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GROSS PROFIT : When Sen. Dole Targets Certain Rock Groups, He Just Feeds Their Notoriety

June 25, 1995|Jonathan Gold

Cannibal Corpse. I know Cannibal Corpse. In fact, I'm listening to the group's CD right now. It's pretty much a one-note band. Most of the songs on its first album seem to be about exhuming dead bodies, but then the group is working the highly regimented heavy-metal subgenre sometimes known as Grossout Metal. And that's an element that occupies about the same place in teen-age culture as the dead-baby jokes that hormonally challenged 14-year-olds used to tell each other in the '60s.

The point of Grossout Metal, is, you know, to be gross. I went to see Cannibal Corpse play at the Troubadour a couple of years ago, and what stuck out about the sparsely attended show, besides the fact that the only female in the club was hiding behind the cigarette machine, was that pretty much everyone was giggling.

But I wouldn't be listening to Cannibal Corpse today if Sen. Bob Dole hadn't blasted the group, among other entertainment entities, for "undermining the character of the nation." Sure, Cannibal Corpse's records are "nightmares of depravity." If they weren't, the band wouldn't be doing its job. But although the group may be fairly notorious in certain heavy-metal circles, it definitely falls into the camp of what critic Robert Christgau calls "semipopular music." It is difficult to undermine the character of a nation if hardly anyone outside your immediate families has ever heard of you.

A spokesman for Sen. Dole has admitted that the venerable legislator never actually listened to any of the records involved, even the popular ones, though he had studied the lyric sheets. If the senator had bothered to slap on a Cannibal Corpse CD, this is what he would have heard: "Wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh BLARGH wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuhhhh." Actually, he probably would have heard even less than that unless his speakers were really good. But, hey! Now the band is famous.

Candidate Clinton bestowed in 1992 a kind of immortality on a surprised and delighted rapper named Sister Souljah, whose influence to that time had extended to maybe two dozen militant Columbia students. Until Tipper Gore's recitation of a particularly vile lyric earned them a permanent place in pop-culture history, the Mentors, singled out a decade ago by the Parents Resource Music Center, were a uniquely untalented porno-metal band whose fame probably didn't extend much beyond the Hollywood punk-rock clubs where they occasionally were allowed to play. The controversy around Ice-T's metal song "Cop Killer" achieved media saturation enough to allow the rapper to wriggle out of his contract with Warner Bros. and sign a vastly more lucrative deal with an independent label.

It's sort of a symbiotic relationship: The politicians get to take highly publicized hard-line stances against filth, and the artist gets to sell more albums.

When it comes right down to it, goofily violent music might be one of America's strongest export items. The ex-members of N.W.A. have become the basis of a major industry all by themselves, selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of CDs and cassettes and, not incidentally, providing hundreds of good jobs at good wages to L.A.'s so-called "hard-core unemployable." If Dr. Dre had manufactured assault rifles instead of rap records, Republican senators would probably be holding him up as an exemplar of America's can-do spirit.

So Sen. Dole's implied regulatory crackdown on a thriving U.S. industry is especially ironic, given that these increased miles of government red tape are coming from a guy whose answer to most of life's problems is to tout the free market. Sure, he can try to make a case for Time-Warner as the embodiment of evil in America, but guys like Snoop Doggy Dogg and Nine Inch Nails have little or nothing to do with it. And if I were Cannibal Corpse, I'd be sending the senator a fruit basket right about now.

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