Kam Falk's Blog
The worldwide musical landscape


Dr. Sandra McClain of Florida Atlantic University suggested that I find a publisher for this research after I completed it for her Music History Seminar..
Since I’m the D.I.Y. type, I’ve decided to offer it to you via my blog – hope you can check it out. Your comments are welcome, and I’ve also included a poll at the bottom of the page.

Kam Falk


Can music induce, or at least inspire, political change? Historically, there are many powerful examples that illustrate how it can happen. In 1992, author Peter Wicke asserted that East German rock musicians had led the movement that opposed the Honneker regime, which resulted in the collapse of the Berlin Wall. In a book entitled The Culture of Rock Music in Postsocialist Hungary (2001), author Anna Szemere points to the critical role of pop and rock music in Hungary’s transition from communism to capitalism. Tom Cushman, author of Notes from Underground: Rock Music Counterculture in Russia (1995), asserts that the Russian rock underground played a significant role in Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost reforms in the late 1980’s. Perestroika means ‘restructuring’ and Glastnost is a Russian term for ‘openness.’ Even in the U.S., we know that, at key turning points in history, such as the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war, music has had a profound impact upon political change. Bob Dylan’s A Pawn in Their Game was a musical response to the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. When the U.S. National Guard killed four students during a 1970 Vietnam War demonstration at Kent State University, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young wrote the song Ohio in protest and people began to pay attention.
As we examine America’s more recent history, we witness the advent of a new era in politics after the 9/11 tragedy. Our government immediately began to take a hard line approach to foreign policy. The U.S. sent troops to Afghanistan and adopted the U.S.A Patriot Act, paving the way toward unprecedented domestic surveillance, new immigration provisions, and the notion of preemptive war that became known as the “Bush Doctrine.” Most Americans got behind these efforts because they felt that the threat to national security justified the sacrifice of some of our core civil liberties. We must also keep in mind that, during the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Americans felt an urgent need for solidarity in response to the attacks, so there was an observable intolerance for any hint of dissent. Then, in early 2002, former Attorney General John Ashcroft began the campaign for his TIPS legislation (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) (Terrorism in the Age of Surveillance 2002), aimed at getting American citizens involved in homeland security. American workers with jobs such as cable installation and air conditioning repair would be authorized to gather information on the job and report anything suspicious to government authorities. This proposal began to polarize Americans. Those on the right unequivocally supported this type of action, believing their safety and that of the nation as a whole was at stake, and their opponents asserted that this approach to policy meant victory for the terrorists. When the U.S. waged war in Iraq, the divide among Americans grew even more intense. Many questions had been raised about the government’s official account of 9/11. No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. Osama Bin Laden was still at large. American Abuses in Iraq, such as the torturing of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, eroded support and confidence at home. Scholars describe this period as the most intense ‘culture war’ in America’s history. (Political Segregation Increases Culture Wars in America 2008) The opposing parties simply began to view one another as either patriots or traitors. Patriots stood in favor of the government and corporate policies and traitors either questioned or dismissed them entirely. The problem with this declaration of ‘war’ is the inherent assumption that there are only two opposing positions regarding the issue, and that one of those positions must be wrong. This excludes anyone who would assume a more nuanced position with the understanding that, although censorship is not always pursued in a noble effort to uphold family values, free speech must also entail accountability.
When asked whether they support music censorship, most Americans, especially those involved in the arts, respond with a resounding and unconditional, “No!” However, if those same people are faced with certain inevitable caveats, they begin to take exception and realize that there must be limits. For instance, imagine Marilyn Manson showing up at a neighborhood daycare center for a performance. Music that contains hate language or, even worse, lyrics intended to incite violence can also cause one to give the issue more careful consideration. On September 17, 2001, composer Karlheinz Stockhausen made the following remarks in reference to the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Stockhausen, who was 73 years of age at the time, referred to the tragedy as, “…the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole of the cosmos.” When questioned, he elaborated on this statement, saying, “human minds achieved something in one act that we (composers) couldn’t even dream of in music, in which people practice like crazy for 10 years, totally fanatically, for a concert, and then 5,000 people are dispatched into eternity in a single moment. I couldn’t do that. In comparison to that, we’re nothing as composers.” (Karlheinz Stockhausen Biography 2009) Naturally, these comments were an affront to those victims who were suffering and were dismissed by Americans as absurd and reckless. All of Stockhausen’s subsequent concerts were cancelled and his daughter, a pianist, has never again performed under the name Stockhausen. Sometimes, as in this case, censorship actually seeks to protect the morals and values of society, especially the youth generation. Regardless of one’s rationale, however, musical dissidence is part of what defines America as a free nation. Therefore, corporate and government censors who use their power to suppress freedom of expression could end up revoking the very freedoms they claim to protect. The debate continues as those who subscribe to loyal deference and patriotic duty grapple with those who believe in self-examination and critique.


Initially, the shock of 9/11 caused a sense of insignificance and restraint among many America’s musical artists and entertainers. Many felt that writing new music as a response would not only be trivial, but also potentially disrespectful to the victims. Perhaps it would even be construed as exploitative. However, the actions taken by America’s government and corporations in the years that followed 9/11 eventually turned the relative silence into uproar, and musicians were on the cutting edge of that confrontation. Soon, censorship at both the government and corporate levels took center stage in America, just as it had during the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam and other turning points in history.
The initial musical responses after the attacks demonstrated that patriotism and charity became the primary motives for artists who had begun to feel a new sense of gravity and responsibility for their work. Lee Greenwood released a tribute version of God Bless the U.S.A. and Bruce Springsteen released You’re Missing in honor of the innocent victims. Latin jazz guitarist and singer/songwriter, Raul Midon, performed at a December, 2001 fund raiser for the victims. Dr. Dre personally donated one million dollars to the victim relief fund. (Ritter and Daughtry 2007, p. 5)
In 2002, however, country singer Toby Keith aroused controversy when he released a song entitled Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American) which included the lyrics, “…as soon as we could see clearly through our big black eye, man, we lit up your world like the Fourth of July,” and “…you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A. ’cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.” (Toby Keith – Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue lyrics 2002) This song represented a “rally ’round the flag” type of patriotism that captured and comforted some the conservatives in America. However, its message was not welcomed by anti-war Americans who felt it was nothing but lowbrow pandering and profiteering. Nevertheless, the song earned a great deal of airplay from the country stations owned by America’s largest radio conglomerate, Clear Channel Communications. Although the role of Clear Channel and what it represents in terms of corporate consolidation will be addressed in more depth later, it should be noted here that, between 2001 and 2004, Clear Channel’s founder and chief executive, Lowry Mays, ensured that the Republican party received nearly a million dollars in political contributions from the company’s PAC (Political Action Committee). (TPJ.org 2004) Mays, who took advantage of media ownership deregulation to transform Clear Channel into a global conglomerate, has been closely tied with the Bush family through the governing board of the UTIMCO (University of Texas Investment Management Company). UTIMCO was heavily invested in the Carlyle Group, a venture capital firm. The group became highly controversial when Saudi investors, including the Bin Laden family, were revealed to be major clients. The group severed its ties with the Bin Ladens after 9/11 but continues to profit immensely from the “war on terror.” (Deep in the Heart: The Texas Tendency 2004)
By 2006, war weary Americans were showing signs that patience was running dry and this started to become evident in America’s musical culture. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young released Let’s Impeach the President. Lyrics such as, “Let’s impeach the president for lying and misleading our country into war” and “Let’s impeach the president for spying on citizens inside their own homes” (Neil Young – Let’s Impeach the President Lyrics 2002) were a harsh critique of the Bush administration’s policies delivered in sharp contrast to Toby Keith’s 2002 anthem.
In September of 2008, author Jake Cline, editor at South Florida’s City Link Magazine, described five post 9/11 era songs as the most outstanding examples of recent protest music. The list’s top three songs are Worldwide Suicide by Pearl Jam, Justin by Against Me!, and Livin’ in the Future by Bruce Springsteen. The Coup’s BabyletshaveababybeforeBushdosomethin’crazy and Sleater-Kinney’s Far Away rounded out the list. According to Cline, these five songs best represent the confusion, terror, angst, fear, anger and grief caused by the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent actions by America’s government and corporate institutions. Other songs mentioned later in the article were That Man I Shot and The Home Front by Drive-By Truckers, Bomb Repeat Bomb by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, and It’s a Hit by Rilo Kiley. Finally, such cynical songs as Between Iraq and a Hard Place and Papa’s Got a Brand New Baghdad bestowed a harsh and satirical critique upon the former president for his handling of the Iraq war. (The Best Protest Songs of the Bush Era 2008)


If significant political change can truly be inspired by music, does this pose a threat to government and corporate institutions that inevitably leads to censorship? If it does, is the censorship explicit? Is it legal? History has some answers to these questions, as well as some lessons to offer in helping to ensure that freedom of expression continues to prevail in 21st century America. Artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Bono, Lenny Kravitz and Steve Earle, among many others, have all engaged in politics through their music or celebrity, which has made them all ready targets for censorship.
The power and influence of popular music, both to comfort and to antagonize, hasreached a pinnacle in this new era. Even the packaging of an artist’s release must be considered susceptible to censorship, as there are several recent examples of suppression of merchandise due to controversial cover art. A few of these examples will be detailed later.
The Index on Censorship, a British magazine founded in 1972, reported 214 cases of music censorship from 1983 to 2003 (Sounds of Dissent: The Politics of Music 2003). For the purpose and limited scope of this research, a few of the most publicized of these incidents, all post 9/11, will be detailed and analyzed in order to address the larger issues of how America’s core institutions have changed since 9/11, what constitutes censorship, the role of media consolidation, how censorship takes place in 21st century America, and how artists have managed to overcome suppression at all levels.
Government censorship is usually the result of an effort to protect the party in power at a time of crisis. Due to the implications of the first amendment, it is almost never overt or explicit. Corporate censorship often takes place because of ‘hypersensitivity’ to current issues or the fear of economic retaliation.


There are five basic types of music censorship:
– Airplay censorship – Songwriter Steve Earle’s John Walker’s Blues was denied airplay because it was considered sympathetic to Jihad.
– Word censorship – The Strokes’ New York City Cops, released in June of 2001, was censored after 9/11, when the words, “they aint too smart” were concealed throughout its repeated choruses, “New York City cops, they aint too smart…”
– Censorship due to copyright infringement – The Napster website was shut down in 2000 for selling illegal music downloads. This form of censorship, however, has been
considerably overblown during the recent downturn in the economy, with record companies artificially deflating sales in order to strengthen their arguments that music piracy is severely crippling their industry. Although it is true that CD shipments were down 10% in 2001, in terms of revenue per title, 2000 was actually the best year in industry history.
– Self-censorship – The Cranberries took their video for Analyse off the air due to its repeated images of skyscrapers and airplanes. Also, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Dave Matthews decided to cancel plans to release the single, When the World Ends.
– Political censorship – During the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, MTV refused to air any anti-war music videos or statements made by music artists like Moby, NOFX, Anti-Flag and several others. A 2003 Bastian and Laing survey of music censorship, concluded that, of the music censored worldwide over the past two decades, 75
percent of the cases were for political reasons. (Peddie 2006, p. 52) Given its relative importance, this research will focus upon political censorship going forward.
In the book, Policing Pop, (2003) authors Martin Cloonan and Reebee Garofalo seek to define what constitutes censorship and to clarify the roles of various agents involved in modern day censorship. In an effort to provide an accurate definition, the authors take several attempts from various contributors and find the common language, which usually entails words like “systematic” and “restriction.” The authors also point out the difficulty in formulating a definition which is narrow enough to exclude frivolous examples and yet broad enough to include incidents other than deliberate and overt
attempts by governments and other parties to deny artists the right to freedom of expression. A transhistorical definition is impossible because judgements on censorship involve what are considered to be contemporary limits of decency and good taste. Differences across various cultures also complicate matters when attempting to determine what constitutes censorship.
The author finally concludes that there are three levels of censorship with regard to music: prior restraint, restriction, and suppression. Prior restraint is described as the prevention of controversial music or art before it is produced or distributed. An actual example of prior restraint would be the cancellation of a New York performance of The Death of Klinghoffer, by composer John Adams, who was depicted as anti-American in the New York Times for romanticizing Palestinian terrorists. Restriction is the imposition of certain conditions upon the placement or ownership of controversial music. In 1985,
Tipper Gore brought a CD home with her daughter and they listened to it together. When the Foo Fighters’ song, Darling Nicki played, Tipper was shocked at the lyrical content, and on September 19th of that year, a special meeting of the Senate’s Transportation and Commerce Committee was held. The outcome of this hearing was the so-called, “Tipper Sticker,” or parental advisory, which can be attached to any CD that is deemed to have some sort of obscene or explicit content. This illustration exemplifies the concept of restriction. Suppression is described as the deliberate attempt to enforce a moral or
political code in order to limit public access to music. In Afghanistan, the Taliban regime’s unequivocal ban on music until their late 2001 defeat illustrates this form of censorship. Like the ancient Greeks, the Taliban believe that the consumption of “bad” (or immoral) music inevitably leads to bad behavior.


In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on America, a list of 158 songs with “questionable lyrics” (See Appendix) was distributed internally to nearly 1,200 radio stations, all of which were owned and operated by Clear Channel Communications. The memorandum was circulated by Jack Evans, a senior regional vice president of programming. It suggested that programmers refrain from playing the songs on the list in an effort to acknowledge the public’s heightened sensitivities in the wake of the attacks. Although the company later denied the existence of such a list once the incident became public, evidence showed that it did in fact circulate. It included not only songs that would be considered irrefutably inappropriate, such as Pearl Jam’s Worldwide Suicide, AC/DC’s Shot Down in Flames, The Gap Band’s You Dropped a Bomb on Me and Soundgarden’s Blow Up the Outside World, but also songs such as Imagine by John Lennon and Peace Train by Cat Stevens. Imagine and Peace Train were not listed due to their content, but rather because their authors had been notorious for being political dissidents. The inclusion of Peter and Gordon’s I Go to Pieces shows just how literal the list’s compilers were interpreting many of the songs that were included. With regard to I Go to Pieces, Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon explained, “I suppose a song about someone going to pieces could be upsetting if someone took it literally, but ‘I can’t live in a world without love’ (from the song’s lyrics) is a sentiment that’s as true in crisis as it is in normal times. It’s a totally pro-love sentiment and could only be helpful right now.” (De Clarke’s Peronal Opinion 2001)
Clear Channel ultimately acknowledged the list’s existence, explaining that it was simply an effort to be sensitive, not an attempt at explicit censorship. Corporate consolidation of radio is at least partly to blame for this type of widespread, unmediated suppression and has therefore become a hot button issue in 21st century America. The stakes are high – freedom of expression and, ultimately, social progress through self examination. The Clear Channel incident is an example of corporate music censorship that was simultaneously implicit and overreaching. It was also widely publicized, so it
became a wake up call for Americans. It was this act and others like it that eroded the initial galvanizing effect of 9/11 and eventually caused musicians to begin writing material that would bring our national identity into question. Of course, many overt patriots accused these artists of being anti-American. In fact, when Pearl Jam used a 2003 concert appearance to express condemnation for the Bush administration’s policies, many audience members booed and left the concert in protest of the band’s unrestrained anti-Americanism. (Ritter and Daughtry 2007, p. 7)
The Clear Channel incident is only one of many examples of corporate censorship in the wake of 9/11. Although the list was circulated in response to the September 11 tragedy, it was comprised entirely of songs which predated the attacks. One might wonder what would follow as America’s political climate continued to change and as post 9/11 music was written and released. As Americans continued in their struggle to cope with the implications of 9/11, acts of censorship were becoming more overt and divisive due to the polarization caused by the aforementioned government responses in policy. In another well-publicized incident where censorship resulted, lead singer Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks remarked that the group was ashamed that the president of the United States was from Texas. (Ritter and Daughtry 2007, p. 99) At a time when anyone who doubted the foreign policy wisdom of the Bush administration was considered to be as anti-American as the terrorists themselves, Maines’s remark was instantly toxic. Not only did many radio stations across the U.S. immediately censor the Dixie Chicks’ records, but many Americans also publicly destroyed the group’s CD’s and boycotted their subsequent concerts.
Singer/Songwriter Barry McGuire wrote one of the most popular protest songs of the 1960’s. The song is entitled Eve of Destruction, and it is often mistakenly attributed to Bob Dylan, whose work has also been closely associated with political activism. The song struck a chord with the American public and quickly rose to Billboard’s #1 spot, selling six million copies. (Eve of Destruction 2007) Rather than prescribe answers to complex issues or incite violent action, this song’s lyrics put the focus squarely upon society’s collective responsibility for self-reflection:

Eve of Destruction
(Written by P.F. Sloan, Performed by Barry McGuire, 1965)

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it’s bound to scare ya boy]

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction.

Yeah, my blood’s so mad, feels like coagulatin’
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return, it’s the same old place
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace
And… tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction
Mm, no no, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction. (Eve of Destruction 2007)

Eve of Destruction was banned by BBC radio during President Bush, Sr.’s 1991 war against Iraq. Once again, the song was censored by America’s largest radio network, Clear Channel, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the ramp-up to the second President Bush’s war in Iraq. (Taboo Tunes Gallery – Music Censorship 2004)
Yet another example of corporate censorship involved the group Rage Against the Machine. In addition to virtually all of their songs being included in Clear Channel’s list of songs to keep off the air, the discussion boards at the group’s website were also shut down shortly after the 9/11 attacks by the site’s host following inquiries by federal officials. In 2008, the group was forced to perform a cappella at a protest concert in Minneapolis, Minnesota after their P. A. system was shut down by police. When the show continued via megaphone, the crowd cheered and sang along with ardent enthusiasm. Tom Morello, the group’s guitarist, said that the band’s music “is diametrically opposed to the kind of horrible violence committed against innocent people” that occurred in the Sept. 11 attacks, “which we condemn in the strongest possible terms.” (De Clarke’s Personal Opinion 2001)


In 1942, the U.S. government distributed a list of wartime practices to radio broadcasters, including a ban on weather forecasts, which might have aided enemies in planning air attacks. In their efforts to ensure national security, government officials also enacted a suspension of listener requests, thus preventing the transmission of coded messages. (Media and Democracy: World War II 2008)
In 2003, as Americans prepared for war in Iraq, the U.S. government’s censorship efforts regarding the music of Rage Against the Machine were also being justified in the interest of protecting America’s national security. When this type of effort is thwarted, as it was in Minneapolis, the government often turns to yet another favored tactic, which is to prosecute the rebellious musicians on the basis of obscenity rather than political censorship. The government’s success in having the group’s discussion boards shut down were a direct result of that approach. Just as mob boss Al Capone was finally captured on charges of tax evasion after he was initially sought for more serious crimes including bootleg liquor distribution and even murder, so too are politically rebellious bands persecuted on the more convenient side issue of obscenity. Another important lesson illustrated by the Rage Against the Machine incident in Minneapolis is that sometimes censorship tends to draw more attention to the artist(s) being censored than the free dissemination of the same material would have drawn.
In a democracy, the law requires government to refrain from suppressing the legitimate activities of citizens, even politically dissident artists and musicians. Therefore, in the U.S., most cases in which the government has been determined to pursue an act of censorship, it happens through indirect means such as the denial of federal funds to a particular person or organization. Government censorship of American musician Mick Star’s Jets demonstrates how the White House can effectively blacklist anti-war music by relinquishing funds to public and college radio stations. (Freemuse:USA: Anti-Iraq War Rock Song Claimed Blacklisted by US Government 2005) The government can also effectively succeed at political censorship by making the logistics involved in touring extremely difficult for dissident artists. This becomes the equivalent of imposing economic sanctions upon touring acts. Problems with visas, threats, disrupted tours, censored playlists, and equipment transportation difficulties have recently become known as the “9/11 effect.” (Freemuse: Roskilde Festival 2003) Several examples of this type of censorship were exposed during a free speech conference held at the Roskilde Festival in 2003. The event was sponsored by an organization called Freemuse, which is dedicated to upholding freedom of expression worldwide. In an illuminating discussion about government and corporate censorship, British/Nigerian rapper, Ty, remarked,

…It was during a radio show on Radio One, we called our record
Arrest the President, by Task Force. We asked the program directors
whether we could play the record and – they didn’t know one word
on the record – but, because the war was going on, they said, “No,
you can’t play that record because you would be accused of saying
something against the establishment.” And that just really brought it
home for me, that music’s not free. (Freemuse: Roskilde Festival 2003)

That assertion inspired another relevant remark, made by Damon Albarn of Britain. Mr. Albarn, the singer with the group, Blur, stated,

…I’ve found that all the things I’ve done that have some kind of
subversion, however society associates with them, don’t do well
commercially. So, what I’m saying is that… in the west, you won’t
get stopped, but you will be denied access to earning a respectable
living. (Freemuse: Roskilde Festival 2003)

Additionally, in the aforementioned government sponsored case of the ‘Tipper Sticker,’ Wal-Mart, one of America’s top CD retailers, responded by removing all CD’s with parental advisories from their store shelves, citing the risk of being sued for inadvertently selling one to a minor. This form of suppression has become known as “backdoor censorship,” in which certain unforeseen restrictions are later imposed for extraneous reasons once a risk has been introduced.
In another excerpt from the 2003 Freemuse conference, Damon Albarn responded to the question, “What sort of reaction have you illicited from the British press for being very outspoken against the war in Iraq?”

True censorship is something that we are not really aware of
on a day-to-day basis. It’s something that’s inherent in the
system. I think there are ever-increasing elements of that sort
of covert censorship going on everywhere. I think the fact that
music is so closely related to economics now means that people
will do the censorship themselves… This was a very frustrating
moment because, in private, I was talking to so many people who
had a very similar attitude – and in radio stations, and in television,
but no one – very few actually had the guts to stand up because
they’re too concerned about losing what they’ve got. (Freemuse:
Roskilde Festival 2003)

Another unnamed participant (from the audience) commented,

I respect what the Dixie Chicks did, but record labels are trying
to make as much money as possible, and they see it as one of their
artists whom they’ve signed in good faith, using their name to make
some radical political step.

Albam finally concluded,

At some point, artists have to learn how to stand on their own
two feet so (record labels) can’t take away that life support system.
Otherwise, what they’re doing doesn’t mean anything.
(Freemuse: Roskilde Festival 2003)

Tony Allen, one of the fathers of AfroBeat and the powerhouse behind the late Fela Kuti´s band, Africa 70, remarked, “Who pays back this money anyway? It’s not a gift.” (Freemuse: Roskilde Festival 2003)
The fear of government retaliation for politically oriented music often results in self-censorship, as it was previously described. Immediately after 9/11, many musicians changed song titles, lyrics or CD artwork in order to avoid controversy. Some even cancelled release plans. In addition to Dave Matthews, who scrapped plans to release When the World Ends as his next single, the group Bush changed the title of their single from Speed Kills to The People That We Love. The Cranberries decided to stop airing their video for Analyse because of the repeated images of skyscrapers and airplanes, Sheryl Crow rewrote several lyrics for her upcoming album and The Strokes removed the song New York City Cops (They Aint too Smart) from the U.S. version of their album, Is This It. (DMB, Crow Rethink Their Music 2001)


The Coup released their fourth CD in early September, 2001, just before 9/11. The title of the CD was Party Music, and the cover art ironically featured the two band-mates, Boots and DJ Pam the ‘Funkstress’ demolishing the World Trade Center with a remote control that displays the words, “Covert-Labs.” Only hours after the terrorist attacks, the cover art was replaced with an image of someone’s hand holding a flaming cocktail
adjacent to a container of gasoline. (Taboo Tunes Gallery – Music Censorship 2004)
The band Dream Theater released a 3-CD set entitled Live Scenes from New York on September 11, 2001. The cover art for this set also included an illustration depicting the World Trade Center, along with the Statue of Liberty, in flames. This illustration was quickly replaced with a collage of live performance images of the band. (Taboo Tunes Gallery – Music Censorship 2004)
One other example of cover art censorship involves a 1998 release from the band, Indecision, entitled To Live and Die in New York City. This CD’s cover art featured the entire New York City skyline engulfed in flames. Although there was no replacement for this particular cover illustration (perhaps because the CD was released three years prior to 9/11), the CD was in fact removed from retail shelves nationwide immediately after the attacks. (Taboo Tunes Gallery – Music Censorship 2004)


By far, the most influential form of political censorship of music in America since 9/11 has been the result of consolidation and manipulation of mainstream media. Since the Bush administration relaxed media ownership laws, there have been only four major corporations controlling approximately 85% of the global music market: AOLTimeWarner (EMI Group), Vivendi (Universal Music Group), Sony (Sony Music Entertainment) and Bertelsmann (BMG). In this context, American journalist A. J. Liebling’s famous quote, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one,” (A.J. Liebling Quotes, 2009) has never been more relevant. At the website, The Daily Whim, Reid Stott shares some quotes from Doc Searls, a prominent radio programmer in the 1970’s. Mr. Searls made the following remarks:

When I was coming up in radio, back in the Seventies, there were limits on
broadcast property ownership. Back then, you could own seven AM, seven
FM and seven TV stations: the ’7-7-7 rule.’ And in any one metropolitan
area, you could own at most one AM, one FM and one TV station. In 1985,
7-7-7 went up to 12-12-12. Then came the Telecommunications Act of
1996. Now the limits were 8-infinity: Up to eight stations in any one market,
and no limit on the total nationwide. Killed along the way were minimal
requirements for non-entertainment programming (1985), the Fairness
Doctrine (1987), limits on the percentage of advertising content (1985) and
various other limitations. (Sounds of Dissent: The Politics of Music 2003)

There are only four groups that control 63% of the American Top 40 Radio stations. These are Clear Channel, Chancellor, Infinity and Capstar, and they claim a collective total of 61 million average weekly listeners. These four groups also control 56% of America’s country music stations, which serve 28 million unique listeners each week. Many free speech advocates contend that these numbers are dangerous in that they inhibit diversity in broadcasting, which in turn takes away from the localized focus of service upon which the industry was founded. (Sounds of Dissent: The Politics of Music 2003) Clear Channel’s stations added only 3,000 songs by just 550 artists to their playlists in 2002. Thus, while a select few musicians become rich, the majority are beholden to the record company with which they signed and earn “a pittance.” Steve Albini, an independent record producer who became famous for his work on Nirvana’s In Utero, suggests that many of the bands who sign with major labels earn only about a third the salary of an average convenience store employee. (Sounds of Dissent: The Politics of Music 2003)


If an artist or band chooses to produce and distribute politically dissident music in post 9/11 America, he, she or they must first consider the many legal ramifications which go beyond the music itself. Of course, if that artist succumbs to the stereotypical lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, any and all political censors will undoubtedly use their best weapon by going after the artist on the drug charge rather than trying to subvert the first amendment of the constitution. Naturally, if a foreign born citizen is in America illegally, he or she should think twice before disseminating politically contentious material.
As we have discovered through this research, there are certainly many other, more subtle and complex issues that pertain to government and corporate censorship. The tragedy on 9/11 was such a key turning point in American history that all music written after the event, especially the music which is politically motivated, has undergone a great deal more scrutiny. In writing direct musical responses to such a shocking and horrible event as 9/11, composers have been challenged to examine their motives carefully. It is one thing to write a piece with intentions of mourning or healing through artistic expression; however, it is entirely another to attempt the exploitation of such a catastrophe for profit.
Artists must constantly seek to discover and utilize the most contemporary methods of finding and keeping an audience. This requires a ferocious technical curiosity and diligence. One cannot ignore the cost effectiveness of independent digital distribution of musical product. This has been a music industry trend since before the turn of the century, so artists must now possess a greater understanding of the business of music than ever before. Issues such as publishing, marketing, distribution and licensing are now within the artists’ own domain. Additionally, successful contemporary artists take
advantage of the direct correspondence made possible only by the internet, or what is commonly referred to as, “blogging.” Cover art should also be kept appropriate for all ages and accessible to a mainstream audience in order to prevent the restriction or suppression of merchandise before it even has a chance to reach consumers.
Regardless of which side one may choose to embrace with regard to specific censorship issues, most people agree that serving the public interest requires artists who seek to raise the collective moral conscience of society through their work. Therefore, they must exercise a reasonable amount of prudent forbearance when writing – not simply for economic reasons due to the threat of economic retaliation or censorship, but primarily for ethical reasons, due to the responsibility every artist must bear when wielding the cultural power and influence of music. This is especially true at the national level, where much of the popular music is aimed at the youth generation. While evidence shows that virtually every generation of society has been profoundly influenced by music, songwriters who seek to conquer all forms of censorship must be acutely aware of their music’s power in shaping the ideals and opinions of the society’s youth. Both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Bernard Shaw provided insightful food for thought on the implications of freedom of expression in America. In a 1936 speech, Roosevelt declared, “In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.” Shaw demonstrated that, even in 1903, he knew the meaning of that message when he wrote, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it. (The Best Quotes on Freedom 2009)


2 Responses to “From the U.S.: MUSIC, POLITICS AND CENSORSHIP IN 21st CENTURY AMERICA…………..Kam Falk”

  1. Thanks for making me acutely aware of this, it’s very interesting.

  2. Here is a link to a New York Times article from May 19, 2013, which shows that music censorship is still alive and well:

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