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Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Nose on the Senate's 'porn rock' hearings, 30 years later

Frank Zappa testifies at Congress' "porn-rock" hearings 30 years ago.
Frank Zappa testifies at Congress' "porn-rock" hearings 30 years ago. (Wikipedia / February 10, 2015)


The parents of many, if not most, of the Nose’s gentle readers might not yet have had the sex that spawned them when, in 1985, the issue of raunchy rock lyrics erupted in the U.S. Senate’s “porn rock” hearing. It was a free-speech rock fan’s wet dream, this highly public spectacle that prompted the Recording Industry of America Association (RIAA) to affix “Parental Advisory” stickers on musical releases it deemed possibly offensive to the sexual sensibilities of the parents of minors. Rock stars sparred with U.S. senators as bawdy lyrics such as those from the Mentors’ scat-rock classic ‘Golden Showers,’ with its Nose-flaring reference to “anal vapors,” were recited into the Congressional Record. If a DVD of the hearing were released today, the Motion Picture Association of America would likely feel compelled to give it an “R” rating.

Baltimore’s connection to the “Contents of Music and the Lyrics of Records” hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation was twofold. Its native son, the late freak-rock champion Frank Zappa, in whose memory a bust sits along Frank Zappa Way in Highlandtown, was one of its star witnesses. And the legendary Baltimore-Washington radio DJ Cerphe Colwell also gave the committee some things to ponder. A month prior, in August 1985, the two sat down in Baltimore for a videotaped interview that has surfaced on the internet in recent years.

“Let’s be reasonable about this,” Zappa told Colwell 19 minutes into the interview, “sex is good for you. It’s a natural function. There is no reason to think that a person shouldn’t know about how his own body works at the earliest possible age. Just because you know about intercourse, masturbation, or any of that, doesn’t mean you have to go out and do it when you are 5 years old. It doesn’t hurt to know.” He added some sage advice: “Don’t be afraid of words that make you think about sex. You’re not going to die from it, you’re not going to go to hell from it.”

At the hearing itself, Zappa expounded on this theme, saying, “there is a tendency in the United States to hide sex, which I think is an unhealthy thing to do.” He partly laid the problem on parents: “Many parents do not give their children good sexual education,” he said, and that “makes the child vulnerable, because if you do not have something rational to compare it to when you see or hear about something that is abberated, you do not perceive it as an aberration.”

Zappa descended on the hearing because a coven of connected women in D.C., who he called “the Washington wives,” had come together earlier that year to form the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which quickly whipped up public sentiment against what it considered to be offensive lyrics, releasing its “Filthy Fifteen” songs by artists ranging from Prince to Sheena Easton and clamoring for a way to enable parents to screen such smut before their kids could hear it.

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Frank Zappa is considered to be one of the most influential rock musicians of the late twentieth century. Between the start of his career in the late fifties and his death in 1993 he recorded and rele..


On September 19, 1985, Frank Zappa testified before the United States Senate Commerce, Technology, and Transportation committee, attacking the Parents Music Resource Center or PMRC, a music organizati..

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