Shock, Shock… Shock Around the Clock

20_zappa_560x375Print and audio it seems are where shock both resides in both relative tranquility and in turbulent chaos simultaneously. Why is that? Why does the shock of TV and film wear off as time progresses while print and music (print moreso) only increases in how much value it’s shock contains?

I grew up in the 1980’s* and I was a heavy metal and punk fan with some “classic” rock thrown in. When it came to music it seems I lived through what I thought was the most shocking time in music… turns out I was wrong. When W.A.S.P.’s “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)”, Body Count’s “Cop Killer” and The Mentors “Golden Shower (You Axed For It!)” were all over the news I thought this was the height, the tip, the crest, the umbra of this all… in reality things were just starting to get interesting. We had parents and premenstrual groups such as the PMRC all up in twisted panties over stickering music and “porn rock”, we had magazine debates and televised debates on the topic of “shock rock”, we had Chuck Heston standing on the podium denouncing Ice-T for lyrics such as “I’m ’bout to dust some cops off/cop killer, better you than me/cop killer, fuck police brutality” all the while real cops were running rampant doing the exact thing that Body Count was screaming about (most with no indictments either). Hell, at one point Time/Warner actually debated internally whether Body Count’s “Cop Killer” was even LEGAL to release, yeah, it got that bad back in the early 90’s. I really thought this was the tipping point where it all fell apart, I honestly never thought that it could get “worse” (quotes are necessary due to worse being a very relative term in this case). Think about this, there was actually a senate sub-committee hearing convened on the subject of “porn rock”… that really happened, in america, in my lifetime.

WASP-Live-Animal-Fk-Li-21487The band Anthrax summed all of this hyperbole perfectly with one simple protest song about shocking music:

Now I’m gonna tell ya a story
A tale of wrong and Right
and freedom is the reason
You can’t take it without a fight

So now I’m startin’ up a posse
(Suck my dick, suck my dick)
To come and look for you
We’re gonna put a stop
To what you want to do
You fucking whores (You fuckin’ whores)
That’s all you are

You say our records are offensive
(You’re a douche, You’re a douche)
Our messages ain’t right
You say “We’re gonna label records
So our kids can grow up right”
You fucking whores (Let them decide)
That’s all you are

shit, fuck, satan, death, sex drugs, rape
These seven words you’re trying to take
shit, fuck, Satan, death, sex, drugs, rape
Right or wrong it’s our choice to make
America the beautiful, Land of the free
Don’t change the words to land of Hypocrisy

Now I’m startin’ up a posse (Fascist scum, fascist scum)
And we’ll damn sure make you see
Something that offends you
May not be offensive to me
You fucking whores (You fuckin’ whores)
That’s all you are

Now you might take offense
To a word like “fuck” or “shit” (Dick!)
But you fuckin’ don’t have the right (Cunt!)
To discriminate me for saying it!
You fuckin’ whores (You fuckin’ whores)
That’s all you are

So now I’m startin’ up a posse (Motherfucker, motherfucker)
To fight for freedom of choice
To fight for freedom of speech
We’re gonna make you hear our voice

And now I don’t do this to shock you
(That’s the end, that’s the end)
I don’t do this for spite
You’ve got the choice, don’t buy it, don’t read it,
And don’t say your opinion’s right
You fucking whores (You fuckin’ whores)
That’s all you are (Cunty, cunty, cunty, cunt)

You know you can’t censor my feelings
You can’t censor my thoughts
Censorship’s against
Everything America stands for
You fuckin’ whores (Let us decide)
That’s all you are (And this ain’t sexist, either)

600_1359263847_e44b3b098846d2282eac5ec231e5bb30You might not consider that a protest song, but it was (is), it was a powerful protest song about how precarious the freedom of expression was getting at that time in regards to music. When a record label is seriously debating the LEGALITY of a record they ALREADY released… well that signifies dark times. Now though, now those songs and even that time period seem quint or even kitschy in comparison to the “controversial” music of today. 2 Live Crew have nothing on the self-aggrandizing world of today’s rap.

Let me see you throw your motherfuckin’ sets up (in the sky)
Throw your motherfucking rags out (wave em’ high)
Pussy niggas keep on eyein’ me (you wanna die)
I got shawty them in your deep (they gonna ride)
Bitch we too cruck to try to dance (I got that thang)
It’s right here on my side (don’t make me pay)
You must not know where the fuck we from (pick a side)
Eastside to the West nigga (and we don’t hide)

That is by lyrical genius Lil Jon and yes it is a grammatical nightmare on top of going well beyond the metal trash that I grew up listening to. By the way, that amazing conglomeration of random words there? Multiple award winning. Sigh… I just don’t get modern music. That said, my understanding of the music is not paramount here, the fact that we went from “Louie Louie” being so controversial and shocking that it required a study BY THE FBI** to Guns n Roses lyrics such as “Yea, get nothin’ for nothin’ If that’s what ya do Turn around bitch, I got a use for you, Besides you ain’t got nothin’ better to do And I’m bored” or “Immigrants and faggots They make no sense to me They come to our country And think they’ll do as they please Like start some mini Iran, Or spread some fuckin’ disease They talk so many goddamn ways It’s all Greek to me”all the way to the rap and rock today with all of the songs about the buttocks and the drugs… it’s like what I thought was the maximum was only the preshow fluff before the real fucking began.

naked_lunchThe printed word is easily more powerful than the spoken word or any other form of communication really; more impactful and striking than most people realize which is where it’s true power lies, just under the surface, waiting to strike when least expected. The printed word and the specific configuration of words is vital to humanity being where it is, for whatever positive or negative that may bring the pen is mightier than the sword… there is a reason that remains true today, so why has the shock of the printed word not aged as visual and audio shock has? The music got more graphic and shocking as it progressed, the movies and TV got far more intense as they progressed but the printed word seems to be holding it’s ground and neither advancing nor retreating in it’s shock value… and that is a good thing.

Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, for example, was so controversial and shocking upon it’s release in 1959 that it was straight out banned in several locals (it still is in some places). The frank depiction of drug use, homosexuality and talking assholes (I am serious) were just too much for the 50’s and truth be told, it has lost… almost none of it’s power, that is one book that is still pretty damn shocking today. It failed (if you can say failed) to get more shocking by the very fact that it was so nuts to start with that now has not caught up to then.

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, released in 1991 became a template for the books that followed it in both the shocking depictions of violence and sexuality (plus mixing the two) that many of what followed could not complete with the shear POWER of the words associated within it’s pages.

urlVladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita in 1955 and if written today it would be still be so shocking that I hesitate to think it would see print at all, yet here we are just under 60 years later and it has lost none of it’s shock value. In fact I think that most of the shocking printed works are such based on the fact that they did come out in what were (relatively) conservative times, this only seems to add to their power and longevity. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell could only have come out in 1948, Huckleberry Finn’s liberal and honest (in context) use of “nigger” is refreshing in a shocking way. These printed works are mainstays not merely because of their content, but in some ways in spite of when that content was unleashed onto the unsuspecting public. If you are of a young age or even an older reader who may have been too young to understand things such as Naked Lunch on it’s initial release, can you imagine just how shocking something like that was in the 50’s if it still holds shock value today? I did not read Naked Lunch until the late 80’s but I can only surmise what it would like for a high school student in ’59 to have stumbled across. That is the unending and unwavering domination that writing has over all others. Xaviera Hollander’s books, Burroughs, Ellis, Ellison, Gibson and so many others challenge not just the quo’s status but they challenge the idea of shock and within that shock they nurture the shock of ideas.

*Technically the last half of the 1970’s but I was 5 when that ended, like I fucking remember a damn thing from that time.

**Yes, this really happened, in 1964 the FBI “studied” the song and the lyrics to determine of there was anything obscene in the song… they found nothing… your parents tax dollars at work folks.

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