With his Top 20 album past 3 million copies in sales, his video a regular winner of MTV's "Top 20 Countdown" and his face popping up on teen-age bedroom walls everywhere, Sebastian Bach is heavy-metal's hottest new sex symbol. But will his star be dimmed by a pair of recent incidents in which the headbanger poster-boy enraged AIDS activists and was arrested after hitting a fan in the face with a bottle during a concert?
Last month, Bach was criticized by AIDS activists after a heavy-metal fan mag ran a picture of the 21-year-old singer wearing a T-shirt with an insensitive AIDS-related, anti-gay epithet that cannot be printed in The Times.
Quizzed about the shirt by MTV last month, Skid Row's lead singer lightheartedly responded: "I understand it's not cool to make fun of death. I guess nobody gets my jokes. Anyway, a kid threw (the shirt) on stage, I put it on, and all these people got mad at me. But let me just state this--I do not know, condone, comprehend or understand homosexuality in any way, shape, form or (laughs) size."
This month, he's back in the news after MTV began airing footage from a Dec. 27 Springfield, Mass., concert where the singer was struck by a bottle hurled from the audience. Enraged, he screamed obscenities and threw the bottle back into the crowd, hitting a 17-year-old girl in the face. Bach then leaped into the audience where, according to MTV's account, he landed on the girl and kicked another fan in the chin before being dragged back on stage by his roadies.
Arrested after the show, Bach was charged with two counts of assault and battery, two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of mayhem. After pleading innocent in the Hampden County Hall of Justice, he was freed on $10,000 bail with a trial date set for May 15. The injured girl was treated for "severe facial cuts and bruises."
Bach, who is back on tour with Skid Row, has refused any comment. His band's manager, Scott McGhee, also refused to comment on the charges (though he acknowledged that MTV gave an accurate account of the incident). Asked if Bach had apologized to the girl, McGhee would only say: "Sebastian hasn't talked with her yet. But he feels very badly and wants to see that she is taken care of. He'd like to meet her and make sure she's all right."
McGhee would not discuss a more pressing question: What is the possible impact of these incidents on Bach's career? We asked a pair of top rock managers for their opinions.
"Now I know what it feels like to be a Frank Sinatra fan," said Danny Goldberg, Belinda Carlisle's manager. "I thought Skid Row's '18 and Life' was a terrific song, but I could never condone Sebastian's bigoted, anti-gay remarks. People are entitled to make a mistake. But I couldn't represent anyone who consciously expressed reprehensible attitudes."
"It might hurt the band's reputation with Tracy Chapman fans," said another manager, who insisted on anonymity. "But I doubt if it's going to hurt him with Skid Row fans. They'll probably say, 'I dig where he's coming from--but it's a shame he hit the girl.' "
One rock fan who's incensed by Bach's behavior is Donovan Leitch, the young actor and writer (and yes, son of Donovan). He and his pal, David Kaufman, have organized a letter-writing campaign to MTV, decrying the video channel's "direct or indirect support" of any group associated with discrimination, bigotry or violent acts.
"I have friends who are sick and dying of AIDS and I think Sebastian Bach, who's a pop idol with impressionable young fans, should take some flak from this," said Leitch who has a small role in "Glory." It just seems that if MTV is airing his video all the time, they should take a stand on this."
His letter, which he and Kaufman are circulating in the pop community, suggests that instead of banning the video, MTV could air public-service announcements preceding the clip, which could "help counteract Mr. Bach's public disservices."
Doug Herzog, MTV's senior vice president in charge of programming, said MTV strictly keeps its news coverage separate from its video programming. "We've never stepped away from a story, whether it's controversial remarks by Bach, members of Public Enemy, Guns N' Roses or Andrew Dice Clay," he said. "Our news department has always done a good job of questioning these artists about their points of view. But we haven't taken Skid Row's videos off the air anymore than we would take Public Enemy's videos off the air.
"It's obviously a difficult situation. But should we stop playing James Brown's videos because he's in jail? Or Bruce Springsteen's videos because he's left his wife?
"Sebastian Bach is still hot--he's playing music our audience wants to hear. We're not going to protect him--after all, we broke this story. But as long as the public wants to see Skid Row videos, we have the responsibility to give them what they want to see."