Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Censorship Is Not a Cure for Teen-Age Suicide

To the Editor:

John F. McManus's claim that teen-agers are induced to commit suicide by "their music, books and movies" is typical of the confusion and ignorance with which authoritarians of every political stripe regard art they don't like. He neither distinguishes between works of suspect ideological tendency nor credits the propensity of audience members to interpret works as they see fit.

And of course he avoids the vexed chicken-and-egg question of what causes what.

From reading Mr. McManus's letter, for instance, you'd never guess that Elton John's "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself" holds teen-age self-pity up to transparent ridicule, while Pink Floyd's "The Wall" presents the self-pity of its rich, famous and decidedly postadolescent protagonist as a species of heroism. It's not surprising that Mr. McManus offers no examples of suicide in which Elton John's song is implicated. I wonder what he'd make of the failed suicide who called me to complain bitterly when I criticized Pink Floyd's self-indulgent world view in print: the band's music, he told me, had given him the strength to go on. And I wonder, too, whether he'd be surprised to learn that many of his fellow citizens consider the propaganda of the John Birch Society, where he is employed as public-relations director, far more murderous than the effusions of an overrated band.

Dec. 6, 1984

New York Times, Dec. 15, 1984