InterviewsPlays

‘Porn Rock’ Packed with Laughs, Lessons

Porn Rock: An Unintentional Comedy,” premiering June 5 at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, revisits one of pop culture’s silliest spectacles. Remember how Tipper Gore and co. demanded warning labels on albums with inappropriate lyrics?

Gore’s PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) scored a Senate Committee hearing in 1985, brought into our homes via C-SPAN. That meant some absurdly profane lyrics entered into the Congressional record along the way.

“Eighty percent of the script was directly pulled from the [hearing] transcript,” Meyers says. “It’s ridiculous how over the top [the lyrics] are. It just gets funnier and funnier.”

And yet the curious chapter in pop culture history had its serious side, too. The hearing tapped into artists’ rights, the coarsening of American culture and political figures eager to embrace a cause that could sway some Middle American voters.

Gore, along with Susan Baker (wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker), Pam Howar (wife of Realtor Raymond Howar) and Sally Nevius (wife of Washington City Council Chairman John Nevius) formed the PMRC in 1984 after hearing some of their children’s favorite songs.

For Baker, it was her child asking what Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” meant that helped her rally to the cause.

The PMRC sent a letter to the Recording Industry Association of America and dozens of record labels with a potent demand. Either stop producing this type of material or develop a ratings system for new albums.

‘Porn Rock’ Dream Team?

Gore’s team faced down a trio of unlikely partners: Frank Zappa, John Denver and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. The trio regarded the PMRC’s effort as censorship, plain and simple, Meyers says.

The singers argued that slapping a label on an album stigmatizes the artist. The comparison to the movie industry’s ratings systems, to them, didn’t wash.

Film actors are hired to play a character. Musicians often speak directly from the heart, a creative yearning that isn’t the same as a star inhabiting a role.

“It’s a slippery slope,” says Meyers, a former TV writer and producer who currently serves as a crisis communications consultant. “What about folk music? Country? What if a guy wiggles too much on stage?”

Best. C-Span Footage. Ever.

Meyers recalls watching the ensuing hearing during his college break.

“I was rolling on the floor laughing,” he says. “Here you had Tipper Gore … reciting all these offensive lyrics.” So he ordered the hearing transcripts via snail mail and read through the 200-plus pages. And he stashed the transcript away for a later date.

“I always wanted to do something with it,” he says. The author/playwright was researching theater venues for future productions when he heard about the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

porn-rock-dee-snider
Rocker Dee Snider spoke out against the PMRC back in 1985.

“This could really work for that,” he says of the event, which allows virtually any artist to present their vision without filter.

“Porn Rock” doesn’t feature elaborate sets or other production flourishes. It’s just actors bringing the 1985 hearing back to the present.

Free Speech Then … And Now

Meyers admits he had a political motivation for revisiting the saga today.

“It was all about free speech back then. It still is,” he says. “I don’t want the government telling me what I can or can’t listen to … the fact that free speech is under assault today … that jumped out at me.”

RELATED: Stephen Fry to PC Police: ‘Grow Up’

Just consider the rise of college “safe spaces” and the treatment many conservatives receive for simply speaking their minds on university campuses.

In our PC age, “calling something offensive is censorship,” he added.

The playwright views the subject through a different lens today. He’s a father now, and he has a new understanding of how parents would want to protect their children from mature content.

“I’m in favor of things that give you an idea of what material out there [is about],” he says.

It’s a Trap!

The 1985 hearings reached beyond simple information, as he sees it.

Consider a factor Zappa pointed out during the hearing. At the time, the record industry hoped to pass a tax on blank tapes, the preferred recording medium for a generation weaned on mix tapes. Music insiders hoped to make up for lost revenue with the tax.

“It’s not a coincidence that some of the women in the PMRC had husbands on the committee drafting the tax bill,” he says. Zappa argued the hearing was a “smokescreen,” according to Meyers.

“Let’s distract America with sex, and lots of it,” Meyers recalls Zappa saying.

Pop Culture Potty Mouths

Looking back, the hearings didn’t offer clear-cut solutions for the music scene of today. One Republican senator worried that a coarsening music scene would have a deleterious effect on society at large.

“He’s right, of course. In the ensuing 30 years, pop culture has only became more coarse,” he says. Just consider every fifth Instagram picture from Kim Kardashian West.

FAST FACT: Last year, Dee Snider said the songs initially targeted by the PMRC are “easy listening by today’s standards.” He also mocked the 2012 movie “Rock of Ages,” which featured a PMRC-like group singing Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” in the film. “That’s irony in its purest form.”

As Meyers sees it, the core issue then … and now involves the parent/child relationship. Parents must give their children the sense they can talk to them about issues involving sex and personal responsibility.

So who won the great music debate? You’ll find a spoiler alert on any new album today sporting a warning label.

“The record industry threw the artists under the bus. ‘Sure, we’ll put warning labels on all records, you’ll pass the tax,’” Meyers says.

The playwright hopes the current show doesn’t mark the first, and last, time “Porn Rock” graces a theater.

“This is a production we can pick up and move someplace else,” he says. And he’d love to have college-age students give it a fair shake.

defend-free-speech

“A lot of young people are probably left of center. I don’t want to alienate them with the wrong message,” he says. The bottom line should be non-partisan. “You don’t want the government telling you you can and can’t listen to something.”

He’s just not sure his own children should see “Porn Rock,” even thought Zappa brought his oldest kids to the hearing 31 years ago.

The production features mature content, the kind that may not be suitable for his teen daughters.

“We went to our daughter, and she said [the play] sounds inappropriate for her. Great. We brought her up right,” he says.


“Porn Rock: An Unintentional Comedy” plays at the Hollywood Fringe Festival at 4 p.m. June 5, 3 p.m. June 12, 9 p.m. June 15, 11 p.m. June 23 and 8:30 p.m. June 25.

Photo credit: /amf via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Show More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button
Close