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Now Hard Rockers, Rappers Spread AIDS Warning Too

October 13, 1989|STEVE HOCHMAN

The older, mainstream contingent of the pop world--including Dionne Warwick, Elton John and Stevie Wonder--has been active in raising public awareness of AIDS, but the hard-core rock community has been slow to speak out.

That's why a Music Against Aids memorabilia auction on Sunday in Beverly Hills represents a breakthrough of sorts.

The event, sponsored by the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, will give pop fans a chance to bid on items donated by such mainstream stars as Michael Jackson (a Stetson fedora), Janet Jackson (jeans she wore in her "Rhythm Nation" video), Mick Jagger (a cape he wore on stage during the Rolling Stones' 1979 tour) and Prince (a limited-edition "Batman" CD).

But Howard Portugais, a member of the board of governors of the academy's Los Angeles chapter and one of the organizers of the event, whose proceeds will go to the American Foundation for AIDS Research, feels it is especially significant that some anti-Establishment hard rockers and rappers are lending support. They include members of the groups Faster Pussycat and the Beastie Boys.

"When you're in a position to change something or say something, it's kind of a cop-out if you don't," said Faster Pussycat's guitarist Brent Muscat, who believes some hard-rockers might fear that speaking about AIDS would chink their devil-may-care armor.

Muscat got involved in Sunday's event--he is donating a gold jacket that he wore on stage during the band's last tour and also serving as an event spokesman--after seeing an MTV news feature in which Bangles member Susanna Hoffs talked about the auction and gave a phone number for volunteers and donations.

"I thought, 'Wow! I wish I was involved,' " said Muscat, 22. "I've always been interested (in AIDS) and read up on it. The guys in my band talk about it a lot, and we're really concerned.

"I think a lot of people still view it as a gay and drug-user disease. But even if it was . . . it's everybody's problem. People are people. It's something that's gonna affect everybody."

Hard-rock involvement with the issue has been checkered at best. Last spring Guns N' Roses was scheduled to headline a New York benefit for the Gay Men's Health Crisis organization.

But gay activists, incensed at what they believed were anti-gay references in a Guns N' Roses song, insisted that the band be removed from the bill. (Representatives of Guns N' Roses did not respond to requests for interviews for this article.) Last year, members of Poison, discussing their computer log of groupies around the country, joked that safe sex meant not falling out of bed.

"I could see groups that are really image-conscious saying they'd rather not talk about it," said Brian Wheat, bassist of the Sacramento-based band Tesla. "But, if the truth were to be known, I'm sure all those guys wear condoms. No one wants to die that death, whether you're a bad boy of rock 'n' roll or not."

But Wheat--who was unaware of the auction when contacted by The Times--admitted that the storied rock 'n' roll life style calls for extra consideration in the face of AIDS. Though three of the five members of Tesla are married and Wheat has a steady girlfriend, he acknowledged: "Hard-rock bands are pretty promiscuous. . . . You can't go, 'It will never happen to me.' It has nothing to do with image."

Portugais, a manager who has worked with Dusty Springfield, Groucho Marx and other show-business figures, and other organizers of Sunday's event said it is particularly important for members of the hard-rock community to speak out because of statistics that suggest that an it-can't-happen-to-me attitude is still prevalent among teens, the primary audience for hard rock.

So why aren't many hard-rock stars speaking out against AIDS?

"I think people are a little ignorant," said Muscat. "For some of the hard-rock people maybe it hasn't hit home, but it's going to and people are going to wake up."

Burt Bacharach, co-writer of the song "That's What Friends Are For," which has raised more than $1 million for AIDS research and education since it was released in 1985, agrees that teen hard-rock fans are the greatest challenge and the key target in the AIDS awareness campaign.

"Any major heavy-metal group saying that this is important, the attention it would call, the money it would raise," Bacharach said. "It would have a powerful impact on young people."

But while Bacharach admits to "high frustration" at the failure to get the message to teens, he is optimistic that things will change as AIDS touches more young people's lives. He's already seen awareness grow around the country through the acceptance of "That's What Friends Are For."

But the very nature of the teen mind-set and rock 'n' roll bravado provides a major stumbling block.

"When I was growing up and losing my virginity or whatever," said Muscat, "it was a kind of time where I was going for it . . . when I was 16 and in my rebellious period. But, as you get smarter, you calm down."

NEXT STEP

The auction will be presented in two parts Sunday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel: a noon event open to the public (admission $20) and a 5 p.m. auction of higher-ticketed items ($150, including cocktails and a buffet). Information: (818) 843-8253.

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