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This Concert Rated R for Raunchiness

December 07, 1997|Steve Hochman

What has Marilyn Manson wrought?

The colorful shock-rocker's controversial tour ended months ago, but the furor over allegations of outrageous antics in the show hasn't gone away.

Though many of the charges about the Manson show (including killing puppies, sex acts on stage) were fabrications, the images proved so unsettling that some parents are wondering if a rating system--similar to those used for movies--shouldn't be adopted for concerts.

"We're talking about [setting standards] for both performance and lyrical content--including murder, suicide and the use of illegal drugs as themes," says Mark Michaelsen, legislative aid to Michigan state Sen. Dale Shugars, who is drafting a bill that would establish mandatory concert ratings.

Under this proposal, attendance by minors would be restricted at concerts with "unsuitable" content--much as with R and NC-17 movies. The bill also holds artists, promoters and venue operators legally liable for violations.

"It's a criminal bill and can be enforced by any law enforcement official," Michaelsen says. "And we're wrestling with whether to add a civil component so [an] outraged John Q. Citizen could bring suit, though our society is already so litigious."

Barbara Wyatt, president of the Parents Music Resource Center, the lobbying group whose pressure played a large part in the institution of "explicit lyrics" advisories on records, strongly supports such measures.

"It's about time," she says. "The industry keeps saying the parents need to oversee what their kids are seeing and hearing, but they don't have the tools. We have more information available about what's in a jar of pickles than in music."

But Shugars' proposed law is much stronger than mere stickers and warnings or the new TV ratings system, both of which are ultimately done at the voluntary discretion of the record companies and networks. Even movie ratings, with minors needing to be accompanied by an adult to attend an R picture and banned from those with NC-17 tags, have no legal power behind them and are used merely by agreement within the movie industry.

Why such action for concerts? Michaelsen says that a voluntary system has already failed in Michigan. A Shugars-drafted resolution that calls on promoters to state in concert ads if a performer's recordings carry stickers was passed shortly after Manson performed in the senator's home county of Kalamazoo. But it had minimal impact.

"A lot of venue operators after that said, 'Maybe you've got a point,' " Michaelsen says. "There was a lot of clucking about it, but then no one followed through. So we decided to pursue a more aggressive approach."

Not surprisingly, there's little, if any, support within the concert industry for the proposed legislation.

Brian Murphy, president of L.A.-based Avalon Attractions, says it's the proposal, not Manson, that is outrageous.

"It's hard for me to believe that in 1997 people would contemplate putting a regulation on live theater," he says.

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