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Over the last few years, as my band faded from the press and as we tried to find a label crazy enough to release another one of our records, I watched radio become exactly what Pete Townsend said it would become in his never-realized sequel to "Tommy" - "Lifehouse." In his story, Pete says that "Tommy" is no longer physically deaf, dumb and blind, but emotionally deaf, dumb and blind. His senses are overrun and subsequently deadened by advertisers, the media, and the like. In Lifehouse, the government has assumed control of the radio, and the citizens are not allowed to listen to anything but mundane, boring, safe, Muzak. Betcha didn't know you'd be so right so soon, huh, Pete? Leave it to Janet and Justin to be the downfall of freedom of speech - or the necessary wake up call.
Chapter 2: Our "Ostriched" Arms
I, for one, think it's a good thing that Janet flashed her peaches on national television. Up until then, there was little, if any, public outcry about the FCC's practices. One practice in particular was making it easier for industry giant, Clear Channel, to run amuck like "Pizza the Hut," gobbling up everything in site. They deceived listeners, lost the subsequent lawsuit, and found the loopholes. No one cared. They replaced deejays with voice tracking (some after almost 30 years service). No one cared.
Audrey Latman, a gutsy producer at 20/20, did an expose on their business practices. Still, no one cared. After 9/11, they removed all songs that fell within their new, "offensive lyric" list. Some cared, but not enough. They assumed they were invincible. They continued to buy out every arts-related organization, to the point where they now own the venue, the production company, the management company, the local radio station, the billboards, and the steak house on the corner where you're going for a beer after the show. (Don't forget to order a "Clear Channel Lite.")
Still, after all this, the FCC continues to act like Danny Devito in "Johnny Dangerously," when Michael Keaton dumps a briefcase full of evidence into his lap. "It's flimsy." He says. "It'll never hold up in court." Can you say "Holy Anti-Trust, Batman!"
Chapter 3: Pasta Every Night
You're thinking I'm brave or crazy to be writing this for a nationally syndicated music magazine. But what have I got to lose? My band does not currently receive mainstream radio play, and even though, as we speak, we're seeking to get our record onto their stations. I'll probably be crucified by our label as well. I'm not scared. If this article lights a fire under some congressman's "Cinnabon," then it's well worth it. This issue is bigger than our album. Heck, I can always change my name to Rudolpho Laspari of Palermo, Sicily.
Chapter 4: "Stern! Come back, Stern!"
Recently while watching TV, I sat dumbfounded by how much attention this stupid Super Bowl stunt received; I realized there might be no saving us. WE NEED YOU HOWARD STERN! We're governed by morons! I'll admit I'm tired of "Lesbian Dial-a-Date," but whether you like him or not, Stern is the perfect barometer to measure our "Freedom of Speech" Index. If he's going great guns, then that's good for all of us "smart" people. If he's being yanked everywhere you turn, it means the Religious Right is gaining on us.
Stern's been offensive for 20 years, yet the day he announces he's not supporting Bush, who happens to be pals with Clear Channel's CEO, Lowry Mays, they pull him from their network. Meanwhile, their "Business Partners" at the FCC are now threatening immediate financial doom to anyone not spinning "Barney's Greatest Hits" 24/7, and somehow, Mr. Mays received a congratulatory phone call from deceased Senator, Joe McCarthy. In a few short months, the "John Tesh Show" and those recycled "Morning Zoo's" will be the most challenging stuff out there. As much as I love Barney, I shudder to think.
It occurred to me that smart, free thinking citizens are the "Delta House," and the FCC and Clear Channel are the Dean Wormers and Douglas C. Neidermeyers of this generation. And what did the Deltas do when they knew they were going down with the ship? That's right! Toga Party! Now, as much fun as a "Toga Party for the First Amendment" would be, I doubt it would do any real good for the future of said amendment, or for the liberation of our airwaves in general (although I'd love to see Sheryl Crow in a toga).
Instead, I propose a "Million Band March" on Capitol Hill. Think of it! A "musical colonic"! One sunny day in May, thousands of artists, writers, producers, actors, directors, disc jockeys, and anyone else crazy enough to be there, takes to the streets and gathers in front of the headquarters of the FCC to say "We're Mad As Hell And We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore!" We hold a rally, complete with fiery speeches and powerful performances from artists not afraid of Clear Channel (basically, me and Don Henley), then we break down the door of Michael Powell's office, strip him to his underwear, and pass him over our shoulders through the crowd! (The latter is just a joke. He doesn't wear underwear.)
Recording artists need to unite as one voice for one day, preferably with Teddy Turner's news vans everywhere, so this time EVERYONE sees that it can be done. That is where we make our collective voices heard. That is where we say, unanimously: "Mr. Chairman! We, as artists, are profoundly opposed to this new legislation further restricting our right to free speech, by removing initial warnings in broadcasting, by raising fines from eleven thousand to half a million dollars, and by making Big Brother an inevitable reality as early as tomorrow morning!" Then we have an soy dog, and go home.
"Smoochy" The Rhino was right, ya know. "You can't change the world. But you can make a dent." Together, we artists can make a dent in the "Clear Channel Bentley" that would be a bugger to bang out. After all, Mr. Mays, WE, the people own the airwaves; you're merely renting them.