"Under the test that the Supreme Court laid down in 1973, for something to be called obscene it has to meet certain criteria," Berman said. "It has to be without artistic merit. Now, whether you enjoy a certain kind of song or not, music is a creative art form. And our basic position from the beginning has been that it would be virtually impossible to find any legitimate music per se . . . obscene."
First Amendment advocates suggest the same fate for legislation pending in other states.
"I am constantly amazed by the sight of these legislators scrambling to suppress popular music," said Leanne Katz, executive director of the New York-based National Coalition Against Censorship. "None of these proposals could possibly survive a constitutional court battle."
Despite the furor in state legislatures over the harmful lyric issue, only one retailer has ever been convicted on obscenity charges for selling pop music.
Charles Freeman, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., record store owner who sold a sexually explicit 2 Live Crew tape to an adult undercover police officer last June, was fined $1,000 for the obscenity offense by a Southern Florida court.
After Freeman's arrest, many retailers stripped their shelves of potentially offensive music.
"I stood up for free speech and I paid for it," said Freeman, who lost his business in the aftermath of the legal battle. His case is up for appeal this summer. "Mom-and-pop stores can't fight the censors on our own. In 1990, the entertainment industry let little guys like me take the fall. We stood up for America and they abandoned us."
This year, the music business is mobilizing.
The National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers recently created a fund to finance lobbying efforts and signed on with Rock the Vote, a nonprofit record-industry free-speech coalition, to conduct anti-censorship voter registration drives in record stores around the country.
Rock the Vote, founded last July by some of the most powerful figures in the record industry, seeks to reduce government intervention in the music business by involving young rock fans in the political process. So far, the coalition's voter registration campaign has been responsible for signing up at least 80,000 new voters.
"Many young rock fans are unaware of what freedoms are at stake in this censorship battle," Capitol Records president Hale Milgram said. "Once legislators realize that rock fans are paying attention and can vote, they'll be less likely to sponsor laws that censor music."
Two weeks ago, Rock the Vote--in conjunction with Rhino Records and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream--kicked off its second anti-censorship concert tour with stops scheduled at 25 campuses across the nation. The tour is designed to encourage students to lobby Congress to pass the National Voter Registration Act of 1991--a bill that would allow anyone applying for a driver's license to register to vote at the same time.
Trade groups in the entertainment industry have also forged an alliance to target specific states for lobbying.
Efforts are already under way by the recording industry association, the merchandisers' association, the Video Software Dealers Assn. and the Motion Picture Assn. of America to defeat legislation in Texas, Oregon and Florida. After such political pressure was brought to bear on explicit lyric-related measures in Arizona, Connecticut and New Mexico, the proposed legislation was withdrawn.
Still, some rock fans believe the industry is not doing enough to protect controversial popular music.
Dave Marsh, East Coast editor of Rock and Roll Confidential, the music newsletter that initiated the counter-assault against rock censorship in 1983, criticized the industry's efforts as "half-hearted."
"The Iraqi air force put up a better fight in the Persian Gulf than the retailers and record companies have done battling censorship at home," Marsh said in a phone interview from New York. "Rock fans are tired of it and that's why we're mobilizing on our own."
Rock and Roll Confidential is preparing to stage First Amendment concerts and launch boycotts against corporations affiliated with anti-rock activities.
"It's time we start boycotting corporations, including record companies and retailers, that censor our music," Marsh said. "Nobody has the right to tell us what kind of art we can or cannot enjoy."
But Rep. Edwards, who is expected to introduce an additional resolution this month barring wholesale distributors from selling explicit albums to Texas retailers, disagrees.
"My bill is just the first step in cleaning this mess up," said Edwards, who is also sponsoring legislation promoting the reinstatement of prayer in public schools and corporal punishment within the prison system.
"After we get rid of the dirty lyrics, we intend to go after the filthy TV shows and movies. The way I see it, obscenity, like drugs, is contaminating America. Outlawing this garbage guarantees us all a better future."