What's a Mother to Do ?


Earlier this year, a Washington state woman complained when her son's vocabulary took a turn for the worse after he listened to The 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be. Outraged that her community was unable to protect the respectability of her 4-year-old's language, she contacted her state representative, Democrat Richard King, demanding action. She got it. On March 20, Washington became the first state in the nation to forbid the sale of certain types of music to minors.

The bill adds music lyrics to the state's 1969 law prohibiting the sale of material to minors, "the dominant theme of which, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors in sex,…and is utterly without socially redeeming value."

Gov. Booth Gardner signed the legislation, says spokesman Mike Gowrylow, because he "wanted to send a warning shot to the recording industry to begin policing itself." Yet record companies already put warning labels on albums (including As Nasty As They Wanna Be) to alert parents to explicit lyrics. In any case, the recording industry does not appear to be the only area that the governor would like to police. "The governor believes that children these days listen to more music than read books," Gowrylow explains, "and therefore parents need a little help."

In recent years, merchants in some states have been prosecuted under general obscenity laws for selling certain albums. In April, for example, prosecutors in Omaha, Nebraska, filed obscenity charges against two of the nation's largest record chains, Musicland and Trans World Music, for selling As Nasty As They Wanna Be.

At present, Washington is the only state to adopt specific dirty-lyric legislation. Several other states, however, appear to be creeping in that direction. In May, the Louisiana House of Representatives approved a proposal that makes criminal "the sale of certain labeled recordings to, or their purchase by, unmarried persons under the age of seventeen."

This bill, proposed by Rep. Ted Haik (D), is now before the state Senate. Two years ago, similar legislation, also introduced by Haik, made it past the House and Senate before being vetoed by Gov. Buddy Roemer. It's not clear how the new governor, Edwin Edwards, will view the bill.

Besides Louisiana, at least six other states—Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Missouri—are contemplating proposals restricting access to certain kinds of music. In Michigan, 22 bills regarding musical obscenity have been proposed, one of which would give every community in the state the ability to create its own standard regarding "erotic" music.

Mickey Granberg, government relations director at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, is afraid such vague legislation will be difficult for prosecutors to interpret and will "throw national distribution networks for films, records, magazines, software, and books into virtual chaos."