Despite 'Cop Killer,' Body Count racks up peaceful performances

December 14, 1992|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Does the name Body Count ring a bell?

It should. A few months ago, this L.A.-based thrash act was the most notorious band in rock and roll. Thanks to "Cop Killer," the last song on Body Count's self-titled debut album, the group was condemned by law enforcement associations, denounced by Vice President Dan Quayle and reviled by actor Charlton Heston.

By mid-summer, sentiment was running so high that complaints over "Cop Killer" dominated the annual stockholders meeting at Time/Warner, the media conglomerate distributing the Body Count album. And when it was announced at the end of July that "Cop Killer" would be deleted from future copies of "Body Count," it made the front page of newspapers from coast to coast.

Somehow, though, Body Count itself wound up almost forgotten in the fray. Because most of the media attention was focused on the group's frontman, rap star Ice-T, many of those following the controversy thought "Cop Killer" was an Ice-T record. In fact, there are still those who think "Cop Killer" is a rap song and part of Ice-T's solo show (it isn't, and he performs it only with Body Count).

Does that make Body Count guitarist Ernie C. -- who co-wrote "Cop Killer" and co-produced the album -- feel like he's been unjustly forgotten?

"Well, Ice always gets the spotlight," says Mr. C., over the phone from a tour stop in Charlotte, N.C. "So it wasn't no big deal. A lot of people didn't even know what it was, you know? They didn't know Body Count was a separate band.

"They didn't really know what they were talking about."

Take Charlton Heston, who read from the "Body Count" lyric sheet at the Time/Warner stockholders meeting. "He had no concept of what was going on," says C. "He just read the lyrics. He didn't know who was listening to the album, or what people had gone through to write these songs."

Ironically, Heston's performance triggered more curiosity than outrage. "That was just the funniest thing," laughs the guitarist. "He brought people to the album who never would have known who we are. They said, 'Moses is talking about it. Let's listen to this band.' " Indeed, the album -- which had seemingly peaked on the Billboard album charts in May -- eventually sold over 500,000 copies before "Cop Killer" was pulled.

"We got him a gold record," adds an appreciative C. "We got Dan Quayle a gold record, too. It's authentic, like they're part of the band."

Of course, there are those who think Body Count courted controversy, and that "Cop Killer" was included merely as a publicity ploy. But as Ernie C. tells it, although Warner Bros. was concerned about potential complaints over the album, "Cop Killer" wasn't the song they were worried about.

It was "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight," in which Ice-T sings of murdering Mom for racist views, that had the corporate chiefs concerned. "They were worried about that and 'KKK Bitch,' " C. says. "They were really nervous about those. But 'Cop Killer'? They knew what it was."

As a matter of fact, "Cop Killer" was widely considered the highlight of Body Count's performances on the 1991 Lollapalooza tour. "We figured we played it for 700,000 people during Lollapalooza," he says. "No one ever said anything about the song, you know? No complaints."

So what happened? "It just started to be a platform," Ernie explains. "It was right after Rodney King and all, so everybody's looking at [the police] like they're bad guys, right? And they are, some of them. Not all, but certain ones. So then we come along, and they say, 'These guys are talking about killing.' They tried to flip the issue around, to point everything at us.

"That's not what the song's about."

Ernie adds that police reaction to the song hasn't been uniformly negative. "The other day in Atlanta, there were cops that came to our show," he says. "When we see cops, we get kind of jittery, you know what I mean? But these guys came up to us and said, 'Can we have a couple of Body Count hats? We want to wear them to roll call tomorrow.'

"There were cops in New York, in the heat of the controversy, and they were down there, they were laughing, trying to get Ice-T's autograph for their kids. They know [what the song's about]. They're sitting there laughing at it.

"But the LAPD, they're a different breed," he adds. "See, that's what we wrote the song about initially. And it says it in the song. We're specifically talking about the LAPD, because that's what we know. We did a show in L.A., and they brought out SWAT units, you know? They brought out cops on horses and motorcycles and had about 60 cops just patrolling. They just tried to gangster our show around."

Yet for all the fear Body Count seems to have engendered, the band's concerts have been utterly without incident. "The shows have been going great," says Ernie. "A couple of cities, the cops come out and want to throw the intimidation factor in by standing outside, that kind of thing. But there's been no trouble, no fights."

Nor is trouble anticipated when the group plays Hammerjacks tomorrow. Promoter Don Wehner has already been in contact with local law-enforcement agencies, and reports that everyone concerned is happy so far with the way the show is being handled. "I've had nothing but cooperation," Wehner says.

BODY COUNT

When: 8 tonight

Where: Hammerjacks

Tickets: $14.50 in advance, $16.50 at the door

ACall: (410) 481-7328 for tickets; (410) 659-7625 for information

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