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So to Speak podcast transcript: Sex, drugs, and free speech
Note: This is an unedited rush transcript. Please check any quotations against the audio recording.
Nico Perrino: Welcome back to So to Speak, the Free Speech Podcast, where every other week we take an uncensored look at the world of free expression through personal stories and candid conversations. I am, as always, your host, Nico Perrino, and today we're going to be talking about music censorship, transgression. There's been some thoughts that I've been having recently. Some people who follow FIRE very closely might have seen the new video series that we have out with Spin magazine called Free Speech and Other Dirty Words, where we interview popular musical artists about their careers and about their run-ins with censorship.
And we were collaborating with Spin on this program and we’re asked to kind of come up with a list of artists that we'd want to interview. I asked the staff, we got the list back, we put it into a spreadsheet. And one thing stood out to me. They happened to be artists who were most popular two or more decades ago. Now, FIRE staff is fairly young, right? But I did give them the advice or the requirement that we need to have known that they are interested in these topics before, that they have said something about it before. And so the question came into my mind, like, why did we get all of these older artists being recommended?
I asked myself, well, is it because music censorship isn't really a thing anymore? It isn't a thing that artists feel like they need to talk about it anymore? Or is it because free speech, artistic expression, these are concepts that have become polarized in our ever-polarizing times? Or is it something different? Is it that maybe musical artists aren't singing Like a Virgin on the radio anymore like Madonna did? Or saying, we're not going to take it anymore? If you can see for my viewers out there, you can see I've got this T-shirt on that says, censorship, we're not going to take it, which is an homage, of course, to Dee Snyder's 1980s song.
Maybe musical transgression isn't a thing anymore. Maybe we're more talking about self-empowerment, like Katy Perry's, Firework, I don't know. But I do know two people who might have some thoughts on this, and I thought I would invite them on the podcast to kind of talk about the current era of music transgression. Is sex, drugs, and rock and roll still a thing? Or is that something that's going to get you canceled now? To talk about how radio stations, for example, are banning certain songs from being played on their own volition, not being told by people on the outside to do it, including one famous Christmas song.
So, one of our guests today is Bob Guccione Jr. He is the founder of the music publication Spin. And I actually met Bob down in Austin at South by Southwest, and he regaled this little salon that we were having with Killer Mike the Rapper and other music professionals with his stories from the 1980s, fighting the Parents Music Resource Center on set, in some cases with Oprah Winfrey.
Bob Guccione Jr: Yeah.
Nico Perrino: So, I thought he was the perfect guy to come on the show. Bob, welcome.
Bob Guccione Jr: Thank you so much. Thank you. I'm going to just quickly answer your questions before we lose your question.
Nico Perrino: Can I get Nick introduced first?
Bob Guccione Jr: Oh, please. Yeah. No. Absolutely. Yeah.
Nico Perrino: And I needed to get Nick Gillespie, who I'm sure is –
Bob Guccione Jr: Sorry Nick.
Nico Perrino: Yeah. It's okay, Nick. We apologize. Bob's just ready to get into it.
Nick Gillespie: I, too, am ready to roll.
Nico Perrino: But Nick is going to be familiar to many of our listeners. He's editor at large at Regent magazine and in my personal opinion, one of the most astute observers of pop culture. Nick, I was listening to your recent interviews when I was in college and just kind of the you do what Virginia Postrel used to talk about it's like you were like a DJ, you mix in all these different areas from culture and philosophy and politics and managed to kind of come up with something new and insightful in a way that many other kind of leading thinkers out there don't.
And I heard you on Eli Lake's podcast last year in which you did a deep dive with him into the history of punk music. And I was like, this is the guy. If I want to talk about music, censorship, transgression, there's a lot of intersections with punk rock there. I need to get Nick Gillespie on the show. So, Nick, I'm happy to have you on the show. Welcome.
Nick Gillespie: Thank you. It's a real pleasure and an honor. And it's a fantastic honor as well to be bigfooted by Bob Guccione Jr. ‘Cause I’m a huge Spin fan. And between Rolling Stone and Spin and a couple of other magazines, that's where the action was when I was younger. So, it's an incredible honor. Thanks.
Bob Guccione Jr: Thank you so much. There was a lot of action in those days that's missing a lot today.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah.
Bob Guccione Jr: I wanted to make a comment, perhaps uneducated, but just comment anyway about the transgression in music today. First of all, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Sex and drugs are with us. I'm not sure rock and roll is with us. I interviewed Steven Van Zandt a year and a half ago, and he said, “Rock and roll is dead. I mean, you can go hear it live, but no one's making it.” And I thought that was kind of astute, actually, to a great degree, he's right. Not a complete degree, but to a great degree.
And I think the notion of transgression in music, I just don't think we shock anymore. We probably all remember The Ghetto Boys. The Ghetto Boys was truly shocking because in context, go back to those years, the early 90s, no one had ever talked about these things. I mean, we had just had American Psycho, the book, which was similar in the way it was about mutilating corpses and mutilating women and complete misogyny, complete violence, and terrible. There was a book, and you're kind of like, “Okay, literature is literature.”
But music, a record that people put on in their home maybe while having dinner, no one had heard this before. And just for that 2 Live Crew was considered incredibly shocking. Now all utterly protected Free speech, by the way. As you remember from Austin, I talked a lot about free speech. Hate speech is protected speech, by the way, and should be. And it should be. We should flush it out like bad toxins. We should be able to flush it out of our system.
Nico Perrino: If you can define it. Right?
Bob Guccione Jr: I think we can all define hate speech. Whatever's hateful is probably hate speech. But the thing is, people don't realize there's a lot of forms of speech that aren't protected. Free speech is not a blank check. There are 17 forms because some people say it's less because lying to a law enforcement, federal law enforcement, is not protected. Lying in the IRS statement is not protected. There are unprotected forms of speech, but hate speech is not one of them. But we don't have the ability to be shocked as much as we were. And I'm not so sure there's much censorship happening in music per se, except for self-censorship from political correctness where people are afraid to say anything. No one's going to criticize a fat person.
Nick Gillespie: If I can pick up on that and extend it into the conversation about transgression, I would argue sex, drugs, and rock and roll no longer exist, particularly for younger people. They're not having sex the way that people used to. The drugs they take, by and large, are in order. They're mood stabilizers. They are not intoxicants. You don't take drugs to obliterate yourself and either touch the face of God, zooming out there past Pluto, which isn't even a planet anymore. You're doing it so you're not overwhelmed with anxiety so you can get out of bed in the morning. Right?
And then I agree completely with what Bob was saying and what little Stevie was saying Rock and roll had become this thing, it started in the mid-50s. By the mid-60s, it had evolved into this incredibly robust and varied kind of form of expression which continued for at least another 20 years. But it's not the main mode of popular music-making anymore. It really is rap or hip hop or something like that, which has also gone through this incredible baroque renaissance and a profusion of styles, and that's the backdrop.
So, on a very basic level, I would say sex, drugs and rock and roll are dead. Some of that I lament, the passing of, others, it's a sign of progress. I say this as somebody who loves rock and roll. I grew up with it. It's what speaks to me. I don't understand hip-hop in the same way. I have two sons who are 29 and 21, in the way my parents had no fucking idea who the Beatles were, I really don't understand most of the people they're listening to. That's great. I mean, that's just the way things work. When it comes to transgression, I think we're transgressing less. There's no top-down censorship the way there used to be.
There aren't six or seven record labels. There aren't three networks. There isn't a series of law enforcement people who can really stamp things down or choke off cultural commerce and the dissemination and distribution of product. Everything is better because all of us can consume and produce culture on our own terms in ways that were unimaginable 20 years ago, much less 50 years ago. But to get to Bob's point, so it's hard to transgress. When Sam Smith at the Grammys came out, as in the 70s, we used to talk about Fat Elvis and Skinny Elvis. Now we can talk about Fat Satan and Skinny Satan. The Skinny Satanic rockers of the 70s are gone, and we have a chubby guy doing a kind of satiric version of Satanism. It can be fun or what, but it's certainly not transgressive because everything is permissible.
We live in Aleister Crowley's magical universe, and that's a real triumph, I think, for liberty and individual freedom and expression. But now it raises this problem that Bob was getting at, which is about self-censorship, and that is really hard to combat, even if it is in some profound way an artifact of a massive increase in our abilities to express ourselves.
Bob Guccione Jr: So, it's Talibanic. Nico is right. It's Talibanic. It's the exact same thing. The public square is social media. You are stoned to death if you say something that is not the ascribed ideology of the times. And so most people don't want to do it. I personally could care less. I'll say whatever I want to say and I invite anybody to address it and debate me anytime, anywhere, but it's because I grew up like that in that spirit. But frankly, most people don't want to have those debates. They don't want to be attacked, they don't want to be singled out on social media.
They want the opposite. They want to be praised. So, we have virtue singling. We have, as you alluded to Nico, the Christmas song, Baby It's Cold Outside, which for 50 years, the lifespan of a middle-aged lifespan no one ever, ever once thought that song was about date raping. Somebody invented that to virtual signal and now, of course, he's the great “Celeb,” and it's pulled and it's redone by that idiot John Legend, who is clearly playing for the balcony. So, I mean, this is the kind of the crazy thing for liberals like me is that we're shooting ourselves in the foot and we when run out of bullets, we ask for more.
Nico Perrino: Hey, Bob, can I push back on some of the points you made earlier where you said –
Bob Guccione Jr: No, no. I’m sorry. This is free speech.
Nico Perrino: You invited debate, so I’m going to give it to you. So, I grew up I was in a metal band. Some of our listeners might know this I talked about before. I was in a metal band in high school called Angel Fire. We had, like, a little kind of record deal. Yeah, it was in I think a town in Arizona that one of my band mates drove through one time, or might be New Mexico, I forget. And he thought, “Yeah, this is a real metal name.” And we were a death metal band, right? Swedish death metal so it's a little bit more melodic. You scream the verses, and sing the choruses.
But I grew up like idolizing metal music, Metallica and then you get into more niche artists that many of our listeners won't be familiar with like Children of Bodham in flames, up there they burn churches and stuff. That's what they did. But I grew up reading, like, Motley Crue’s The Dirt or the biographies of Led Zeppelin, or the Memoirs of Aerosmith, and holy shit, the stuff that they did and they admit to doing, I just could not see being done by artists today. You do not hear about that sort of stuff.
And they were often criticized, but they had this devil may care, I don't give a fuck attitude about it. Now you have Beyonce, who uses the word spaz a number of times in her songs, and it's accused of being ablest. I mean, I don't even know I didn't know that it had those connotations, and I don't think Beyonce did either. So, the disability community came after her and then she removed the songs from her lyrics. The same exact thing happened with Lizzo when they removed spaz. I have a hard time believing that rock and roll artists or transgressive artists would have done that in the past.
And you talk about Baby it's Cold Outside –
Bob Guccione Jr: No, they would not have taken that [inaudible] [00:14:22]
Nico Perrino: So, the use of the word spaz to these people is shocking in the same way. For example, Like a Virgin was shocking and Little Nikki, the Prince song was shocking to people. It's just a different sort of shocking.
Nick Gillespie: Darling Nikki. Yeah.
Nico Perrino: Darling Nikki, excuse me. It's just a different sort of shocking. And so it plays against kind of the mood of the moment. And we have a conversation right now about consent. So, then you look at songs like Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, which got banned at over 20 universities in the UK, which Robin Thicke likes to say, it's not about consent –
Nick Gillespie: That it's about plagiarism. Right?
Nico Perrino: Yeah. Right?
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, which is also the ultimate rock and roll tradition. I mean, there are, like, three songs that get endlessly repurposed.
Nico Perrino: Yeah. And then Baby It's Cold Outside, I'm looking at the lyrics here it says, “My mother will start to worry. Beautiful, what's your hurry? My father will be pacing the floor.” I could see how if you're looking to be offended, you can find offense in that song you could say, this is a song about consent or date rape. This reminds me of the great Christopher Hitchens anecdote about the lexicographer Samuel Johnson. Samuel Johnson creates the first dictionary, of course, and he's waited upon by the British women in the aristocracy.
They come to him and they say, “We must commend you on writing this dictionary, and we must also commend you on not using any vulgar language in the dictionary.” Samuel Johnson says, “I commend you for knowing where to look.” I feel like, in a certain sense, that's what we're doing is we're trying to bend over backwards to be offended, because there's something in the culture right now that gives you a certain status if you could find offense. And so that's why you go combing through Beyonce or Lizzo's lyric that's why you go and look at a song that nobody found offensive for 50 years, say, “Now we can't play this on the radio,” I mean, it's just a different sort of shocking, though, isn't it, Bob?
Bob Guccione Jr: Well, no, I don't think it's genuine. I think you go back to Darling Nikki, and I never found it offensive. Clearly, most people didn't. But masturbation wasn't talked about in popular music at that point. I think Madonna also talked a little bit about it at some point. Like a Virgin was touching on a very sensitive spot for Catholics and America Christian country, and Madonna's Catholic, and she knew that. She did it deliberately. And I applaud that. I like provocativeness. I think it stimulates the culture.
And there's a great line on Saturday Night Live once when they said, “2 Live Crew is being sued and prosecuted for obscenity.” Why are we always having to defend 2 Live Crew? Why can't we defend Jimi Hendrix? Because it is true. You get the roughest and the rarest and the toughest stuff is what you have to defend. Otherwise, nothing is meaningful. So, no, I don't think we can justify this virtual signaling we're seeing what I call Talibanic. It is literally like the Taliban. They are laying down a prescribed way of thinking.
I say, ironically, this very far left, which I have no association with whatsoever, I am a liberal. I will die a liberal, perhaps after this podcast when somebody comes and shoots me. Anyway –
Nico Perrino: Or does what the Taliban does, which is behead people.
Bob Guccione Jr: Taliban probably would like me more. But the element of the far left being the most destructive to free speech is mind-blowing. Mind-blowing. Conservatives just don't like things that piss on them. It's understandable, none of us like things that piss on us, but they don't really go out of their way to try and stop you. But the left will cancel you. In fact, it was a point I made in that little talk in South by Southwest was that for all of his vitriol and his piggery, Donald Trump, in four years as a president and two years afterwards hasn't been able to succeed in suppressing one story about him, not one. He hasn't had one tweet taken down in all of that time.
Nico Perrino: Well, he had his account taken down.
Bob Guccione Jr: His own account was taken down, but, I mean, he has not succeeded in taking anybody else's down, no succeed in getting anything else suppressed in five to six years of ardent trying. And he was President United States before [inaudible – crosstalk] [00:18:59]
Nico Perrino: Let's let Nick in here.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah. To touch on this question of transgression, it's kind of fascinating when the Spaz Gate came out and you had in rapid succession, two of the most successful recording artists ever, but of the current moment, pulling back from that. It reminded me that a band that I've always loved, Devo in 1977. Their first single was called Mongoloid, and it is about down syndrome, a retarded person who masks himself as he goes through an everyday life. And to their credit, Devo, right now, I don't know, they're like in their 80s practically, they still perform that live.
And that was very much part of a kind of punk or transgressive ethos that was everywhere in a lot of different popular culture. And at the same time that was happening, there's a famous sketch with Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live where it's a job interview where they're doing free association. And it is unbelievable to think on one of the most popular shows on NBC, the words that were being spoken there, that will never be spoken on cable or even on a podcast like this, we would shy away from using some of the terms they use there. There hasn't been an abortion on TV since Maud got one in the early ‘70s.
The need for transgression in that old form seems to have abated. And I think actually Madonna, in a profound way, and especially by the late ‘80s and with something like her sex book, which is hardcore pornography and kind of fantasizing about violence, about bondage, about all sorts of stuff, which came out, I think, in ‘92, we've lanced that boil. We don't need that kind of transgression in our popular culture anymore. And I think we've, in a very positive way, have pushed through to just a general plateau of more freedom of expression.
And to Bob's point, it's harder for official sources to shut things down. They still try to. I'm very worried by conservatives in Florida and elsewhere who are trying to govern what is considered an acceptable book for local schools to kind of teach or not teach or have in the library.
Nico Perrino: Well and public libraries. We're dealing with the story.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah. I mean, there's a lot to worry about. It's also true that the identity politics of the identitarian left is really going hammer and tongue to kind of just quarantine certain topics, certain types of phrasing, certain types of thinking out of public discussion, and that's all messed up. But we need to think about why is popular culture less transgressive than it used to be? Well, it's partly that some people are scared. Lizzo and Beyonce are scared, and on some level, from a capitalist point of view, you can say, “Okay, well, you know, what, it might be a smart move, rather than going through boycotts and possibly being pulled off of Spotify or something like that.
Nico Perrino: Can I just kind of pause –
Nick Gillespie: But another level I just want to say we should take the win, because the real win is that more people everywhere can say whatever the fuck they want at anytime that they want, and we don't have to change the structural arrangement of society. What we now have to do, and maybe this is harder, we have to encourage people to have a backbone and to say what they mean and to defend their points of view rather than backing down at the slightest hit.
Bob Guccione Jr: I totally agree. Sorry, Nico, I know you want to jump in. But I must say [inaudible] [00:22:46] I totally agree with you, Nick. By the way, yes, conservatives are a problem. I wasn't nullifying that completely. I was just saying they weren't as much ironically as a problem or as successful as the left are being in suppressing speech. You say we can say whatever we want, we cannot. Say retarded. Go say that in public. I'll say it. I recently said I thought somebody was retarded and somebody jumped in, “We don't use that word.” I said, “Why not? It's a perfectly valid word. It happened to be the correct word. This person is slowed.”
Nick Gillespie: Again, part of it is, I agree with you, literally the vice principal of the Catholic high school that I went to in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when he would pull you into the office for discipline, the first thing he would say in a thick Jersey City accent was, “What are you retarded?” Which created a whole secret language for people there. But things –
Bob Guccione Jr: And by the way I don’t see –
Nick Gillespie: It's not like, to me it's much more important that it is virtually impossible to be prosecuted, much less actually convicted of obscenity now than in the past.
Bob Guccione Jr: Yes, that is true. That is true.
Nick Gillespie: The record labels don't matter. They don't control what music is made and what music is heard.
Bob Guccione Jr: No, in that case, you’re right.
Nick Gillespie: But there are still real issues.
Nico Perrino: Yeah. I'd like to make a few points in response to all of you just on the book-banning stuff. FIRE has been a part of Banned Books Week for as long as I've been at FIRE, and it was for a while sort of an anachronism, right? They even changed it from banned books to banned and challenged because no one was banning books anymore. This is something you did years ago. And that's why when I'm coming to this music conversation, I'm like, “It can all come back.” Right? Just in the same way book banning has come back. There's this case in Leno County, Texas, going on right now where a federal judge, they tried to remove a bunch of books from the library for viewpoint-based reasons, narrowly political reasons, and the judge said, “No, you can't do it for those reasons.”
And so they were forced to put the books back in, but then they considered a motion in the city council to just get rid of the libraries altogether. They're like, “If we have to put these books back in, we're going to get rid of the libraries.”
Nick Gillespie: Deeply analogous to the massive resistance movement against integration of public schools after Brown versus Board of Education, there were counties in Virginia that when they were told, “Okay, you're going to have to desegregate schools. You got to integrate the schools.” They're like, “Okay, we're just not offering public high school anymore.” I mean, that's what I thought of when I heard that move. It's so fucking insane.
Nico Perrino: It's cutting off your nose despite your face.
Bob Guccione Jr: It's also not minimal, but well, minimal, there's not a lot of that happening. And we have always had in my entire life time I was born in 1935, so in the nearly 70 years I've been here, books being banned, books being burned, libraries being told they can't have books. That's not a new story. But I'm going to tell you something that I think is worse than that, because you can ban books from Library X and you can go to Library Y and get the books, or you can buy it on Amazon. I mean, it's not a perfect world. We don't live in a perfect world. I’ll tell you what's worse, rewriting books.
Nico Perrino: Yeah. Oh, jeez. Yeah, that's a whole podcast.
Bob Guccione Jr: It is more insanely censoring and defaming to not only the artist, that individualized, but all of literature, all of history, to rewrite a book.
Nick Gillespie: I think really and this is directly on point with Lizzo and Beyonce and Taylor Swift as well, who has done this in an age of electronic media, which, again, is extremely liberating and convenient, and whatnot, places like Amazon, and they do this all the time. You don't own the book or the music. You own a license to listen to it through them, and they change and revise things all the time. Like, Lizzo and Beyonce were able to effectively recall everything and then put out the bowdlerized version without comment.
And I think for me, I don't get too worried about artists changing their mind or copying out and stuff like that, but the fact that we are now in a world, and this is very much a Fahrenheit 451 kind of world, where censorship happens almost retrospectively without anybody really being hip to it. In fact, at Reason, we ran a great essay by Kat Rosenfield not too long ago talking about this very topic.
And in that she tells a story of how Fahrenheit 451, the great Ray Brad Ray book about the evils of banning books and whatnot it turned out like the version of that book that most high school students read between the mid ‘60s to the end of the ‘70s was actually bowdlerized. Like the publisher, without telling him, changed some of the words to make it more palatable to a high school audience. And he only found out about it in the late ‘70s and flipped his wig and forced his publisher to put out the original text.
This is the world we're living in where, I mean, I think it's great in a digital world you can iterate endlessly and slightly improve things, but if we don't have a record of tracking what was, we very quickly get lost in a kind of, I don't know, epistemological closure that is deeply, deeply disturbed.
Nico Perrino: I mean, I was a history major in college and I have a deep respect for history. And when all those publishers started going in and changing Roald Dalhi's book or the Goosebumps books or Agatha Christie's books. I stopped buying physical books after my first move in which I had to pack up 20 boxes full of books.
Nick Gillespie: Same thing with records. I had 5000 records at one point, I have none now.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, I mean, anyone who's –
Nick Gillespie: They are hard to move.
Nico Perrino: Anyone who's had to pack up books, knows you can't fill the box all the way, otherwise you're not going to be able to pick up the box of books. So, I started getting eBooks, but apparently, now Amazon can go in and just change the text of that book. And as someone who cares about history, I want to know how people wrote in the past. There's this famous quote that says the past is a foreign country. They do things different there. I want to know how it was.
Nick Gillespie: Having said that, do we agree? You mentioned Agatha Christie. The original version of the novel, 10 Little Indians was called 10 Little Niggers. It was never marketed under that title in America and it was changed in England. But I think we can also understand okay, that's a bad title and a distracting title –
Bob Guccione Jr: Yeah, no I agree, I agree.
Nick Gillespie: But then we don't want to live in a world where we've never known, where we've always been at war with Eurasia or East Asia or whatever, and we don't the version –
Nico Perrino: This is the Ministry of Truth, right?
Nick Gillespie: The version history. I mean, this is what I love about Wikipedia, even Google Docs, and there are these tools in place in this world where you have version histories. That's what we need because that's what history is. That is what public discourse is. We're always changing and iterating and whatnot but we need to know where we were to know, understand where we are now, and where we might end up in the future.
Bob Guccione Jr: That's such an interesting point. I totally agree with you 100%. But very interestingly put. I use the phrase we defile history by rewriting books. Interesting. Let's deal with that little contextual issue. Agatha Christie, you're one of the only people I've ever heard who correctly knew the original title. I actually had the original title in England in 1960 when I was growing up. I read Agatha Christie in the late ‘60s. I was a boy, not yet a teenager. And I read Voracious and I read all of Agatha Christie and thousands of other books, and I had that version.
And then later on it's called 10 Little Indians, and I go, “No, that can't be the same book.” Then I realized it is, and now it's not even called 10 Little Indians. I forget what it’s called. But I think, yes, there's some words that really just carry such horrific, toxic, potent that you have to say, “You know what? We've got to go past this.” We went past slavery, thank God, but if you go back to the Romans and the Greeks, slavery is as commonplace as eating bread. So, we have to get past we have to evolve and we have to be more compassionate.
And changing the title of that Agatha Christie book, I think was a good thing. 10 Little Indians, they’re changing that again, 10 Little Indians I think that's getting a little bit silly, but okay, whatever. Let people work that out between them. But when we go in and we change Roald Dahl’s language so that when he says someone is fat, they now call it enormous. It's just defiling literature, defiling our own legacy, our own history, which is imperfect.
That's what people forget. We're imperfect. Our history is imperfect. But let's at least have a chronicle of that. I like your version of keeping track of all the versions. I think more importantly, or more fundamentally, we have to have a spiner society. My argument against political correctness, my problem with it, my great beef with the whole notion of political correctness is criticism is one of the most valid parts of the human experience. I only ever really learned from criticism. I don't think I ever learned from praise anything except those going on the right direction.
But criticism, I always took to heart. I dismissed some of it as being not necessarily what I thought and agreed with. And I said to some, “I don't agree with it but that's kind of accurate.” And I learned and grew. So, this is as an individual, but as a society completely, we grow from the ability to criticize. Bill Maher is a good buddy of mine. He, of course, rails against this often. One of the things he said we're really upset about talking about people being fat, but maybe we should talk about people being fat because half this country is obese.
And that's a health condition, and that precipitates early death. For the first time in the history of the country, the life expectancy has gone down slightly. So, maybe we should talk about it. Maybe everybody shouldn't be just so, “Oh, my God. You said fat.”
Nico Perrino: Can I piggyback –
Nick Gillespie: So the controversy, speaking of Lizzo, instead of worrying about wet ass pussy, we should have been focused on her cholesterol levels.
Bob Guccione Jr: I think it would have helped [inaudible – crosstalk] [00:33:17]
Nico Perrino: If I could just turn the question back on you, Nick, because you mentioned kind of death metal and particularly Swedish death metal. Do you think are bands like Metallica, do they no longer have the transgressive urge or impulse or has that genre has it kind of fought against everything it needs to fought and now is doing love ballads or going acoustic?
Nick Gillespie: Yeah. Well, I'll say this. I'm like many other people who tend to gravitate to the music they listen to when they were between the ages of 15 and 23. So, I don't really keep up with Swedish death metal in the way I used to. I still listen to it all the time, but I listen to the albums from the mid-2000s. And when I was growing up into this music, I felt kind of a part of that transgressive culture. This was at a time when kind of old hair metal with guitar solos were on their way out and new metal was coming in. And I remember I used to wear baggy pants with my pants below my boxers and I’d get pulled to the principals.
Bob Guccione: You were part of the declassed. That's what ruined everything. Right. You probably wore a baseball cap backwards.
Nick Gillespie: No, I didn't. I had a chain, though. I did have a chain, but there were some bands I liked. I like Slipknot, but I wasn't a Bighorn fan. So, I felt like there was some transgression happening at the time. Actually, we didn't like those bands that you're referencing, Nick. Although we kind of adopted the style. We didn't have long hair, but we did wear the baggy pants and the big black T-shirts. We called them sellouts because they weren't doing the guitar solos anymore. You don't hear the word sellout anymore. It was like uncool to be popular back. And this was a time when mall culture was just on its way out.
You used to be able to identify with the people who shopped at the same stores with you whether it's Vans or Hot Topic or Spencers or Claire's. It's hard for me to say, but I remember it being cool to transgress. I remember people when you're 12, 13, 14 years old reading The Dirt, you think all that is really cool. I think our society is a little bit more empathetic and there are good things that come with that and there are bad things that come with that.
Bob Guccione Jr: We’re imperfect. I said earlier, we’re imperfect and we’re always gonna be.
Nick Gillespie: It's fascinating when you mention a Hot Topic or –
Nico Perrino: Vans.
Nick Gillespie: Or Spencers. Spencers, because I mean, I remember going to Spencers, I guess in the ‘80s, maybe in the ‘70s and I'm sure it's the first place where 99% of people alive in America saw a vibrator and probably a black light poster, but these things are kind of stuck in time. But Hot Topic isn't such a big deal anymore. But Walmart, which has a fascinating history with popular music, is now the biggest purveyor of goth stuff.
I live for a long time, full and part-time in rural Ohio, and I spent a lot of time in Walmart. And Walmart has more goth stuff in it than Hot Topic because it's gone from being kind of a transgressive subculture to just being a background culture for many parts of Middle America. It explains why a group like Slipknot it makes sense they're from Iowa. Like in a weird way, you don't act like that if you come from New York City, particularly Manhattan, right?
Nico Perrino: Well, it's cliché to say at this point, right, that the coasts and those in media tend to have an outsized influence on society. Nick, you were mentioning earlier that artists would self-censor because of market forces and market pressures. But at the same time, I actually think the market is behind a lot of this transgressive art or these transgressive podcasts. When Dave Chappelle famously tried to get himself canceled with his closer on Netflix, and Netflix fortunately, didn't take it off of its streaming platform as many asked to, you could just go to Rotten Tomatoes and see that it had a 99% approval rating from the general public and it was a splat with the critics.
Nick Gillespie: But it’s always –
Nico Perrino: And the same thing happened to Rogan too, right? He became more popular than ever after folks tried to cancel him from Spotify. And then Bill Maher, you mentioned, Bob, I've put folks from FIRE on a number of different podcasts, TV shows, we've been quoted all over the place, nobody has as much influence in driving the conversation as Bill Maher does. [Inaudible – crosstalk] [00:37:56] He has a huge audience of people and it's just hard to recognize –
Nick Gillespie: He went from Comedy Central basic cable to ABC to HBO. And it's fascinating because I think the South Park guys are like this, like Dave Chappelle, certainly, where they actually become more and more, I don't want to say transgressive, but they have more and more serious integrity of who they are and they gain a bigger and bigger audience without having to curtail it. Having said that, when you're doing transgression, and art, we love transgressive art, at least throughout the 20th century and into the 21st in many ways, it’s always you're on a razor's edge because I mentioned Madonna's sex book.
Madonna had a string of incredible records and really was such a profound agent of change in American culture. I mean, like, we don't talk about the Virgin whore complex anymore, which we had for 2000 years before Madonna. She wiped that out. But she did go too far with the sex book. It was too much for her fans. And you read it now and it's still like, wow, this is pretty stunning stuff, and it's 40 years old.
So, you're always playing a little bit of a game, Nico, in doing a little prep for this, I found out, which I didn't know before this, but Van Morrison, who is now a transgressive artist because he's recording songs with Eric Clapton that are anti-vaccine mandate and being attacked by Rolling Stone. But Brown Eyed Girl, like probably his single best-known song, was originally called Brown Skinned Girl, and he flipped it into Brown Eyed Girl because he thought it would be too much for his audience in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, to deal with a love song that is openly about a trans-racial love thing.
Artists are always trying to be a little bit ahead, but not too far ahead.
Nico Perrino: I'm trying to sing the lyrics in my head and I'm like, which one's better, brown-skinned or brown-eyed? Which one is musically has a better rhythm?
Nick Gillespie: As somebody who was part Irish American and spent too many college parties, at the end of the night, everybody wanted to be Irish, would put on Van Morrison songs and get blind drunk. And I no longer like Van Morrison. I like him more because he's anti-vaccine, I'm pro-vaccine. But the fact that he is willing to fucking say what he believes is kind of [inaudible] [00:40:22]
Bob Guccione Jr: I think it’s tremendous. A story about censorship, I interviewed Robert Kennedy Jr., about two years ago right in the middle of the pandemic, and he came out with a book about Fauci. What drew my attention was I had run-ins with Fauci in the ‘80s and ‘90s when Spin had its AIDS column. And we found that Fauci was lying to the public, we found that he was being supported by the pharmaceutical companies. And we undid the whole mythology around AZT and we proved that it was killing people faster than AIDS.
I say we changed the way the world's media covered AIDS because were leading with such fantastic reporting, showing that people really didn't know. So, when that thing came up with Kendi Heather's book on Fauci, I reached out to some people and they set me up and I interviewed him. And I interviewed him over two days and I in fact checked him over two weeks, but solidly. I actually didn't do much else of anything else, just fact check back it with scientific studies and so on. I took out at least a third of what he said and I challenged him on at least another third, but the other third he was dead on.
We ran this piece and of course, we were savaged by it. People were so upset, you're giving room and space and credence to anti-vax. I said, “Wait a minute. He's not wrong.” Everything that we printed was right. That's all factual. You don't agree with it, that's fine. I don't particularly agree with it. I'm pro-vaccine because I think on balance, we stay healthier with vaccines. We don’t always have polio and smallpox and God knows what else. But it's not untrue to say that some people get seriously ill in vaccines and die. That wasn't untrue.
And to remove it from the arena of truth is worse than to let it be heard and let people make up their mind. And let's say the end of the day, we have their faith. You, Nico, on your podcast have their faith that people are smart enough to hear different opinions like mine and Nick's and whoever else your guests are next week and the week before, and that they make up their own mind to be intelligent enough to say, “Well, I accept some of what Bob said and some that I don't accept what he says.” But it's all part of a debate discussion. When you suppress that debate, that's when we go backwards.
And I always say it's part of the censure because it's very simple and very empirical. Look at apartheid in South Africa. Look at the Soviet bloc where you weren't allowed to speak. Look at the places today where you're not allowed to speak. What kind of society do you have? How awful and how frankly retarded is that society?
Nico Perrino: Hey, can I ask about platforming? You mentioned you wrote this article and people were mad at you for writing this article. We had an experience yesterday. We did a webinar for a FIREs faculty network where we invited the law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Amy Wax. She is being brought up on charges, could lose her tenure because of things she's alleged to have said about students, some incendiary commentary she's made about immigrants.
She's pretty right-wing and pretty unapologetic, and Penn is trying to punish her up to and including termination. And it's probably the biggest academic freedom case going on in the country right now. So, we asked Amy Wax, “Come on our webinar and defend yourself, right? We'll give you the opportunity to defend yourself, but then we're going to turn it over to our faculty network to ask you incisive questions about your case.” And she, to her credit, agreed to it.
And I haven't had a chance to watch it. I had a meeting while it was happening, but we're going to post it on FIRE's YouTube channel here soon. But we were being asked by reporters, people on Twitter, “Why would you platform this person? Why would you platform this person?” And it's such a departure from the way at least I feel things used to be where you want to hear from these people, and then you want to have an opportunity to ask them incisive questions. You want to hear them make their best case.
Bob Guccione Jr: You need to hear everybody say –
Nico Perrino: But now there's this whole line of argumentation that's happening right now. It's like just listening to these people or giving them the or quoting them in your article is giving them a platform and there's something immoral and unethical about doing that.
Bob Guccione Jr: It's an attempt to censor you. It’s an attempt to intimidate you, to censor you. I want to go back to 1980s with PMRC and when music censor really was a flair. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s I was the most proficient guest on shows and debates and lectures. I lectured and I debated around the whole country. I must have done literally 100 debates in universities and I was on perhaps 1000 different interviews between radio and television. But one of the places I went regularly was the 700 Club and I went on Christian radio perhaps as much as I went on rock radio.
I accepted every invitation on Christian radio. At one point my father said to me, “What are you crazy? You're giving these people credibility.” And I said –
Nico Perrino: Your father was the publisher of Penthouse, right?
Bob Guccione Jr: Yes. And I said credibility. They have god. They don't need credibility, that they got in space. What they don't have is an alternative view. And the first time they ever heard that this may not be as bad as they think and as they're told. And it was Bible thumpers selling Bibles that were telling them this stuff was bad because it sold Bibles to frighten them that their kids were going to go to hell listening to rock and roll.
So, I debated a lot of these guys and I became friendly with some of them. And700 Club called me the House Liberal because those liberals would show up. I thought it was incredibly important to go talk to your side. And I used to say to my side, since we're talking sides here, we have sides, we have liberals and conservatives. I would say to liberals, “Wait a minute, you want free speech, right? You have to have their free speech too. It includes their free speech. The free speech we don't like, we have to defend that as well.”
So, if a Christian says I'm going to hell, you have to defend his right to say that. You can't close that down. That's hypocritical.
Nico Perrino: Nick you wanna get in?
Nick Gillespie: I do think that the de-platforming movement is disturbing and it's not completely unprecedented, but it's different than it used to be and I think it's worse. When I was in college, in the ‘80s, and in grad school, people, you would invite unpopular speakers, but they would mostly be allowed to speak. And then there might be a debate afterwards either with the person and a bunch of other people or groups talking obviously preferable.
And I think, Nico, what you're talking about is a shift to a post-liberal world. And by that I mean both kind of liberal as of circuit 1970, but also classically liberal. The idea drawn out of the enlightenment that we need to be in broad conversation with all sorts of people all the time because each of us is limited, we have bias, we don't know what is true. This is the best way to check our math kind of that our worldview makes sense or is good or that we can learn from other people.
And I'm very interested in seeing that Amy Wax thing because everything I've read about her is that she is a kind of unapologetic, white, nationalist, scientific racist. So, I'd be curious to actually know that because you never really get a chance to see her talk. This, I think, is the main problem that is driving bad discourse in America, which is that you don't have to listen to people you disagree with. It's enough to know you disagree with them. There is a version of that on the left, particularly among identity politics people, it's extremely bad.
There is a growing and ominous trend among post-liberal conservatives, and these are oftentimes the nationalist conservatives, but people like Patrick Denin and a couple of people both at Notre Dame and at Harvard, I mean, these are like not marginal characters.
Nico Perrino: Yeah. Vermeal over at Harvard.
Nick Gillespie: Vermeal and Denin at Notre Dame. And I as a libertarian and as a classical liberal, I want to engage these people because I feel like, you know what, in an open argument, I think I have a better point of view, I think I have a better framework for knowledge and for societal progress. And I think that's something that is generationally changing. And we started by talking about popular culture. People always speak through culture. Culture, it isn't didactic in the sense that if you listen to Darling Nikki, you're going to start masturbating with a magazine in the lobby of a hotel, which is the way that Tipper Gore talked about it.
It was this insane idea that you speak through the culture of your moment because it expresses you and you can talk through things. And we need to understand culture is a conversation, and it's always better when that conversation is more open and engaging. Everybody's going to put their own curbs on it, but we need to have as big and as robust a conversation as possible.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, I want to ask about so you mentioned Tipper Gore and Darling Nikki and I want to ask Bob about this because this is one of the more interesting things that I learned from the salon that we had back at South by Southwest. Bob is, you said when the PMRC first started kind of going after Darling Nikki and other artists, that there were few voices on the other side willing to push back on them. So, you were getting a lot –
Nick Gillespie: Thank you, Bob, for what you did back then. It was people like him and John Denver, of all people, who was not particularly in the sights of the PMRC and to a degree, somebody like Frank Zappa, who was not really that popular an artist like these guys put stuff on the line where most of the people who were being attacked, the big artists and certainly the big record labels were conspicuous by their absence, saying, “Fuck you I'm singing what I'm singing.”
Nico Perrino: Well, Rocky Mountain High was a stoner song, right? That was the allegation against that one.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, clearly.
Nico Perrino: So, you look back and this is often the case with censorship, right? Is they went after movies, they went after comic books. You had the Comics Code, they went after music. And we all look back on it as like this was silly that this happened. Even with the Skokie case where you had literal Nazis marching on the town of Holocaust. That's sort of revered today, right? And I know this working at FIRE is like when you're in the thick of it in a free speech battle, it feels like the world is against you.
But over time, people tend to respect that you stood for the principle and cultural norms shift. So, it's hard for me, Bob, I didn't know because I grew up a metal head, that a vast majority of the country was on the PMRC's side and that few people were willing to stand up to them, at least initially, and that you were taking a lot of those requests because you were the only one that was able to speak on that. Can you talk a little bit about that going on Oprah's show? And can you also, for our listeners who might not know, what was the PMRC? If you can explain that briefly.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, no, no, you tell the story very well. The PMRC was the Parents Music Resource Center. It was a completely bogus organization created by Tipper Gore to brand name her husband Al Gore for when he ran for president, which he did a few years later. Because Al Gore was never going to get the moderates. He was too far left. He certainly wasn't going to get conservatives. So, what they tried to do the Gores was create something which was actually a conservative movement that would make him sound more appealing because he never once ever, for all of his left credentials, ever criticized the PMRC, which is very telling.
I caught that very early on. Anyway, before that happened, what happened was the PMRC called for these Senate hearings and was going to go after records and they were going to make records banned. And so the news media naturally started calling all the top editors at the Rolling Stone, Musician, Cream Magazine, Billboard. I'm not touching that. No way. I don't want part of that debate. I'm not debating senators' wives. And they got to meet the last call. Literally it was like, well there’s this is magazine called Spin. In 1985, we had just started, a very tiny magazine we were.
And they said, “Well this guy, maybe him that's [inaudible] [00:52:51] I'll do it. So, I kept saying I'll do it every time. Finally, I became the thorn in their side and they didn't turn up for debates. I suppose you're on nightline. I was actually sitting in the studio in Nightline and typically they didn't show up. I debated Susan Baker on Fox News when it first started Fox News, and she didn't come back. And even Sean Hannity said, “I got to say, I agree with Bob, and he's being welcoming into your viewpoint, and he's saying, if you can prove any of this, he'll give you two pages free in Spin for three months in a row so everybody sees your case.”
Because I did challenge your mind, and said, “Just show it to me. Show it to me, and I'll publish it. I don't agree with you, but I'll publish it for free. Because truth is truth.” And that never happened. So, I debated these people and their satellites like Jimmy Swaggett, because no one else would. And I grew up in the Penthouse home, by the way, it was always my intention to stand up for Spin and Spin subject matter, but because I grew up in my father's home as the publisher of Penthouse, where he was constantly assailed and people tried to put him in prison, there's no law to put him prison, even absentees law.
The judge said, “This is not absentee. This has redeeming value as a magazine.” But he knew he had to fight back or you get subsumed. And he was, in his way, one of the only people, Larry Floyd Hustler gets a lot of credit, which he doesn't deserve. He just didn't want his magazines banned. And he was definitely on the coattails of my father, who was literally fighting. And my father indemnified every newsstand in America. There were 100,000 newsstands.
He said, “I indemnify everyone. If you go to court, I will pay for it at the Penthouse.” And he did have to pay for some suit [inaudible] [00:54:36] They did take him to court. So, I grew up in that environment knowing you had to stand up when this stuff happened. One reads history, you realize you got to stand up to people who are trying to be oppressive in any way which is why, frankly, I'm sitting here today standing up against the notion of the far far left and of the wokeness, which I find equally damaging as PMRC, maybe more so, because with digital media, it is fueled. It’s nitrously fueled.
Nitrous oxide is what I'm trying to say that. So, yeah, the PMRC that was an accident, that I was the one who was brought in because nobody else would talk about the media. I want to say Frank Zappa deserves the most credit because, A, he wasn't affected, and B, he just jumped in on principle, as did Dee Snyder, who was somewhat affected, and Joe Biafra, who they tried to destroy. But these guys stood up.
They had the balls and the courage to do so, as did so many of the rappers who were attacked, and there was a racial component against that with the rappers, for sure, in the beginning. When Ozzy Osborne was attacked for that song Suicide Solution, and some kid was said to have died because of it. I was on a show, I was asked about it, and I said, “Well, I said one person let's just say he actually did kill himself because he listened to that song, which I don't agree. Let's say he did. Tens of millions of others didn't. Let's look at the data here. You've got tens of millions of people exposed to that song who didn't kill themselves. So, maybe that song doesn't drive to suicide.”
I then was the person I personally was the person who broke that case, because I was sitting in my office one day looking at a bunch of stuff, and I realized that the date the kid killed himself was before the single came out. It had not been released. And I called up Sharon Osborne, who I did not know, but I found her and I called up and I told her that [inaudible] [00:56:25] thank you very much. The case was dismissed a few days later. I go, “Well, thank you,” “But thank you, Bob. If you hadn't seen that, we'd still be fighting this case.”
So, that's the kind of bullshit, guess what? No one killed themselves because of that song, not even one kid. I mean, we do live in hysteria. We always do. We always have. I’m now old enough to have said, I've seen it for a few generations, but the important thing is to stand up. You have to stand up against oppression. And of course, my bias being in the media means I deal with words and language and thoughts and opinions. That is what I have done my entire adult life. So, naturally, my bias is towards that being the freest possible, with the understanding that there's some form of speech that are not free.
You cannot say you will kill someone. That's probably a good thing you can't. But I do believe that it's important to identify the enemy wherever they are, even if they're on your side.
Nick Gillespie: I do want to recommend everybody. You can buy copies for a couple of bucks on Amazon or AB books, Tipper Gore's 1988 manifesto raising PG kids in an X-rated world is the type of thing, every time you think you're in a moral panic or you're witnessing one, go back and read that book, which, among other things, has a chapter on how Dungeons and Dragons are leading millions of kids into Satanism. And it's a game they can't win.
It presented then to, I think, anybody with a brain as insane. But we were in a moral panic, so people were taking this stuff seriously. Read it now and just drop in all of the contemporary buzzwords. One of the things you brought up, Suicide Solution and Ozzy Osborne, and there was in the ‘80s this moral panic over backward masking, the idea that somehow certain rock bands and this goes back to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and whatnot, but it really hit a high note in the ‘80s that they were encoding secret messages if you played the records backwards and stuff like that would command people to worship Satan, to kill themselves, all of this.
And it was taken seriously. People at the Senate, Al Gore went from being the husband of the woman behind the PMRC in 1992 when he became vice presidential candidate with Bill Clinton. He and Tipper presented as we were lifelong Grateful Dead fans. We love The Grateful Dead. We've always loved rock and roll, and nobody was like, “What the fuck are you talking about? Four years ago, you were accusing Cindy Lauper of glamorizing masturbation in the song She Bop, which was one of the Filthy 15, the key list of horrible songs that the PMRC wanted to draw attention to.
We're in other types of moral panics now because the point about moral panics is that there's an idea that some kind of force is taking over some segment of society, typically children, and getting them to do all sorts of things they wouldn't otherwise do. Back then it was rock music. Then it was Backward Masking or heavy metal or Satanic rock. Now we talk about algorithms and other magical terms that are always presented as scientific because the PMRC in the ‘80s was able, they could marshal an endless parade of psychologists to say, no, this kid killed themselves because they listened to a fucking Ozzy Osborne song or they did this or they did that.
Or the West Memphis Three, a famous group of kids who were wrongly imprisoned for years for a crime they didn't commit because they had listened to certain kinds of dark metal. Always think about when it smells like a moral panic it virtually always is. We just need to remember, moral panics always present as cutting-edge science, psychology, or serious thought, and they're inevitably revealed to be as idiotic as things like the PMRC and its fixation on Dungeons and Dragons, satanic imagery, the ability of rock music to drive kids insane and lives their parents don't approve of.
Nico Perrino: You mentioned Backward Masking and my now colleague Bob Corn-Revere, who's actually yeah, he's in the office next to me. He was formerly a partner at Davis Wright Termaine, but he started working here at FIRE a week ago. He wrote a book called Mind of the Censor in the Eye of the Beholder. And in there he talks about the case of the Kingsmen’s cover of Little Richards Louie Louie, which became the subject of a years-long federal investigation.
I believe two and a half years, the federal government, several US attorneys looked into the corrupting lyrics of Louie Louie, playing it back, trying to figure out what the songs. I mean, anyone who listens to the song knows they kind of slur the word Louie Louie. Right? It's kind of hard to hear what they're saying. But it's a love Six Sailors Lament is pretty much all it is. There were kids singing it on the schoolyard, changing the lyrics themselves. But in some cases, they interviewed the artist, literally read them their rights just to try and find some dirty word here that they never ended ultimately finding however many dollars at the taxpayers expense.
But I want to close here because I think some of our listeners might be listening to this and saying, okay, you're talking about the end of transgression, censored music isn't really happening anymore or isn't happening at the scale that used to. They're going to say, what the hell rap music, right? If you look back on the history of music censorship, rap has been under constant attack. You look at NWAs Fuck the police, you can look at 2 Live crew, Bob, you mentioned nasty as they want to be.
I mean, rap artists are still being prosecuted. Eric Nielsen, and Andrea Dennis wrote a great book called Rap on Trial. Eric's actually going to be at FIREs Gala next week with Killer Mike, who wrote the intro to that book. And they found approximately 500 cases where violent, aggressive lyrics and rap music were used against defendants in court. Now, you have some states that are trying to reform the rules of evidence so that these lyrics can't be introduced or there's a higher bar to have them introduced. For example, the state of California passed such a law.
And Bob, you mentioned kind of a potential racial component there, and I think that's probably apt. I mean, you're not going after Johnny Cash for shooting a man in Reno, right, just to watch him die.
Nick Gillespie: Or Tom Jones celebrating Spousal murder in Delilah, which won, an Ivor Novello award. Yeah.
Bob Guccione Jr: So, right. One thing that we have to say is that some of the Rap songs are deliberately provocative and their commerciality and that's fine. And I like that. I love provocative and I like people pushing the edge of the underworld. And I'm sure a man in Reno is a cowboy song. And so we were all right with that. But, some of the stuff really is tough. I love the Cop Killer story, though, because there's a great irony there [inaudible] [01:03:45]
Nico Perrino: I don't know it. So, tell me.
Bob Guccione Jr: Thank you for setting me up so beautifully. At the time that Charlton Heston was railing against Cop Killer and was on the board of directors at Warner With Communications, which owned the record label. Ice-T was on and Body Count was part of that label. At the time that John Heston kicked up that fuss and got Ice-T kicked off the label, got the label kicked out that became Interscope, and got Vibe Magazine kicked out the door because they had black people in it. They must all be the same.
That was their thinking. At that time. Charles Heston was the spokesperson for the NRA, and they were trying and lobbying desperately to get approval for a bullet that was known as the Cop Killer and was protested by every law enforcement agency in the country because it penetrated the Kevlar. So, they didn't want this bullet around because it actually killed them. It was literally a cop killer, which he was advocating for while attacking Ice-T for his song. That's the kind of hypocrisy that you can find if you just scrape under the topsoil almost always.
Nick Gillespie: There's just a side note. A couple of years ago, I was playing early rap music for my kids, stuff from the 80s, really, and even the late 70s, because I was like, “Well, this is the music you love. You should listen to its early roots.” They were like, “Dad, this is awful,” listening to Curtis Blow. No, and it would have been like if somebody in 1975 or 1980 had sat me down and played me Gene Vincent stuff or whatever, I would have been like, “What the fuck is this?” But they loved Cop Killer by Ice-T and Body Count because it holds up in an incredibly strong, fascinating way. The other irony, of course, is that Ice-T ended up playing a cop for the past 25 years –
Nico Perrino: Law and Order.
Nick Gillespie: On Law and Order SVU but you know what's interesting to go back to this question of transgression, because he no longer talks about being a Pimp. He doesn't dress his son as a Pimp for Halloween anymore and kind of parade him around. Societies have these kinds of life cycles of transgression, individuals do, art forms do. It's kind of interesting to think about that. But I agree with Bob and I think with you on a profound level, Nico, which is that for me, it's hugely liberating that individuals now are more in charge of what they can consume and produce.
Technologically, the end of all sorts of gatekeeper cultures, both cultural as well as economic, and whatnot you can do more and more. But it does mean that censorship has been devolved to the individual. And among some of the people, we would most expect to say no to censorship, and I'm thinking of creative artists like Beyonce and Lizzo and Taylor Swift and others, they have taken it upon themselves to kind of collapse the minute that they think that they're going to go into some kind of downward fan spiral. I don't begrudge them in their particular decisions, but on a broader level, we need to really start thinking about what does it mean to protect not just my right to say what I want, but people that I disagree with?
This was just taken for granted for about 50 years, I would say from right after World War II through sometime in the 21st century in the aughts. It is now very much under attack or reconsideration. And I think it's up to people like us and certainly groups like FIRE to really make the case that it's a better world for everybody when all of us are talking and when we're arguing rather than censoring or just ignoring people –
Nico Perrino: Can I add some context? Because we've brought up Taylor Swift a few times, and we didn't say exactly what she did. She had a song called Picture to Burn that was on her, I think, first album, in 2006. I know a lot about Taylor Swift. I'm kind of a big fan of Taylor Swift's early music because I grew up with her. She was born in December 1989. I was born in February 1990. She uses her age in a lot of her songs. She had an album, I think, called 1989, and there's a famous lyric in that song, “So, go and tell all your friends that I'm obsessive and crazy that's fine, I'll tell mine you're gay, by the way.”
That was back in the early 2000s when calling people gay or a fag was just something you did in everyday parlance. I mean, it was part of the culture there, and now it's become forbidden, right? And so she has rewritten her songs, at least those you can get on streaming versions and the music videos to remove that. I have a kind of a factual question for you two –
Nick Gillespie: If I may she also rerecorded a lot of those things in order to capture more revenue, because her early contract, I mean, this is always fascinating, particularly with music, because music is such a marriage of art and commerce. Sometimes the motives are not really about aesthetics or anything principled it's about how do you squeeze a little bit more money out of it. And she rerecorded her early catalog –
Bob Guccione Jr: In order to have the rights to the catalog.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, because she owned the sync rights, I think, but didn't know the master rights. Sync rights, for those who don't know, are the right to rerecord a song. Yeah, go ahead.
Bob Guccione Jr: Let me make a comment about what you just said about Taylor Swift. Look, I think although hate speech and offensive speech is protected, as it should be, let me be very clear. It should be protected. It's not necessarily speech a reasonable human being would use. I wouldn't use that language. Although I will fight for the right foot to exist. I don't want to use it. I don't want to call somebody a fag. There was a case where a rapper had spin back in the late ‘80s, early 90s, called our photographer a fag.
He was gay, he was tiny. This guy was a big guy. I don’t know who it is, but it's not fair now, 30, 40 years ago. But the rapper is a big guy, a tough guy, and he called this little guy like, five foot four and very [inaudible] [01:10:12] So, I called him up, but I didn't get him [inaudible] And I said, “Tell him to come here to Spin on 18th, street and call me a fag and we'll see how that goes because I'm the same size as your boy. Let's see if he calls me a fag. Well, he didn't. He apologized. He wasn't going to call me because I'm not five foot four. I'm not that big. And I, just wasn't going to put up with it.
So, I am not for racist, misogynist, homophobic language in any respect whatsoever. I want to be clear about that, and I'm not doing that to virtual signals. However, why can't we admit somebody's gay? Why can't we use that phrase? “So, and so is gay? All right? They're usually pretty much open about it. We found out from them they were gay. Why do we have to walk on eggshells? Why can't we use the word gay? I can't use the word fat. I can't use this word. I can’t use retarded. I can't use anything that might possibly make somebody feel very aware of who they are ethnically, including Italians and Spanish people, or sexually. I think it becomes so precious. Why I ask, why are we so precious?
Nico Perrino: Well, I think our words take on –
Bob Guccione Jr: Nico, let me finish. Let me just say, this is the point is that a cowardice it's easy to go along with the flow. It's harder to say, “Wait a minute, folks, come on, let's not be so precious. Let's have language. Let's not sacrifice language on the altar of [inaudible] [01:11:43] Language.
Nico Perrino: Yeah. Words change meaning over time, right. You used to call an African American Negro, and now that is seen as offensive. And you see people in these communities try and kind of reclaim these words. That was the case with the band The Slants, which is an Asian American rock group who I've had on the podcast before they had a case go all the way up to Supreme Court. I think they tried to trademark their name as Slants.
Nick Gillespie: I think they won their case ultimately.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, 90, because the Patent and Trademark Office said, “This is a sword. You can't trademark this.” And they said, “Well, it's the name of our band, right? We're an Asian American rock group, and we're trying to reclaim this word that was once used as a pejorative.” So, words change. Steven Pinker talks a lot about this, but I do want to ask kind of one closing question because I know I'm keeping you guys longer than I had promised. Yeah, I appreciate you. Yeah, I appreciate you guys staying on. We were talking about Ice-T and Body Count.
And Ice-T did an ad for FIRE, which is very kind of him, in which I was doing research for this podcast and looking at 2 Live crew, and there were album banned in the USA. Somewhere in the research, I found this was the first album that got the explicit sticker, which, for those who are viewing, can see my shirt is kind of a play on the explicit Sticker. But in our ad, Ice-T said that his album was the first one stickered. And I'm like –
Bob Guccione Jr: Yeah, it was.
Nico Perrino: Well, fuck, did we get our ad wrong? I remember trying to fact-check that I thought Ice-T’s album was but someone said Banned in the USA was, I don't know, the 2 Live Crew album. They said I don't know –
Nico Perrino: Oh, I'm sorry, you're right. I think I thought it was 2 Live Crew as well. Let me just say one thing about this little sticker. So, we fought hard against any form of censorship, which included the Sticker. Finally, a record executive saying to me one day over a meal lunch with him, he said, “Bob, don't fight it. We sell more records with it.” He said, “We're trying to put it on every record. We're getting Milk Toast Records and we're saying to the band, couldn't you use a few swear words in one of the songs?”
Nico Perrino: Well, that was a compromise, right, with the PMRC, right, is that the [inaudible – crosstalk] [01:14:05]
Bob Guccione Jr: Record industry realized they sold more records. As soon as they realized that they were, like, putting on everything. Pat Boone would have had one if he was still active in those days.
Nico Perrino: Well, his version of Tootie Frootie is filthy. Like all versions of Tootie Frootie.
Bob Guccione Jr: He missed an opportunity to put that little sticker on there. It was exponential. The higher the sales with the Sticker, the record industry went back. “Yes, thanks. We love this. Happy to do it.”
Nico Perrino: Well, gentlemen, I think we have to leave it there. We've been going for an hour and 15 minutes. I could go even longer. Maybe we might need a part two.
Nick Gillespie: Now you're just bragging.
Bob Guccione Jr: I find that offensive. Those of us who don't go for an hour and 15 minutes.
Nico Perrino: My one disappointment, and I might have to get you guys back on to do this, is I'd love to talk about, punk rock, which is not my genre. I have a colleague, Matt Harwood, who I know, Nick knows who's way into punk rock. We could talk about Joe Strummer, we could talk about what's his name? You mentioned him, Bob, Jello Biafra.
Nick Gillespie: Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys. Yeah. A wonderful band.
Nico Perrino: But part of me is like, did folks go after them?
Nick Gillespie: Yes.
Nico Perrino: Because part of me thinks it's like punk rock is, like, so deliberately trans –
Nick Gillespie: The Dead Kennedys in particular for obscenity. They –
Nico Perrino: Were some of them banned from Britain? Were they one of those artists that were because I know there's been some artists over time, like Lenny Bruce, I think, couldn't perform in Britain, for example. But I didn't know if –
Bob Guccione Jr: He’d perform in America. They arrested him almost every day.
Nick Gillespie: Just as a teaser, if you want to have a punk rock episode, I mean, one of the ways that I've come to think about punk, which is more than music, it's a sensibility, a temperament. It's not even an aesthetic in any specific way. It's kind of an attitude, but it can't last. But it functioned in the into the 80s as a kind of cultural antibiotic. I think that cleaned out a lot of bad infection in the way that culture was going. We definitely need something like that, I think just something that lasts for two or three years in its peak form and just kind of resets the tables because –
Nico Perrino: I think that's beautiful put. Why don’t we do it again?
Nick Gillespie: Yeah.
Bob Guccione Jr: Let’s do a version two.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, we might have to do a version. Yeah, I'll circle back with you guys on email and we can do a version two. We can focus on punk rock because I know it's not my genre. I don't love it.
Nick Gillespie: Well, the more you learn about it, because all pop music and rock and hip hop, it all builds. It's a synthesis antithesis thesis again and again. And the more you learn about it, Nico, the more you'll find elements of it in the music you love because it incorporates everything that came before. It gets incorporated into what comes next. The impulse behind metal in all of its iterations and punk are very similar because it is like I need a new language to express who I am and what I'm feeling in this particular moment in time.
Nico Perrino: No, I understand that. Because I grew up, Metallica was kind of my first love. And it's from Metallica that was the gateway drug to all these other. Yeah, I, like many people, had a friend who had an older brother who you kind of look up to and listen to a certain kind of music. He happened to listen to Swedish Death Metal and the first time I heard it, I was like, these guys are just screaming. This is just noise. This is just noise. But after you become accustomed to it and you learn about the background, I loved it because I was like, they're so intricate on the guitar fretboard.
It soon became I couldn't listen to Nirvana because it was just so boring on the fretboard. It was so easy to play. And the screaming and the dynamism. There's a band called Black Dahlia Murder that has this, like, low guttural scream matched with this high pitch scream. It's like very few people can do that. The singer for our band could, fortunately, we covered one of their songs. What was the name of that song? But, yeah, I can understand, because of my progression in metal how you can grow accustomed to a kind of music that just, on first blush, you don't appreciate.
And because I don't appreciate, well, it's not that I don't appreciate. I appreciate what it's done to the culture, but because I don't listen to it, I also am not familiar with the history. So, we'll have to do a part two –
Bob Guccione Jr: All right, let’s do a part two.
Nico Perrino: And we’ll talk about Joe Biafra, and the history of punk rock and learn about all your time there, Bob, at CBGB's, which apparently didn't pay the rent and that's why it went out of business.
Bob Guccione Jr: Yeah, right.
Nico Perrino: Which is a very punk rock thing to do, to not pay your rent. Right.
Nick Gillespie: Well, the rent got jacked, but it's like Brigadoon. I mean, these are moments, these are floating islands that exist and then disappear as they should.
Nico Perrino: It would have become too commercialized. It would have sold out after time probably.
Nick Gillespie: Selling out is not a bad thing. I mean, this is the lesson of the Sex Pistols.
Bob Guccione Jr: Yeah, absolutely.
Nico Perrino: That’s another conversation.
Bob Guccione Jr: Let’s do version two.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, let’s do version two. All right –
Bob Guccione Jr: See you soon guys.
Nico Perrino: Bob and Nick, thanks for being on the show.
Bob Guccione Jr: Nick, great meeting you man.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah.
Nico Perrino: And Bob, if you could just hang out, I'm going to read an outro really quick here. That was Bob Guccione, Jr., the founder of Spin Magazine, and Nick Gillespie, editor at large at Reason magazine. This, of course, is So to Speak podcast, which is edited by my colleagues Ella Ross and Aaron Reese. If you want to learn more about the podcast you can follow us on all the social media channels, including YouTube, where we post videos of these conversations.
And if you do want to get in touch with me, you have any comments about this podcast or have questions for part two, which it sounds like my generous guests have already agreed to do at some time in the future, you can email us at So to Speak@thefire.org. And until next time, I thank you all again for listening.