*Testimony given by Raymond Kuntze before the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring, and the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., November 6, 1997.Raymond Kuntz’s teenage son committed suicide in 1996 while listening to a CD by the heavy metal group Marilyn Manson.
Raymond stated in a court of law: “Dear Sirs, my son was listening to Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar on his stereo when he died—I personally removed that CD with the red lightning bolt on it from his player the next day—with the rough draft of an English class paper about this artist that had been returned to him that very day for final revisions, on the stand next to his body. Richard’s friends tell us that in the end this song, “The Reflecting God,” from that CD was his favorite song. They say that this song was what he always seemed to be listening to whenever they came over, and the lyrics of that song read as an unequivocally direct inducement to take one’s own life. Gentlemen, we are all certainly free to make our own decisions regarding the value of content. But if you were to ask me, I would say that the lyrics to this song contributed directly to my son’s death. Sirs, this music, because it glorifies intolerance and hate, and promotes suicide, contradicts all of the community values that people of good will, regardless of faith, ideology, race, economic or social position, share. From what my family has experienced, this music is a cancer on our society. I have given you my ideas of what we can do to solve this problem and stress that we must act as a people to protect our children from the twin evils of murder and suicide. If there is anything you can do about this problem, my wife, Christine and I are ready to help you in any way that we can.”
*Even in a nation where 12 schoolchildren a day are killed by guns, the death of 15 year-old Elyse Pahler stood out from the welter of cold statistics.
That was five years ago in San Luis Obispo and now her killers are serving sentences of 25 years to life. They were problem kids who devoted most of their leisure time to marijuana, methamphetamine and LSD, but they had something else swirling around in their heads. This was death-metal music, and specifically the records made by Slayer, the veteran pioneers of thrash from Huntington Beach, California.
While there are those who regard these words as a vehicle for no more genuine menace than a Robbie Williams video, 53-year-old David Pahler and his wife Lisanne, 43, are not among them. They believe that Slayer’s paens to serial killers and necrophilia contributed to their daughter’s death and are suing the band and the companies that have distributed their music.
“This case isn’t about art,” says David Pahler. “It’s about marketing. Slayer and others in the industry have developed sophisticated strategies to sell death metal music to adolescent boys. They don’t care whether the violent, misogynistic message in these lyrics causes children to do harmful things. They couldn’t care less what their fans did to our daughter. All they care about is money.”
“The distribution and marketing of this obscene and harmful material to adolescent males constituted aiding and abetting of the criminal acts described in this complaint,” says the lawsuit. “None of the vicious crimes committed against Elyse Marie Pahler would have occurred without the intentional marketing strategy of the death-metal band Slayer.”
For their part, Slayer are not talking about the case. Paul Bostaph, the drummer at the time, said: “They’re trying to blame the whole thing on us. That’s such nonsense. If you’re gonna do something stupid like that, you should get in trouble for it.” He supported Slayer’s case by observing that the killers had not done their homework properly: they had failed to follow the rituals of necrophilia sacrifice set out in the songs.
Attorneys for the band and the music companies – including Def Jam Music, Columbia Records, Sony Music Entertainment and American Recordings – say that Slayer’s work is ring-fenced by the right to free speech enshrined in the constitution.
“We’re part-evil,” says Slayer singer Tom Araya. “If we were really evil, we would be doing everything we’re writing about.”
Naturally, this distinction does not impress David Pahler. “What are we talking about here? We have children ending their lives because the lyrics say they’re worthless. It’s about money. That’s the driving force. I can’t imagine the adults in the band, in the distribution end, really think this so-called music or the lyrics are good.” His wife Lisanne says: “They have families of their own. Where’s their conscience?”
“They’re the nicest people,” says Chris Ferrara, their long-serving publicist. “It’s a matter of opinion how you take in the music, but I think it’s fiction, period. They’re nice, conservative people, believe it or not.”
*Birmingham hard rockers Judas Priest, whose releases include the album Killing Machine, were sued over a 1985 suicide pact made by two Nevada schoolboys.
One survived, and the other boy’s parents charged that a 1978 album contained hidden messages. The words “Do it” allegedly can be heard when the record is played backwards, and the letters S U I (for “suicide”) are in the sleeve artwork. The case was dismissed after evidence that the boys had grown up in “violent and depressed” surroundings.
Psychological point of view
Although the suicide rate is higher among rock and heavy metal fans (particularly the latter), a study of students with psychiatric disorders who were also heavy metal fans actually showed improved mood after listening to their music of choice. Other studies of depressed students have found similar results, suggesting that students may use this music to help treat their depression rather than becoming depressed as a result of listening to it.
Interestingly, college students whose musical preferences are alternative, rock or heavy metal actually obtain higher IQ test scores on average, particularly on questions where abstraction is required. Some studies have also found high intelligence among adolescent heavy metal listeners.
In my opinion, Metal music is a form of stress relief, a musical way of expressing one’s self. Anger and other feelings are indeed present, but they do not harm anyone; they are in fact personal feelings: most metal listeners are actually quite intellectual people who are into philosophy, psychology and many other art forms. The present stereotype of metalheads being drop-outs, narrow minded and violent people is no longer valid. Smart listeners are aware of the lyrics they are exposed to, and even in that case, they know that it’s not necessary to abide by the goal and meaning of these lyrics. In the end, we should be open minded as modern human beings, to be able to accept other point of views, including the artists themselves, and chose whether to agree with these views or not. Liking the actual music is not a crime!
Music does not kill people, people kill people.
Sources: Greenhaven Press, 2000 and www.thefreeradical.ca
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