Tomorrow was to have been the day the 2 Live Crew came to cable in a pay-per-view special titled "Banned in the USA." But the concert was canceled late last week, a victim less of banishment than apathy. The last-straw reason proffered by the producers, Los Angeles' Choice Entertainment, was that after the Crew failed to show up for a scheduled promotion, "We couldn't assure our subscribers that they were going to have a show," said Lisa Phillips, president of Choice. But the event had been in trouble from the start. For one thing, from an original estimated potential subscription base of 14 million homes, the number had dwindled to fewer than 3 million after most of the major subscriber services around the country passed on the event. And the reaction in the remaining markets was, according to one industry source, as dismal as it has been at many stops on the Crew's recent concert tour.

They drew only 250 people to the 9:30 club last month and sold only 200 tickets at Long Island's 3,000-seat Westbury Music Fair; that concert was canceled, as others have been because of poor ticket sales . The two-hour cable concert would have cost $19.95, but those who saw the Crew at the 9:30 noted that not only were they a terrible live act but they also had trouble coming up with even an hour's worth of material. Even the relative advantages of seeing the group live -- proximity to a bawdy stage show and audience participation -- are not adaptable to television.

At one point, Miami attorney Jack Thompson, who initially persuaded Florida Gov. Bob Martinez to investigate the content of the Crew's music and thus set off the whole fiasco, was supposed to engage in a pre-concert debate with Danny Goldberg, a record industry vet who heads the California chapter of the ACLU and founded the Musical Majority to answer attacks on rock lyrics; viewers could then call a 900 number to express their support for Thompson or Goldberg. That fell through. Then distaff nasty rappers HWA (Hoes Wit Attitude) were added as a last-minute opening act, with plans for their own 900 number (a percentage of the revenues from the charge for the calls was to go to families of victims of fatal drive-by shootings). Even that didn't help, and the Crew's failure to show up to promote the show provided the producers a convenient out of this increasingly surreal maze.

Through all of this, the record industry has offered 2 Live Crew little support beyond lip service. Record industry officials have been defending free speech while distancing themselves from 2 Live Crew (including disgruntled female staffers at Atlantic Records, which picked up the "Banned" album for distribution, and employees at a major publicity firm hired to manage the mess). Maybe the tide of interest is turning, as it seems to be with foul-mouthed comedian Andrew Dice Clay: Variety recently reported that the Fox studio was undoing deals with Clay, removing him from starring roles and generally seeking to distance itself from him.

Ratings War

Still, issues of free speech and free publicity will shape pop politics for some time, sometimes in minor ways. For instance, Los Angeles' Quality Records yesterday challenged a temporary restraining order granted to the Motion Picture Association of America preventing teen rappers PG-13 from distributing their "Rolling' Wit Da PG" album because "PG" and "PG-13" are MPAA trademarks. The order, issued Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court, also prevents the rap trio from performing under the name, even though they have been using it for more than two years. Those wondering why the MPAA never went after the Los Angeles punk band X should remember that when it set up its ratings system in 1967, the association did not trademark the X category, abandoning it to pornographers who quickly tripled it for maximum effect, thus leading to the recent ratings brouhaha that forced yet another rating NC-17 (and you can bet it's trademarked).

Pulse of the Public

What is the public mood on music censorship? A recent national telephone poll of 1,500 people by the Charlottesville-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Speech found that 90 percent believed the government should not tell people what views to express (or how to vote), though 42 percent felt the government has a right to ban the sale of records with sexually explicit lyrics and 55 percent supported banning the broadcast of songs with sexually explicit lyrics (already effective because of Federal Communications Commission regulations). Additionally, 84 percent felt the government should require labels on records with explicit lyrics. Also, 40 percent didn't think the First Amendment protects arts and artists.

Locally, a poll of 300 Washington-area adults by Widener-Burrows & Associates found that 65 percent felt that musicians and singers have the right to use profanity and sexually explicit language in their music (with younger respondents much more liberal than the over-55 crew, almost half of whom felt that musicians should be denied an absolute right to say what they please in their performances). Almost 60 percent felt that a rating system similar to the MPAA's should be implemented to flag excessively violent, profane or sexual recordings and restrict their purchase by minors. Finally, a telephone poll of Ladies' Home Journal readers, taken before the recent 2 Live Crew acquittal, found that a slight majority (226 to 211) thought the case never should have gone to trial.