New Bad Boy for Old Argument Rapper Eminem Has Teens, Parents at Odds over Popular Music

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Byline: Eric Krol Daily Herald Staff Writer

Shari Sharon remembers putting up a fight when her parents forbade her from going to an Alice Cooper concert back in 1975.

"They'd said the same thing to my sisters when the Beatles came out," Sharon said. " 'It was the devil's music. How can you listen to it?' "

So it was with a sense of irony that Sharon recently told her 15-year-old daughter, Kendall, that she couldn't listen to Eminem, the rapper who rhapsodizes about killing his wife and raping his mother.

Kendall, who likes the beat on Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP," defended her desire to listen to the music she likes.

"It's just music," said Kendall, who lives with her parents and 12-year-old sister, Krissy, in Carol Stream. "Only stupid people take it seriously."

In most ways, the Sharons were engaging in the same cross- generational struggle that's been going on in suburban living rooms since Elvis first shook his pelvis.

But some of today's baby boomer parents - not to mention women's and gay rights groups - say Eminem and his eye-popping lyrics go beyond the pale of the drug and sex references of yore.

The latest round of the cultural debate will reach a climax tonight as a curious audience watches to see if Eminem walks away with the nation's highest pop music honor, a Grammy for album of the year. Some won't be watching, on general principle.

"It's the promotion of violence against women," said Rae Bramel, sexual assault program coordinator at Community Crisis Center, an Elgin women's shelter. "It glorifies and normalizes it. When it's not a horrible thing, it goes from being unspeakable to being acceptable."

But DePaul University sociology professor Deena Weinstein, author of a book on heavy metal and rock as cultural expression, puts herself in the camp of those against music censorship and take Eminem's songs as nothing more than escapist fantasies.

"What Eminem is saying is nothing compared to non-mainstream music" like death metal and hard-core punk, Weinstein said. "What we have here is a script written by the performer, and we're not understanding any notion of, quote, poetic license. We take things way too literally."

Chicago has history in the music-culture war. In 1966, WLS-AM commissioned a local garage band, The Shadows of Knight, to record a less suggestive version of the Them song "Gloria" that became a top 10 hit, according to author Eric Nuzum, whose book "Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America" comes out next month.

Five years later, the Illinois Crime Commission put out a list of rock songs that contained drug references, including the folksy Peter Paul and Mary tune "Puff the Magic Dragon."

Nationally, the debate reached epic proportions in the mid- 1980s, when Tipper Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center pressured the music industry to institute a warning label system that's still in place today at music shops. …