In college, I had a buddy who killed himself. He shot himself in the family garage. His girlfriend had broken up with him week’s earlier.
He was a diehard metal-head, the kind who admired fast-and-furious fretwork over a more soulful, slow-hand style of playing. He liked Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and all their finger-tapping brethren. I hated them. My favorite guitar players at the time were Keith Richards and Izzy Stradlin’.
But we did agree on the greatness of one musical act: Metallica.
That said, we differed on what was the better Metallica disc. He liked the more polished And Justice for All… I liked the more raw Garage Days Re-Revisited.
We debated the differences at length, usually while he was getting drunk and I was getting high.
For his parents, however, there was no debating the merits of Garage Days, Justice, or any other Metallica disc. They hated the music he listened to. In fact, they were those unfortunate types that thought heavy metal came straight out of the pits of hell. Which it does.
They just didn’t understand that it was a cartoonish hell populated by big-boobed devil dolls and demons driving roaring hot rods, all of whom were engaged in the most juvenile behavior imaginable. The hell of heavy metal — at least the metal of the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s — was a harmless amusement park of debauchery. His parents got it all wrong.
In the weeks following my friend’s passing, his mother came across an item that seemed to confirm that satanic forces were involved in her son’s death. It was a cassette tape, one of the record-your-own kind. Both sides of the 90-minute tape featured the same handwritten word: Metallica. The tape was later given to another friend of his, a chum who had known him since high school.
But the tape was not exactly what it appeared to be. Metallica was nowhere to be found on the tape — not on side A, not on side B. Instead, the entire 90-minute running time of the tape was filled with one song, again and again and again: Bryan Adam’s “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.”
Now, what’s the point of this little story, you ask? Well, it’s not that Bryan Adam’s ballad caused my friend to take his own life. And it’s certainly not that the music of Metallica led him to either.
It’s that those who are grieving, those who are looking for explanations to life’s tragedies, often look in the wrong places. And when it comes to highly visible acts of violence committed by a young white male, you can be almost certain that the powers that be will begin pointing the finger at the perpetrator’s favorite albums, movies, and video games.
And now, they’re doing with Jared Lee Loughner.
It’s a tired trope, one that’s repeated again and again, one that is discussed on the nightly news and reported in the daily paper, one that gets a fearful populace all in a tizzy.
Today, The Washington Post has a report examining the use of Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” in a video that was reportedly listed by Loughner on his YouTube page as one of his favorites. It’s an embarrassing piece of hackery.
The Post reports:
On Jared Loughner’s YouTube channel, a lone video is listed as a “favorite” of the alleged Arizona shooter. As a hooded figure wearing a garbage bag for pants limps across the desert to set fire to an American flag, a howling heavy-metal song called “Bodies” serves as the video’s relentless soundtrack.
“Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor,” the singer barks in a refrain that carries an eerie echo in the context of the shooting rampage Saturday in Tucson.
Investigators haven’t suggested a link between Loughner’s violent outburst and “Bodies,” a 2001 single by the Dallas band Drowning Pool. But Loughner’s embrace of “Bodies” – at least as the backdrop to a favorite video – strikes a familiarly chilling chord: The Drowning Pool song served as the soundtrack to a double murder in Oakton, where in 2003, then-19-year-old Joshua Cooke cranked the throbbing tune on his headphones, walked out of his bedroom holding a 12-gauge shotgun and killed his parents.
Later in the article, David Horowitz, executive director of the First Amendment group Media Coalition, makes a point about “Bodies” and other works that seemingly inspire murderers and perpetuators of violence to act.
Even if the song had directly inspired Saturday’s violence, Drowning Pool or any other artist shouldn’t have to shoulder any responsibility for how its works might be perceived or used, said Horowitz, of the Media Coalition.
“The idea that we would diminish the speech that we allow based on how it might be received by the most unstable listener would leave us with little speech whatsoever,” he said, adding that “people commit murders in the name of the Bible or the Koran. To somehow hold the artist, the author, the speaker responsible for how the most unstable person drawn to the music or literature or movie might later act would deprive the 99.999 percent of people who never do anything illegal or violent.”
Not surprisingly, I agree with Horowitz. The Beatles didn’t force Charles Manson to order his followers to murder Sharon Tate, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, and others. Nor did Marilyn Manson force Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to shoot their classmates.
So why the hell are we blaming Sarah Palin for Jared Lee Loughner’s decision to open fire at an Arizona supermarket in an attempt to kill Rep. Gabrielle Giffords?