W.A.S.P.'s BLACKIE LAWLESS On Importance Of Free Speech: 'I Don't Want To Limit Your Ability To Speak'

October 22, 2023

In a new interview with "Metalshop", W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless spoke about how he was affected by his experience with the PMRC (Parents' Music Resource Center) more than three and a half decades ago.

Back in the mid-'80s, the PMRC published a list called "The Filthy Fifteen" which consisted of the top fifteen songs they wanted banned due to objectionable lyrics suggesting violence, sex, drugs, alcohol or the occult. They petitioned for lyrics to be printed on the album jackets and no one was safe — heavy metal acts were right there alongside the pop stars. AC/DC, Madonna, MÖTLEY CRÜE, JUDAS PRIEST, Prince, W.A.S.P., MERCYFUL FATE, Vanity, DEF LEPPARD, Cyndi Lauper and TWISTED SISTER all made "The Filthy Fifteen" list. In November 1985, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association Of America) agreed to put "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" labels on selected releases at their own discretion.

"We were too young to really understand what it was all about, but they quickly put us in the eye of the hurricane, and then all kinds of bad things started happening — death threats and getting shot at and all of that," Blackie told "Metalshop" (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET). "We became educated very, very quickly.

"I think I was in Indiana — I think it was Indianapolis — this girl came in to interview me," he continued. "And this was, like, '87. And she had worked for the PMRC at one point. And she, at this time I was talking to her, was a journalist. And she goes, she brought in a cassette tape and she goes, 'I've got something I need you to hear.' And she played this cassette tape for me. And on it were Susan Baker [co-founder of the PMRC] and a few of the others talking about what their real motivation was. And their motivation was not to get stickers on records. Their motivation was to get Al Gore a platform to then run for president of the United States. So they were trying to create a political profile for him — because what better way to get attention, if you're a political candidate, a southern caricature, which is what he was, what better way to get attention than to go after an attention getter? I mean, this is McCarthyism [political repression and persecution] — you know, it's no different. Richard Nixon did it. All these witch hunts that went on in D.C. for years. But they come to a generation who's not heard it. So this thing comes around once every 15 years. The generation hasn't heard it. They haven't heard the same old lies that come out of it. So it sounds pretty good to them because it sounds sincere and genuine."

The 67-year-old Lawless, whose real name is Steven Duren, added: "Let me tell you something about free speech. I'm part Jewish, I'm part Native American Indian. You can stand on a soapbox and you can talk about how wonderful Nazism is and how you'd like to kill all the Indians out there. I don't care. Well, let me rephrase that. I do care, but I don't want to limit your ability to speak, because if I do that, then we start going down a dark road because you start playing umpire, and then who plays umpire tomorrow?

"This country was built as a republic and a republic, contrary to what a lot of people don't understand, is not a democracy. But what you have to do to create a republic, you have to have a certain amount of faith in the people. So, in other words, if you have a guy that's spewing a bunch of hatred on a street corner or in a soapbox, you have to have faith in your fellow Americans that this guy is a lunatic and the vast majority of people are gonna find him out and not follow him. But what happens is when you start limiting that speech, then, like I said, you take away the ability of the people to decide for themselves, number one, who's crazy and who isn't. But even more dangerous than that, you start appointing these umpires that tell you what you can and cannot say. And it's extremely dangerous. And you've heard it a million times but it bears repeating, our system is not set up for popular speech. It's set up for unpopular speech."

Lawless previously discussed his experience with the PMRC during a "VIP Experience" question-and-answer session last November before W.A.S.P.'s concert at The Paramount Theater in Huntington, New York. At the time, he said: "It changed my life, if that's what you mean. It made me more of a recluse. Yeah, a couple of thousand death threats and bomb scares and getting shot at a couple of times usually has a tendency to alter your outlook on life a little. But also, we were exposed to extreme fame very early, and fame is kind of like this — if this table is a smorgasbord, it's like an evil genie stands down at the end of the smorgasbord and [says], 'You can take anything you want, but if you take one thing, you take it all. You do not get to pick and choose. So all the good stuff that you like in the smorgasbord, that's wonderful, but you've gotta take the bad stuff too.' So it ends up being a life-altering experience, one I don't think you can ever really go back from — at least I haven't been able to."

In a 2004 interview with the Las Vegas Mercury, Lawless spoke about having his music slammed by the PMRC, saying: "As the story goes, [PMRC founding member] Tipper [Gore] was walking down the hall in her house and her 12-year-old son had [W.A.S.P.'s] 'Fuck Like A Beast' playing on his stereo, and she lost her mind," Lawless said. "I don't know if that's true, but that's the story I've been told.

"You wanna talk about sensationalism?" Blackie continued. "This was an organization that was seeking a platform that would help serve its own political interests. They didn't give a damn about censorship. I've spent the better part of my career trying to get people to understand that. This really is not what you think it is. They come to you like the wolf in sheep's clothing and then use you to create a frenzy — not unlike what McCarthy did with the communists and Bob Dole did with rap. This is nothing new.

"You don't have to be Nostradamus to see what's going on with young people these days," Lawless continued. "Parents just don't get involved with their kids as much as they used to. Are you going to tell me that these parents at Columbine didn't know that anything was going on with their kids? Hey, my mother knew what I was doing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But parents now, they don't want to take any responsibility for their children. They bring something into this world, and then when something goes wrong, they want to blame everybody else for it."

This past July, W.A.S.P.'s previously announced 2023 U.S. tour was canceled because of the extensive back injuries suffered by Lawless during the European leg of W.A.S.P.'s 40th-anniversary tour.

Lawless has led W.A.S.P. as its lead vocalist and primary songwriter since its beginning. His unique brand of visual, social and political comment took the group to worldwide heights and sold millions of records alongside a legacy of sold-out shows across the globe for four decades. He is joined by bassist Mike Duda and guitarist Doug Blair, whose tenures in the band span 28 and 17 years respectively, along with drummer extraordinaire Aquiles Priester.

W.A.S.P.'s latest release was "ReIdolized (The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol)", which came out in February 2018. It was a new version of the band's classic 1992 album "The Crimson Idol", which was re-recorded to accompany the movie of the same name to mark the 25th anniversary of the original LP's release. The re-recorded version also features four songs missing from the original album.

W.A.S.P.'s most recent studio album of all-new original material was 2015's "Golgotha".

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