Tipper's rappers

Scott Benarde

July 30, 1992|By Scott Benarde

RAPPERS and rockers such as Luther Campbell, Sir Mix-A-Lot and the Ramones are worried about Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton's selection of Tipper Gore for second lady. Two words of advice for them: Chill out.

They're concerned because Mrs. Gore is one of the original "Washington Wives." Along with Susan Baker, she co-founded the Parents' Music Resource Center in 1985 to monitor the lyrical content of rock music. The group originally sought a record rating system similar to those used for films. The record industry compromised and adopted the current "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics," stickers put on records containing violent, obscene or pornographic lyrics.

The politically well-connected group was even able to get the Senate to hold a hearing on rock lyrics and labeling. John Denver, Frank Zappa and Twisted Sister's Dee Snider were among those who appeared before a committee to defend rock 'n' roll lyrics.

Mr. Zappa called Tipper Gore a "cultural terrorist" for her attempt to have warning labels put on records containing explicit lyrics. He portrayed her as a "bored, sex-starved housewife" with nothing better to do than "censor culture."

Mrs. Gore insisted she was calling for record company accountability and trying to practice responsible parenting, not advocating censorship. Her opponents, she said, convinced the public, "we wanted to ban music."

She says she only sought guidelines. How else, she asked, "does the average parent know which artist represents what?" (Some record and department store chains such as Wal-Mart refuse to stock records that carry the advisory stickers; other chains refuse to sell stickered records to minors.)

Mrs. Gore has made a point of telling the press she was a drummer in a high school rock band and had recently bought a Grateful Dead record. She made similar points in 1988 when her husband, Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee, was running for president and trying to win the support of the music industry.

"I love rock 'n' roll," Tipper Gore said. "I was one of the earliest (Bruce) Springsteen fans. I played the drums in high school. You're talking to someone who truly understands rock music."

In 1990, Mrs. Gore and the Parents' Music Resource Center publicly opposed a series of record labeling bills circulating through more than a dozen state legislatures. The record industry's adoption of the advisory stickers was sufficient, she said.

Even politically active Atlantic Records executive Danny Goldberg, one of Mrs. Gore's staunchest opponents during the Senate record labeling hearings, recently admitted Mrs. Gore had "stayed faithful to her promise that she was against censorship."

All signs since the '92 Democratic Convention in New York signal that Mrs. Gore has had her day as a public watchdog snarling at the gates of rock 'n' roll.

The Clinton campaign is doing a good job of painting the candidate and the Democratic Party as at least making an effort to be pro-rock -- and R&B and country and just about everything else.


* Mr. Clinton played sax on the "Arsenio Hall show."

* He spent an hour and a half on MTV's "Choose or Lose" program answering questions from the MTV generation and promised to return as president.

* Aretha "Queen of Soul" Franklin sang the national anthem at the convention.

* R&B singer Jennifer Holliday, best known for her roles in the Broadway shows "Dreamgirls" and "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God," also performed at the convention several times.

* Fleetwood Mac's hit, "Don't Stop," was the convention's closing theme song. (Tipper shook a hip or two.)

* Pop songwriter Randy Goodrum wrote an original song, "Circle of Friends," for the convention finale.

To further signal the rock community not to worry about Mrs. Gore, the campaign made sure that the national press reported that in her high school days she was a drummer in an all-girl band called the Wildcats.

After all of that, Mr. Clinton and running mate Al hopped on a bus with their families to play nine states in seven days. Just like a young rock band on a club tour promoting its first record.

Scott Benarde wrote this for Cox News Service.

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