Here’s a Little Story I Got to Tell…

As I said, I’ve been mulling over “Devil’s music” in relation to the book. When I was growing up, it was, in my communities, taken for granted that there was indeed Satanic music and it was heavy metal. Not the hairband heavy metal. Parents hated Guns & Roses, but no one thought they were Satanic. I mean Slayer, Dio, Judas Priest, Ozzy, and, still, a little bit Led Zeppelin. Weirdly, I don’t remember anyone thinking Metallica was Satanic, but they might have been just a little too popular. Not that Zeppelin wasn’t, obviously. But Zeppelin was pagan, in that Lord of the Rings way. So, I’m actually not sure how we drew the line–I just know somehow, the line was drawn and Metallica was on one side of it, the “safe” if not noisy and obnoxious side and Zeppelin was on on the other.

Possibly Zeppelin was on the Satanic side because they were playing old blues music, along with the whole backwards-masking rumors about “Stairway to Heaven.”

Anyway, we lived in almost exclusively all white communities. Meaning, if I think of all the places I lived, I can name you the non-white families–the Herreras and the Salazars, the Kings, the Garners and possibly that kid with the wonky tooth, and the Geitners. I could be missing one or two, but you get the idea.

So, even though rap music existed, it was considered black music and, since our communities didn’t have black teenagers in them, and you couldn’t hear rap on the radio (for the most part. You heard some Run DMC after Aerosmith covered them and you heard some comedy rap, like the Fat Boys. But if people were listening to You MTV Raps and having their minds blown, they knew to keep their mouths shut about it), there wasn’t a lot of cultural anxiety about it. After all, that’s why you lived in rural Illinois, to keep your good kids safe from that.

I mean, I can remember how outraged parents were about kids listening to Michael Jackson (in his Thriller days) and Prince, because they thought it was wrong that kids admired and thought Jackson, especially, was cute, because they were black.

So, I’m sure that kids who grew up listening to their parents rail against Michael Jackson were not flaunting a love of Public Enemy later, you know? Not if you wanted to keep those tapes or records.

The Beastie Boys managed to bring this to a head, I remember. They were performing “nigger music” (excuse the epithet, but let’s be frank), but there was some heavy guitar which kind of signaled “Satanic heavy metal” to people. So, there was some concern in the town we lived in when Licensed to Ill came out about whether children should be allowed to listen to it.

My dad was a reluctant participant in these discussions. My dad is old-school Midwestern, but from the city, which means he never, ever met an ethnic or religious joke he didn’t find funny, no matter how tasteless, but he would not stand for overt racism. He didn’t care for Michael Jackson, but we were allowed to listen to him and I can remember one of my first pairs of earrings were hearts with Michael Jackson on them, which I wore every day until my ears got infected. And my dad refused to let discussions about whether it was okay for Michael Jackson to be listened to happen around him. He insisted Jackson was talented and worth kids’ attention.

But, as far as my dad was concerned, the Beastie Boys were three white kids. And, well, they might be Satanic. And while it was fine for us to listen to Satanic music over at other people’s houses, we couldn’t have it in the house. So, he and some of the other parents in the church set out to listen to Licensed to Ill.

Sadly, of course, children were not allowed to be there for the listening, so I don’t know how it went. I just know that, when he came home, he forbid us from ever owning that tape.

My next birthday, my best friend bought it for me, covertly.

And there was “Paul Revere.” I know the Beastie Boys have expressed some mixed feelings about the album in general. I know I, as an adult, have some mixed feelings about the album and this song in particular.

But holy fuck, when I heard it as a twelve or thirteen year old? It blew me away.

It still, at some level, blows me away.

We worry a lot, as feminists, about what kinds of messages this culture sends young girls. And I never heard what happened to the sheriff’s daughter as being anything other than a rape. And there are lots of reasons I should have identified with her–I, too, was the daughter of the kind of man boys like to rage against, I, too, was a girl, etc.

But I never did. I always identified with the bravado and the complete outlaw disregard for social order.

And I appreciated that you knew you were in danger with the subjects of that song. There was no guessing, no mixed signals. These were not good kids everyone in town liked who would hurt you and no one would believe you. They were actually quite terrible and everyone knew it.

I didn’t know, at that age, that you’d still get blamed, if you’re a woman who hangs out with terrible men and they do bad things to you.

At that age, I could hear men speaking like this and feel a kind of joy at their frankness.

Hell, maybe I still do feel a kind of joy at their frankness. Even if it’s obvious now that it’s mostly bravado.

So, anyway, I owned the tape and my parents knew I owned the tape and I listened to the shit out of it, but they never took it away from me.

And I felt like I was hearing messages from the wider world, a scary but awesome place I would have to be ready to join, sooner or later.

It’s funny. I didn’t mean for this post to be so thematically coherent, but I looked up Licensed to Ill on Wikipedia to see if it was “License” or “Licensed” and I see that they used a ton of samples from Led Zeppelin. Ha ha ha.

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15 thoughts on “Here’s a Little Story I Got to Tell…

  1. Pretty sure Run DMC covered Aerosmith and not the other way around.

    I never cared for the Beastie Boys, though I always strived to do it like this, that, and if one was handy…I’m ok with a wiffle ball bat.

  2. You are correct, sir. In my defense, I try to think about Aerosmith as little as possible since we had to hear “Dream On” at our school dances every time a kid got hit by a train, which seemed to be all the fucking time.

    Aerosmith might not objectively be a depressing band, but they make me depressed.

  3. What was it with kids (boys) getting hit by trains? Or getting fried trying to light their cigs off the transformer tower? Or dying it other pointlessly stupid ways like opening it up down a flat straight road and unexpectedly running into one’s uncle’s combine going home from late-night field work?

    Were these small town nihilistic suicides that I was too stupid to understand as such?

  4. In our town, it was girls who would get hit by trains, usually while riding their bikes. And then a few years later, the boys would kill themselves in stupid car wrecks.

    There were so many girls getting hit by trains when I was in junior high that I think they must have been suicides I didn’t understand as such AND that were kept from us. And yet, now that I’m an adult, clearly people were copycatting.

    I don’t know.

    I think they were small town nihilistic suicides.

    It’s hard to believe so many kids could be so stupid by accident.

    It’s funny. I hadn’t really thought about that until this thread. I just remember that you knew that, at the school dances, you were going to hear “Dream On” or, more rarely, “Stairway to Heaven” because someone had died.

    I remember the songs, but I hadn’t kind of thought about what that meant–how many dead kids. One or two a year, probably.

    I’m always shocked by people my age who are just now attending funerals for the first time. I used to think that maybe it was just because of my dad’s profession that I did.

    But, no, there were a lot of funerals.

    Hmm.

  5. Licensed to ill — damn fine record. I don’t guess my parents cared one way or the other about the Beastie Boys. But the difference in my growing up/music experience is this: my hometown in Mississippi – I shit you not – did not get MTV until after the year 2000. So, parents really weren’t hip to what kids were listening to because the kids weren’t watching/listening to the television in plain sight.

    On the other hand, Prince was forbidden to me as I sat with my dad and watched the Nightly News with Brokaw each evening and there was that big stink in the ’80s with Tipper Gore and the PMRC after she heard “Darlin NikkI” coming from one of her daughter’s speakers – specifically the “masturbating with a magazine” line.

    The one big thing I recall being expressly forbidden to own – and specifically asked if I was in possession of it – was the Too Live Crew (did I spell that right? Is it Two or Too?) — That hit the mainstream news after the band was banned or some uproar hit — and Daddy said “you don’t own their music do you?”

    “Paul Revere” — funny enough, when I hear or think about that song, I flash back to being in the backyard of our neighbor’s house — with the son of the Baptist preacher — the guy loved to sing/rap that song. Specifically the “I did it with a wiffle ball bat” line.

    The train thing is ultra disturbing to me. Wow. Really?

  6. Wow, when I was in high school our parents used to complain all the time about how crappy the music we listened to was, but I don’t think I knew anyone who had their listening censored. I don’t think we’d have stood for it. The worst we got was “if you want to listen to that garbage you’re going to have to get a job and buy it with your own money.” But we had florid suicides: there was the drinking copper sulfate one, and the cutting her own throat one, and the drowning herself in the river one.

  7. Oh, yeah – but Too Live Crew was filthy. I had totally forgotten this story until now:

    A girl my age had gone on senior trip (the public schools in my hometown were a joke, therefore I went to school in the next town over in order to get a real education – therefore I was not on this trip) and had left the Too Live Crew cassette in the tape deck of her car. Her dad got in the car to go somewhere, started the ignition and got an earful of “Me So Horny” or whatever parent horrifying music was coming out of the speakers.

    Being a small town, word got around fast that Mary’s dad had discovered her musical tastes and how she was grounded for a full month when she returned from Florida.

  8. I was a teenager right as hip hop was gaining some mainstream airplay, and I lived in a large enough city that most of it was available to me. I feel pretty lucky that my parents didn’t put too many restrictions on what I listened to (or read or watched for that matter,) I was a pretty sneaky kid. I would have found it anyway.

    What about the female hip hop artists of that era? Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First” and “U.N.I.T.Y” were a big part of my feminist awakening,

  9. I’m a little bit older, but do you guys remember the 1979 Kenny Rogers song “Coward of the County”? It was on the radio when I was 7 or 8 and I was so baffled by the lyrics that I had to ask my Mom what “they took turns at Becky/and there was three of them” meant. I was roundly horrified once she told me. I had no idea before that of rape as a concept. And then there it was on the RADIO!

  10. Kathy, I never heard Queen Latifa until I was well into adulthood. I remember in college one of my friends had that salt n Pepa album with… I can’t remember the name of the song, but it was like “If I wanna take a guy home with me tonight it’s none of your business” and just listening to it over and over again because I literally could not believe… not that a woman wouldn’t do those things and not give a fuck. I could believe that.

    But that she would say publicly. That blew my mind. I love songs in which women are forthcoming about what they want from life because, while I wanted those things growing up, I completely internalized that a woman could not express to anyone other than her closest woman friends anything she might want.

    But, yeah, I was cheated out of Queen Latifah by fate, for sure.

    Jessamy, I do remember that song and I remember that it made me cry to listen to it, but it didn’t occur to me until way later what had happened to poor Becky. I thought she’d just gotten beat up.

  11. One morning before school, my mother heard some of Frank Zappa’s “Sheik Yerbouti” coming from my bedroom. I had always figured my parents either weren’t paying any attention or wouldn’t understand the lyrics (since they always complained that they couldn’t understand the lyrics!). I’m pretty sure “Bobby Brown” was the track that she heard.

    Eventually me and a friend
    Sorta drifted along into S&M.
    I can take about an hour on the tower of power
    As long as I gets a little golden shower.

    She asked me what it was, then asked if I understood what the lyrics meant. I lied and said I did. She let me keep it.

    Richard Pryor records, on the other hand, were forbidden (probably because he was black), so I always listened to them with headphones.

  12. Please admire how I haven’t derailed the comments with a lengthy dissertation on Satan’s Music and the countless chapel services I had to sit through lectures on the same.

    I couldn’t listen to Ronnie James Dio until I was 38. Even now I still sorta feel like maybe the devil’ll come knocking if I turn it up too loud.

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