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Antipornography group turns Senate ear to lurid rock lyrics

They urge no censorship and no new laws. But an antipornography group has succeeded richly in one aim. They have turned the nation's ear to the messages in rock music. After a slew of talk shows and nonstop press interviews, the newly formed Parents' Music Resource Center scored a coup last week in its fight against explicit sex and violence in rock. The campaign brought the United States Senate face to face with ``heavy metal'' rock music at a hearing that could be the media extravaganza of the year on Capitol Hill.

Senators confronted rock star Dee Snider, whose huge mass of Medusa-like hair cascaded in blond and black streaks. Wearing a sleeveless T-shirt with the name of his rock group, Twisted Sister, Mr. Snider testified to the effects of the antipornography campaign.

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``I'm tired of running into kids on the street who tell me that they can't play our records anymore because of the misinformation their parents are being fed by the PMRC,'' the rock performer told the Senate panel.

Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC), a group of wives of prominent Washingtonians, launched its nationwide effort about five months ago. It has already persuaded 24 record companies to put warning labels on products that have explicit lyrics and caused radio programmers to do some rethinking.

Not incidentally, some of the PMRC wives have husbands on the Senate Commerce Committee, which called the Sept. 19 hearing on rock pornography. Critics of the PMRC movement, including rock star Frank Zappa, say the connection represents a conflict of interest and charge that PMRC threatens to stifle artistic expression.

In acerbic comments last week, Mr. Zappa called the parents' effort an ``ill-conceived piece of nonsense'' that ``infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children,'' while not helping children.

Singer John Denver, conceding that a problem exists, contended that efforts to curb pornography could be abusive. Some record stations banned his song ``Rocky Mountain High'' with charges that it was drug related, he said, countering that the song was about the outdoors.

``That which is denied becomes that which is most desired,'' Mr. Denver said. ``And that which is hidden becomes that which is most interesting.''

For their part, PMRC's activists say they seek only consumer protection. Besides voluntary labels to warn parents of explicit lyrics, they are asking that lyrics be provided for record albums and tapes.

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Often record albums give no hint of explicit content, says PMRC member Mary Elizabeth Gore, wife of Albert Gore Jr., a Democratic senator from Tennessee and member of the Commerce Committee. Under questioning from her husband, Mrs. Gore told of buying the album ``Purple Rain'' by Prince for the Gores' pre-teen daughter and later discovering its explicit sexual content.

Officials in the recording industry have pointed out that record companies cannot provide lyrics because they often do not own the rights to publish them.

Twisted Sister's Dee Snider suggested that parents should listen to albums their children buy ``if they're that concerned about it.'' But he added of PMRC, ``I do think they take it overly serious.'' Heavy metal, the hard-driving rock he plays, is no worse than monster movies, according to Snider. The rock star held that he's trying to show adults ``that heavy metal is not totally a bad thing.''

He apparently will have trouble convincing the adults on the Senate panel. At one point the hearing room crowd gasped in unison as a testifier, youth minister Jeff Ling, droned the lyrics from rock songs depicting violence, praising incest, and advocating rape or suicide.

``Porn rock'' has no redeeming social value, charged Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D) of South Carolina, whose wife is also a PMRC member. ``It's outrageous filth,'' he said. ``If I could find some way constitutionally to do away with it, I would.''

So far, no member of Congress has suggested government action, unless holding a hearing that was certain to win big play on the news can be counted.

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