Bleep! Censoring Rock and Rap Music

Article excerpt

Winfield, Betty Houchin and Sandra Davidson, eds. Bleep! Censoring Rock and Rap Music Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.114 pp. $55.

The arts-painting, photography, film, theater, literature, and music-have long been lightening rods for would-be censors. In recent American history, popular music has both entertained millions of fans and outraged moral guardians who saw new music forms-jazz, rock 'n' roll and, most recently, gangster rap-as a frontal attack on traditional values.

Ignoring the First Amendment, moral guardians from Pat Robertson to Tipper Gore to William Bennett have called for either outright censorship of music lyrics or demanded warning labels on CD's to alert potential customers to explicit language.

Bleep!, a small anthology of very brief essays first presented at a conference on censorship at the University of Missouri-Columbia, addresses the historical, legal, and cultural issues surrounding the controversy over rock and rap music.

There is little doubt that the lyrics of rock and roll shocked millions of white middle-class Americans. As Michael J. Budds notes in his essay, "From Fine Romance to Gook Rockin," white middle-class Americans were aghast to see their sons and daughters gyrating to the pulsating beat of African-American artists such as Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley or swooning to the Dominoes' rendition of "60 Minute Man," a song which left little to the imagination of kids or parents.

The music, often labeled "jungle" or "race" music, was identified as African-American and took on racism, social injustice, hypocrisy, and other social issues that made older Americans, who grew up with Tin Pan Alley romanticism, extremely uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, notes Betty Houchin Winfield in her essay, "Because of the Children," that the FBI spent years and millions of dollars investigating rock artists. …