A few days ago, Angus T. Jones had some sort of crisis of conscious. In a video for a church in Alabama, he urged people to stop watching his show, Two and a Half Men. "Please stop filling your head with filth," he implored. "People say it's just entertainment. The fact that it's entertainment...do some research on the effects of television on your brain, and I promise you, you'll have a decision to make when it comes to television, and especially what you watch on television. It's bad news. I don't know if it means any more coming from me, um, but you might not have heard it otherwise." Actually, Angus, I have heard it otherwise, many years ago, in fact -- only this same sort of sentiment was applied to music, not television.
Growing up, I went to a small private school in north Denver. In retrospect, the rules at this institution were rather repressive, some might even say draconian. Honestly, from the line we were expected to toe, you'd have thought it was the '50s. Let's just put it this way: Corporal punishment was completely permissible, and if your hair even thought of touching your collar, well, then, you were just asking for it, buddy. I have stories for days, including one that involves a teacher "laying hands" on a typewriter presumably in an effort to exorcise it of its, uh, I don't know, demons, I guess?
No shit. That happened.
Oh, did I mention this was a Christian school?
That's probably a helpful piece of information to have here, particularly for the purposes of contextualization, especially for what I'm about to share with you, what has to be my all-time favorite anecdote in the history of history, or at least among the most amusing memories of entire my misspent youth:
Every week, we had these hour-long (and sometimes longer) chapel sessions. It was a ritualistic part of our curriculum that involved all of us students convening in an all-purpose room downstairs to worship Jesus collectively and talk about/examine our faith. Sometimes we'd have guests (the pastoral parent of one of my classmates who came armed with a wad of bills and would bless some of us with cold hard cash at the end of his sermonizing was always a hit), and sometimes the teachers would just take turns proselytizing.
The chapel that I remember the most, however, the one that is just so freaking awesome and just utterly ridiculous in hindsight, is the one in which they rolled in an AV cart with a TV perched on top and plugged into a VCR player. Yes! A movie! Maybe it's the one we saw at church about the Rapture when the believers who get left behind get beheaded for not taking the mark, we all thought. But, alas, no. While that one always effectively scared the hell out of us, this was way better that that. This was a program exposing us to the ills of and the inherent evil embedded in that demon rock and roll -- or secular music, as we'd come to know it -- that we'd all been warned against.
Now keep in mind, it's been a really long time since I first saw this film, so I can't say for certain if this was the exact video we watched, but given the time frame, the hosts, the content and the running time, I'd say this little YouTube gem I found below called the Truth About Rock is likely the earth-shattering expose (seriously, take a few minutes to watch the clip; you'll be glad you did) in question, if not some variation thereof. Either way, the sentiments expressed are precisely the same, and the intro sounds strikingly familiar:
Are you ready for truth about rock? Truth About Rock, the rock music seminar that has swept the nation. The Peters Brothers' seminars and bonfires have drawn press attention from coast to coast. Watch as they expose the flip side of the rock industry. The world of double meanings and double standards, backwards masking and backwards morals. Over five million dollars of rock and roll has been burned after these seminars. Don't miss Truth About Rock!
Hosted by Dan and Steve Peters, authors of the book, Why Knock Rock?, the entire segment is just terrawesome, particularly the voice over in particular, which sounds conspiciously like Dan Aykroyd in Dragnet and has that classic '70s-era grindhouse feel. Although the informerical was ostensibly designed and intended to help fortify us against the wiles of rock music, really, it probably ended up doing more harm than good, as ultimately it ended up serving as a tipsheet of sorts, pointing us to new bands to explore, or worse, calling attention to unspeakably depraved acts that I'm pretty sure none of us had even considered (um, necrophilia, anyone?). Fortunately, as virginal as we were back then, few of us were that impressionable, which made the video seem all the more superfluous.
Take the next few minutes to examine rotten songs like Olivia Newton-John's about intercourse, Alice Cooper's song about necrophilia -- which is making love to a dead body -- Prince's about incest, which is making love to your own sister, Alan Parson's song about the wonders of bestiality. Hear how Aerosmith likes girls who are bleeding, Ted Nugent on masochism, which is pleasure in sex through pain, the Village People's stand on homosexuality, Elton John's endorsement of prostitution, the Rolling Stones' sympathy for Satan, Fleetwood Mac songs which promote witchcraft, or those clean cut Australians, AC/DC, who encourage oral sex. Discover bizarre lifestyles like bi-sexual David Bowie, the drug-loving Doobie Brothers, the bat-eating Ozzy Osbourne. Find out about the Eagles' Don Henley, who promotes juvenile delinquency, of Kiss's fornicating with teenage girls, and Wendy Williams' enjoyment of public nudity. But find out for yourself the real reason your favorite rock group performs.
"The Peters Brothers want to show you the truth your local disc jockey is afraid to," the narrator intones a few beats later. And indeed, one by one, the brothers ran through a laundry list of the more egregious offenders, flashing the respective cover art and then proceeding to detail how and why exactly the music in question was incorrigible. As scintillating as this all was, it took a backseat to a latter segment I found positively riveting, backward masking. Wait, what? There are hidden messages in the songs I'm listening to? Subliminally? No way! Rad! Tell me more. I'm all ears.
That part stuck with me. To this day, I can't hear "Stairway to Heaven" without wondering at some point if Plant and company really did secretly embed the line "my sweet Satan" in the chorus of the song. Just the same, I have to give props to Petra -- a sanctified Christian rock band deemed generally acceptable for evangelical consumption by nine out of ten pastors -- for highlighting the profound absurdity of this discussion with its song "Judas's Kiss." The song begins with a garbled message that's clearly some sort of cryptic message. Years later when I remembered and had the wherewithal to play it in reverse, I couldn't help but laugh at what I heard:
"What are you looking for the devil for, when you ought to be looking for the Lord?"
As insignificant as that video seemed at the time, obviously it left a lasting impression on me, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't have an impact on our everyday lives. While none of us retreated home afterward and rounded up our albums to burn en masse, some of us did offer up our own sanctimonious gestures. I had a friend who was a bit more mercurial when it came to her faith than the rest of us. Depending on the day, she was either a confirmed hellbound heathen or ready to win the entire world over for Jesus. When she was in the former stage, a friend of mine had lent her his copy of Master of Puppets on cassette, and I'll never forget the day she returned it to him -- in pieces. Oh the fury this inspired. You had to be there.
Clearly, this was another place in time. But as silly as this whole puritan outlook on music seems now, it's clear, not much has changed. Sure the characters have changed -- if the Peters Brothers were taken aback by Olivia Newton John and Alice Cooper, they must be outraged by Lady Gaga and Odd Future -- but the moral dilemma with controversial entertainment persists, as evidenced by the sentiments of Angus T. Jones.
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