Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mr. Tipper

Like a lot of folks around here, we figured that when the deal went down we'd bring vomit bags to our polling places this November and vote for Clinton. Bush is a ruling-class thug whose job performance won't improve after he loses his mind, Perot a majoritarian protofascist turned prevaricating politician. And even though Three-Dollar Bill will never remove his nose from the status quo's ass, we're fervent prochoicers who figured Harry Blackmun deserved a good night's sleep before he died. Only then came Gore--Senator Al to most of the world, Mr. Tipper to us.

Rock and roll is obviously not the big story here. Sure Clinton was slagging rap before Dan Quayle thought of it, but that was only a means to a political project that apparently outweighs the presidency in his mind--purging the Democratic Party of "special interests," as oppressed minorities are now called. By picking another "moderate" Southern yuppie, Clinton is telling blacks, Hispanics, gays, and union members that he won't throw them a sop, and daring them to try and get more out of the Yalie or the billionaire. But though explicit lyrics and such are minor matters compared to urban war zones, the destruction of the organized working class, and the plague, we couldn't help noticing that by choosing Mr. Tipper, Clinton has turned heterosexual white male rock and rollers into a special interest.

The industry responded with the usual pusillanimous bullshit. The only bizzers willing to dis the PMRC founder were outsiders--Frank Zappa, Rick Rubin publicist Heidi Robinson, censorship gadfly Phyllis Pollack. NARAS's Mike Greene declared that Tipper had "proved herself willing to change," while sometime free speech crusader Danny Goldberg (Gold Mountain, Atlantic, Bonnie Raitt, Nirvana, SoCal ACLU) told anybody who'd quote him that she'd opposed state censorship bills. And of course, Greene and Goldberg are reasonable men--Tipper now is a "moderate," outflanked by reactionary sickos like Donald Wildmon the way David Souter is by Antonin Scalia and William Rehnquist, or Bill Clinton is by the Yalie and the billionaire. In the still unlikely event that the Democrats win, can't you just see the record execs crawling to the White House lips a-pucker because they have a longtime relationship with the vice-president's wife? How many forests are you willing to kill for your vomit bags?

Speaking reasonably for a moment even though it makes us gag, we think the Gore card could improve Clinton's chances, mostly because it defies ticket-balancing wisdom--it clearly took a level of guts that the rap card didn't. But the Times goes further, arguing that "with the recent uproar over the lyrics of rap artists, including Sister Souljah and Ice-T," Al's PMRC connection is a plus in itself. Note that neither rapper has been censured for the sexual explicitness that got the PMRC rolling. Instead, just as first-amendment jeremiahs predicted, "obscenity" paranoia has somehow shaded over into attacks on political speech--which is accused, of course, of promulgating "hate" and "violence." Did someone say chilling effect? We find it ominous that the previously indomitable Ice-T--whose Body Count album features not only "Cop Killer" but a song in which he gets it on with "Tipper Gore's two 12-year-old nieces"--has declined comment. So here's a slogan for the '90s: "The violent is the political."

An attraction to rock and roll has always involved an attraction to chaos. Especially after the PMRC's consciousness-raising, most of us are smart enough to know that it's only a representation of chaos--chaos controlled. We also know that when Malcolm McLaren stole the Situationists' "BE REASONABLE DEMAND THE IMPOSSIBLE" he was only making a fashion statement. But reality is messing up our minds so much these days that sometimes fine distinctions escape us. If Perot gets the right plurality he throws the electoral college into--how about that?--chaos. If he surmounts that obstacle he won't be able to govern. And if he does manage to govern, God help us. He's starting to look good.

Village Voice, July 21, 1992