Rock is doing more reeling than rocking these days. It took another punch last week from syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, who lambasted pop music, saying "millions of young people receive positive messages about drugs from the music they listen to and the movies they see." Thomas added: "It is time for rock musicians who glorify drugs to be isolated."
Thomas, a former vice president of the Moral Majority whose column is syndicated to nearly 50 newspapers by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, also advocated using the weapon of an economic boycott, saying if record stores continue to stock albums with "pro-drug" lyrics, "patrons should shop elsewhere." He also suggested that local governments should refuse to issue permits for rock concerts featuring performers who "glorify drugs in their music and their life style."
In a telephone interview with Pop Eye last week, Thomas insisted that he was not calling for "censorship or government controls" or forming any protest group.
"I just put it out there for discussion," he said. "For example, I don't have to buy any rotten jeans from Jordache because I personally don't like the way they exploit children's sexuality in their ads. And if parents went to a record store and specified certain objectionable songs that the store was carrying, I think you could get the management to stop carrying them.
"And if not, you could say--you sell what you want. That's your freedom. But it's my freedom not to shop here. I'll buy my country & Western records or my Broadway show tunes elsewhere. That way everyone has freedom."
Thomas complained that media coverage of issues like rock and drugs is often slanted. "There's obviously a double standard. Conservatives always have to justify their feelings, while with liberals the attitude is always 'let's have free expression, no matter what the costs.'
"If liberal sensitivities are injured, there's always an outrage. If someone came out with a racially prejudiced song, you'd hear howls of protest from Jesse Jackson right away. I don't see anyone putting out songs glorifying the death of homosexuals through AIDS. You'd have Phil Donahue out there with a bunch of psychiatrists, all wringing their hands. So wouldn't you think the rock world would want to show the same kind of sensitivity and restraint about glorifying drugs?"
However, with the exception of a current Ramones song, "Somebody Put Something in My Drink," which Thomas claimed was pro-drug, he was unable to cite any other current examples of alleged pro-drug rock lyrics. "I couldn't give you chapter and verse on the specific lyrics," he said, adding that he did hear many hit rock tunes while working out at his exercise club. "If you want a lot of details, why not call (Parents Music Resource Center leader) Tipper Gore. She could fill your ears with examples."
However, it's hard to believe that Thomas actually listened to the Ramones song before condemning it. The song's lyrics actually criticize a college prankster for putting something in a drink at a bar. According to Ramones lead singer Joey Ramone: "It's a true story about someone who put LSD in (drummer) Richie Ramone's drink at a bar in San Francisco. The song is about how you have to be careful. We don't like to preach, but we're down on heavy drugs. We've always had strict rules about excessive behavior in the band. That's why we're still as good as we are after all these years."
Still, Thomas doesn't buy the argument that far more current rock songs preach against drug use than celebrate it. Many rock defenders also insist that Thomas--and other anti-rock crusaders--confuse rock's rebellious attitudes and anti-conformist sentiments with a pro-drug stance.
"I think creativity is wonderful, but there has to be some self-restraint," Thomas said. "Freedom is not license. Freedom implies responsibility, not anarchy. Right now, we have a national problem with drugs, a problem people are dying from. And I think we need something more than ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) panaceas. We've gotten to the point where it's 'He who lives by the rock lyric can die by it, too.' "