Face the Music
Sometimes, Jason Janz just cannot get Marilyn Manson out of his head.
"I decided a while ago that I couldn't listen to his songs anymore. It bothered me the way they lodged in my brain. I'd sing them to my wife, around the house: 'I don't like the drugs, but the drugs like me' -- that kind of thing. It was bad. Can you imagine a youth pastor walking around singing, you know, 'La, la, la, welcome to the dope show'?"
If Janz seems preocuppied with Marilyn Manson, it's because he has spent the better part of the past two months figuring out ways to prevent the "shock" rocker -- who is either a visionary, a has-been or the embodiment of pure evil, depending on whom you ask -- from coming to town as part of the Ozzfest tour, a bill that includes past and current limit-pushers like Black Sabbath and Slipknot and is slated to hit Mile High Stadium next week. Janz's role as the founder and spokesperson for the vehemently anti-Manson group Citizens for Peace and Respect -- a grassroots organization that has garnered the support of various church and business leaders since its formation in April -- has become a part-time job: In addition to his duties as a minister and teacher, husband and father, Janz estimates he spends approximately fifteen to twenty hours a week working on the campaign.
Sitting in a small conference room in the South Sheridan Baptist Church, a large but modest congregation on Denver's southwest side where Janz is a youth pastor, and where all of CPR's meetings are held, Janz does not fit the stereotypic profile of the out-of-touch theologian on a mission to eradicate the evils of rock and roll. Jerry Falwell he ain't. At 28, he is handsome, easygoing, the kind of guy you might expect to spend his spare time working on his golf swing, not his salvation. Janz has spent more time studying and listening to Marilyn Manson than most of his students at the South Sheridan Baptist-affiliated Silver Springs School -- or many music critics -- would ever care to. So when Josh Crockett, a young seminary graduate student hired to handle some of CPR's public-relations duties, offers to sit in on an interview to be sure Janz stays "on message," Janz insists he'll be just fine presenting the CPR platform all by himself.
He has, after all, had plenty of practice. Since CPR first went public with its four objectives -- to request that Manson's appearance be canceled, to discourage concert attendance, to raise awareness as to who Manson is, to unite people for positive impact upon Colorado -- Janz has given interview after interview to both print and broadcast reporters. At this point, the spiel is almost automatic.
"I had no idea that this would become the lighting rod that it has," he says. "The initial idea was that I just wanted to raise awareness about this man and his message. But overnight, it became a national issue. All of a sudden I've got phone calls from all the local media. Then Rolling Stone calls me. It has been more than I ever imagined. I feel like we are riding a tidal wave right now."
In the middle of that tidal wave, Janz says, some of the facts have become a bit jumbled. For one, while CPR makes its physical home in the South Sheridan church, it is a community -- not a religious -- group. The number of supporters who have endorsed the CPR effort has grown exponentially since the early days, he says, and while they do include a hefty showing of churches and Christian groups, CPR has also received the stamp of approval from secular businesses and individuals -- including Governor Bill Owens and Senator Tom Tancredo, who have both issued statements of support for CPR.
Yet Janz, a former missionary who has traveled to Africa, Russia and Yugoslavia, has maintained from the beginning that his efforts began with a covenant between himself and God: After seeing footage of oblivious parents dropping their kids off at an Eminem show, he vowed that, should Slim Shady or Marilyn Manson ever schedule a Denver appearance, he would do his best to prevent it from coming to fruition. And while the language on CPR's Web site, nomanson.org, is carefully non-religious, allusions to faith and Christian service inevitably creep into a conversation with Pastor Jay, as he is know around South Sheridan.
"I definitely view Denver's youth as a mission field," he says. "They are their own unique subculture, and as part of my covenant with God, I must try to reach them. Because of the history of the American teenager, you have to think of ways to reach that group. I think that's what we try to do."
The second misconception surrounding CPR is the notion that its disdain for Marilyn Manson is rooted in Columbine, according to Janz. He acknowledges that it's widely believed that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold found Marilyn Manson's theatrics and over-the-topisms to be too soft, preferring more hardcore outfits such as Germany's Rammstein and KMFDM. The perceived link between the band and the killers, however, has become a recent rallying point for Christian organizations and other groups who have shown up to protest Manson as far back as his early outings in 1995; on rare occasions, those efforts have resulted in the cancellation of scheduled Manson appearances. CPR has been accused of exploiting that easy -- if erroneous -- connection, especially in Colorado, where Columbine's wounds are still a long way from healing.
"We have had people say that," he says. "Marilyn Manson himself said that we are only doing this for self-serving publicity. But how is this self-serving? We have to work hard and use up our resources. It's not like we are recruiting. Our church attendance won't go up because of this. Our school won't get bigger. We are doing this because we have a firm belief in standing up for what we believe in.
"We have always said that we don't know whether or not those two young men listened to Marilyn Manson or not," he continues. "Our point has been that this type of message of hate, with no hope anywhere, with no positivity, encourages the attitudes of the killers. We would be doing this with or without Columbine."
If reporters have made the connection between CPR and Columbine, however, it has not been without some prompting from the group. Currently, CPR's Web site lists "Columbine families" as supporters of its efforts: Pressed for specifics, Janz claims the Mauser, Bernall and Shoels families have all given "verbal" support to CPR, though none have attended any meetings or pledged donations. The group lists the fact that Manson "promotes the attitudes and actions of the Columbine High School killers" as one of six primary reasons why Manson's concert should be canceled; the group's contention that Manson promotes hate, violence, death, suicide and drugs are the other five. (CPR doesn't mark the first time South Sheridan has found itself in a Columbine-related spotlight: In November 1999, the church made the papers when it staged a play based on the life of Christian Columbine victim Cassie Bernall. Crossroads at Columbine drew hundreds of attendees who were instructed on "God's Greatest Gift" at the conclusion of the performance.)
Yet the word that most vexes Janz when used to describe his group's quest is a simple but powerful one: censorship. Since awareness of CPR began spreading through various Marilyn Manson-related Internet sites, Janz's e-mail box has filled up with messages from Manson supporters who chastise him for attempting to trump the performer's right to free expression and the First Amendment.
"Some of the language has been, well, limited," he says. "But the message has been clear: They think that what we are trying to do is censor Manson, and a lot of people have a fundamental problem with that. But we are merely exercising our right to stand up and say that we don't believe this person's message is good for our community or for our children. We want to reach parents, and we want to reach Manson himself. We want to put forth the question: Why doesn't he sing about positive things and try to make a difference? Why doesn't he sing about the environment, or love, or protecting children? If he would just change his message a little bit to include something positive, then we would leave him alone.
"My understanding of the definition of censorship is that it means government interference in a person's ability to speak freely," says Janz. "Government interference in this concert, for example. We have not seen anything like that happening here. And we are not trying to make that happen."
Some of Janz's critics have a fundamental problem with that rationale.
Stephanie Shearer sits at a table at WaterCourse Foods, one of the few places in Denver where she and her peers in the newly formed pro-Manson, anti-censorship organization Citizens for the Protection of the Right to Free Speech don't look at all out of place. With a median age of 25, the group's members don't reflect the white-faced, black-lipsticked goth kids who turn up on Jenny Jones to discuss their devotion to Manson, but they also don't look like the kind you'd expect to see at Sunday mass.
For Shearer and the rest of the group -- Raphael Shlosman, Carrieanne Andrews and Travis Butterworth -- Janz's campaign has become more than an attack on Manson, an artist of whom most -- but not all -- of them are fans. It has become a sort of call to arms.
"Janz has said publicly that he thinks the world would be a better place without rock and roll," says Butterworth. "For me and Raphi, that's like declaring war. I eat, sleep and breathe rock and roll, and I'll be damned if someone will succeed in trying to take that away from me."
"I think what is most bothersome about it is that he's gotten all of this play in the media, and then he gets the endorsement of the governor. It creates this appearance that there is no one who opposes him," says Shearer. "We wanted to make a strong showing that -- yes -- there are people who oppose this, passionately. People who are not just going to sit by and watch as the supposed 'moral' group attempts to speak for us all. We really felt that it had moved from an issue of Manson to an issue of freedom of speech."
The Citizens for the Protection of the Right of Free Speech began last month, shortly after Shearer wrote a letter of support for Manson to the editor of the Denver Post after seeing an interview with Janz on a local TV news broadcast.
"I didn't really feel like that was enough," she says. "It was like, 'Okay, I got my letter published. I got to have my opinion voiced. But it's not going to change anything. It's not going to put a dent in this guy's campaign.'"
Shearer began posting calls to action on the Marilyn Manson Web site's bulletin board; before long, she had amassed a small group of local individuals who wanted to join in the effort to rebuke Janz. So far, the Citizens for the Protection of the Right to Free Speech have done a lot in a little time, using their own Web site, supportmanson.homestead.com, as their digital headquarters. They've launched a PR campaign, organized a political rally and received the endorsement of a number of anti-censorship groups around the country, including Rock Out Censorship, the International Revolutionary Truth and Freedom Association, MassMic and Rock & Rap Confidential, a music-and-politics publication edited by well-known music scribe Dave Marsh.
"I think what really deepened my commitment was when Owens gave his endorsement. That's when I really wanted us to do all that we could to speak out," says Shlosman. "I wasn't really expecting that. It was Owens stepping outside of his bounds of acting on political issues to acting on his personal tastes. That's not why we vote for political officials. It became dangerous at that point -- when we saw a governmental official willing to endorse a group whose whole goal is to shut down an artistic performance."
David Greene, an Oakland-based attorney who heads the public-interest law firm the First Amendment Project, says Shlosman's feeling that Owens's endorsement of CPR could have "dangerous" implications was an astute one. Though CPR's actions don't fit the literal definition of censorship, he says their efforts teeter dangerously close to it -- especially when supported by a government figure of Owens's stature. (Owens's office did not return phone calls from Westword.)
"It's a really difficult question when you have an official speaking in the bully pulpit," says Greene. "It's not the role of government to get involved in these debates. The First Amendment supports the debate, but when the government takes sides, the scales become tilted. I think there is a very low threshold of what level the government should become involved.
"It's one thing when you have two groups protesting and shouting things back and forth. That's what the First Amendment is about: people engaging in dialogue. But when you ask the government to step in and take sides, what you are really trying to get is some government action, to pass rules to prevent people from going to a concert or whatever. And that is the very essence of what censorship is."
"My question would really be: What is the governor of a great and prosperous state like Colorado trying to tell people by making this contention?" asks Rock & Rap's Marsh. "Does he believe that he will be protecting children by engaging in a campaign to shut down an artistic voice? Does he not think it is more dangerous to grow up in a society without a bill of rights -- or to have no connection to the outside world? I think it is worth opposing these people simply to send a message that this kind of rank and hypocritical opportunism isn't going to be tolerated, no matter which political party the guy belongs to."
Though neither Greene nor Marsh will be on hand during the Citizens for the Protection of the Right to Free Speech's rally on the State Capitol June 20 -- one day before Ozzfest comes to town -- it will be attended by speakers from the Colorado chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a law professor from the University of Colorado at Denver, and Colorado State Director of American Atheists David Eller. CPRFS's rally will run from 5 to 7 p.m. At that point, the supporters will have to dismantle their sound equipment, take down their signs and banners and politely step aside: CPR has its own rally scheduled to begin at 7:30.
"We agreed to cut our rally short so that Janz's group could have access to the steps," says Shearer. "I think the state was really glad that there would be a half an hour in between the two rallies. I think they are hoping that our people will just go home."
Supporters of the Citizens for the Protection of the Right to Free Speech are not likely to simply go home before catching a glimpse, at least, of what the other group is up to. In an application for a permit to stage the rally, Janz said he expected as many as 3,000 supporters to turn up -- about 2,900 more than Shearer's group is hoping for. So far, the pro-Manson camp says it has been more maddening than amusing to see the way CPR has presented its case -- and represented its target.
"In my opinion, it is very important to be truthful in your argument when you are engaged in a debate with another group and trying to convince the public of something," says Shlosman. "From the very beginning, CPR has taken quotes out of context; they have totally misrepresented ideas that Marilyn Manson has already been questioned about and explained a hundred times. He's provided explanations for his lyrics, he's given examples of what his inspiration and sources and intentions were. But CPR will never seek that out. They'll just trim out part of a larger lyric and post it next to their own statement: Marilyn Manson promotes suicide, or whatever."
"It has been frustrating for us, because they have been very careful in their word choices," adds Shearer. "They would never come out and say that they are for censorship. They say they are for education. But since when is launching a smear campaign educational? They say on the site, 'Hate is coming to town.' But most of their tactics have been hateful. They think Manson is hateful, fine. But why battle hate with hate?"
Wednesday's rally will not mark the first time Shearer and her group have come face-to-face with Pastor Jay; at Janz's invitation, the two groups got together for coffee, Cokes and casual discussion a couple of weeks ago. To the surprise of all who attended, the meeting went smoothly.
"I was very impressed with how articulate they were," says Janz. "We really did get down to the nitty-gritty and discuss our views and our differences. I think we discovered that we have more common ground than anyone expected. Stephanie, for example, asked us why we don't have more emphasis on community outreach on our site, why is it all Manson. And I had the chance to tell her that's something we are working on. We're going to have resources for troubled teens, information on suicide hotlines and mental-health professionals. We will offer the hope next to Manson's hate."
Shearer agrees, almost grudgingly, that the meeting went well.
"I keep saying that our job would be a lot easier if he were an asshole," she says. "But he wasn't. He was polite and respectful. We had a good discussion, and I think we understand each other better now."
"We have all said from the beginning that we think he has good intentions," says Andrews. "As a mother, I can relate to his concerns about negative influences on kids. He's just..."
"...going about it in the wrong way," the other members of the group chime in unison.
"What's really scary to us is that it is so open-ended at this point," Shearer says. "He has said that he will not stop with Manson, that there are other artists he's looking at and would protest if they came to town. I mean, this is a guy who only listens to choir music. Are we going to have to go through this with every artist who might be viewed as offensive?"
Janz does acknowledge that, if enough people continue to support CPR, the group will begin investigating other artists who are considered to be potentially dangerous to young minds -- a daunting proposition to some, considering Janz is still repenting for his misguided days of listening to "anti-authority" bands like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. He's looking to other religiously grounded groups -- including Colorado Springs' Focus on the Family and the American Family Association -- for guidance on what to do next. And if he were to succeed at eradicating all traces of potentially objectionable content from popular music, all the better.
"I don't know if it would be as interesting a world without this kind of art," he says. "But I think I would like it better. How great would it be to have nothing but positive messages for our kids?"
For thinkers like Marsh, therein lies the rub.
"There really are some things at stake here that are larger than Marilyn Manson's bank balance," says Marsh. "One of them is what kids come to understand about the nature of reality. I think in some ways this is a debate about reality, the nature of truth and justice, the nature of courage, the nature of the way that dialogue is supposed to work. If anything makes kids go crazy and desperate enough to want to do things to hurt people, it's this distortion of reality that invokes superstition above reason."
In all likelihood, Manson's performance in Denver will come and go with little actual controversy. CPR will be on hand, of course, as will Shearer, Butterworth, Andrews and Shlosman. No doubt, as each group stands in the parking lot -- holding signs and banners, handing literature to the young passersby -- the debate will continue. And whether the activists on either side find themselves exhausted and frustrated or inspired and empowered at the end of the day, it's clear they've participated in something that should be compelling for anyone interested in the exchange of ideas.
"It is exciting to see people taking some interest in their local culture -- that's good," says Eric Galatas of the Boulder-based FreeSpeech TV. "We should find more platforms to speak. If you don't agree with something, the answer is to have more free speech, not less. I think the old expression is that the measurement of your belief in your right to free speech is how strongly you support people you disagree with -- how willing you are to support the rights of people that you actually are opposed to."
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