raised on a different generation of music called it too loud, too fast, too vulgar. And a lot of these songs are now jukebox standards across the country."
Gore, whose Parents' Music Resource Center helped craft the voluntary agreement with the record industry and whose activities helped spur the first wave of labeling legislation five years ago, said freedom of expression must be protected.
The burden, however, should remain on the industry, not the government, she said.
"I think who makes that decision is extremely important, and it is incumbent on the industry to provide that information," she said.
"That responsibility and that enforcement needs to lie in the hand of the private citizen."
The legislators at today's session, however, expressed continuing concern that the problems and complaints they see and hear are not going away.
"We're at a point of not knowing what comes next," said Nevada Senate Majority Leader Willam J. Raggio (R). His Reno district is the site of an ongoing trial in which parents have filed a claim against a record company in the suicide deaths of their teenaged children because they listened to a hard rock album by the group Judas Priest.
"I think it would be unfair to say the music made them do it," Neal responded.
Most lawmakers, however, were skeptical of the industry representatives' response.
"The constitution does not indeed protect obscenity, and I would wonder how many of the people in this room know what is on the 2 Live Crew album and what people are upset about," said Jane Svoboda (D), a member of the Iowa General Assembly. "Now, if you haven't listened to those lyrics, you're not going to like it very well. Women should be appalled and marching in the streets for what that record suggests.
"Our kids are being damaged because of everything that we're protecting under the First Amendment."