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Behind the Guns N' Roses Racism Furor : The continuing debate over whether the band's song, 'One in a Million,' promotes bigotry

October 15, 1989|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Many rock observers insist that the worst solution is to call attention to every questionable batch of lyrics, which simply increases young fans' curiosity. Whenever MTV bans a sexist or vulgar rock video, the bands' publicists hurriedly contact the media, eager to have the incident publicized. The reason is simple enough--in rock 'n' roll, controversy sells records.

Rick Rubin insists that bands like Public Enemy have simply used their militant political image as a publicity tool. "I don't think someone like Prof. Griff has any more impact on Public Enemy fans than some racist nut you'd see on 'The Morton Downey Show,' " he said. "They both just look like idiots. I don't see why we should take him any more seriously than any other late-night TV kook.

"Public Enemy doesn't really believe in politics. It's just an interesting angle--and everyone bought it. It's all entertainment. I hear the FBI is upset because of N.W.A's song, '---- Tha Police.' Come on! Cops get killed in Hollywood movies all the time. Are they going to stop the studios from making movies where cops happen to get blown away? No one sees that as a political statement. It's the same with rap--it's just entertainment. Public Enemy says 'don't believe the hype,' but they're into hype as much as anyone else."

But most rock fans aren't as sophisticated as Rubin. And if they swallow clever advertising slogans and celebrity publicity campaigns, why wouldn't they buy their pop heroes' racist or anti-Semitic sentiments?

"I admire (Public Enemy leader) Chuck D.'s poetry about racism in our society," said Arsenio Hall. "But it's equally important to denounce Prof. Griff's racist remarks too, because racism can come in all colors, whether its face is white or black."

Pop music's defenders believe that a democratic society should be secure enough to survive disharmony sowed by inflammatory or racist lyrics.

"Art reflects our culture--and it also predicts and projects where we're going," said Laurie Anderson. "Sometimes that can be very inspiring. Sometimes it can be scary and disgusting. But what I find scary are people who react to the problems we have in society by blaming them all on pop songs."

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