In the crosshairs at Thursday's hearing: Marilyn Manson. Senators heard testimony from a bereaved father, who blamed the gloomy glam band and its album Antichrist Superstar for the suicide of his 15-year-old son.
"I failed to recognize that my son was holding a hand grenade, and it was live, and it was going to go off in his mind," said Raymond Kuntz, who traveled from North Dakota to talk to the sympathetic lawmakers.
Although none of the medical experts paraded before the senators could establish a direct link between music and mayhem, that didn't stop legislators from attacking the recording industry. "There has been a marked increase in explicit violence and misogyny in popular music," said committee chair and Kansas Republican Sam Brownback.
Then there was Sen. Joseph Lieberman. The Connecticut Democrat and would-be lyric censor urged record companies not to distribute music with offensive content. "They should take some social responsibility in what they produce," he said. "This is a long way from Elvis shaking his hips on the Ed Sullivan Show."
And to the grieving Kuntz he said: "Almost every parent in America would do what you did. It didn't look like a hand grenade. It looked like a CD."
Also on hand was Lieberman's frequent sidekick and chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women, C. DeLores Tucker. Tucker also griped about unenforceable content labels on albums and seemed to suggest making people flash an ID to buy a CD. To illustrate her point, she introduced a teenage boy who said he had no problem buying stickered discs from major chains.
Defending music makers was Hilary Rosen, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America. She noted that all albums with questionable content must be labeled with a "parental advisory" sticker and retailers are supposed to restrict the sale of such albums.
Rosen added that it's too easy for parents and lawmakers to blame music for the actions of their kids. "The American Academy of Child and Adolescent psychiatry lists 14 signs to look for in a suicidal child, and music is not among them."
She also suggested that critics like Lieberman and Tucker shouldn't pick what people get to hear: "What makes one painting good and one painting bad? It's a matter of taste," she said. "You may assume that something is simply in bad taste because you don't like it, but that does not mean that there is not a level of artistic creativity that went into the creation of it."