By MARK GUARINO
Daily Herald Music Critic
When the hard rock extravaganza Ozzfest kicks off its 29-date summer tour in Tinley Park today, the noise raised won’t necessarily be coming from the speakers.
Protesters in Denver are watching today’s show closely to fuel their plea that when Ozzfest rolls into their town June 21, headliner Marilyn Manson should not be on board. Manson’s music initially was linked to the Columbine school massacre two years ago.
“He has a responsibility for bringing junk into town,” said Jason Janz, director of Citizens For Peace and Respect, a group of 70 Denver church leaders who organized six weeks ago. Janz is sending Seth Meyers, a 23-year-old pastor with Bethel Baptist Church in Schaumburg, to today’s show at the Tweeter Center. Meyers said he hopes to “get evidence” of any illegal behavior, which will be analyzed by Janz and then presented to Denver authorities.
Manson defenders say the shock rocker’s songs about doom, depression and blasphemy reflect realistic societal issues and ideas in an artistic way, but his critics, including Janz, say he’s literally promoting “hate, violence, suicide, death, drug use and the attitudes and actions at Columbine.”
While controversy over Manson is not exactly novel, what makes the Denver debate stand out is Columbine.
Even though early reports linking the teenage killers to messages in Manson’s music were later proved false, free speech advocates say the tragedy has been co-opted by conservative Christian groups and even the state government to stamp out what they consider immoral entertainment.
The massacre has so scared the city at an emotional level, “the whole Columbine thing is still going on,” said resident Stephanie Shearer.
That makes it easier for the anti-Manson forces to influence public opinion, she said. Her group, Citizens For Freedom of Choice, was organized to combat Citizens For Peace and Respect, but she says “apathy” among residents is her group’s “biggest challenge.”
“You can’t say Columbine in a sentence and not get an emotional reaction in Colorado. People are not willing to get involved (in free speech activism) when it has something to do with Columbine,” she said.
Janz said he has the support of Columbine victims’ families but was vague about the exact number. He guessed there are five families involved in the anti-Manson effort while group member Keenan Roberts of Denver said there were perhaps three. Janz has the encouragement of Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Rep. Tom Tancredo, both Republicans who have publicly pledged support. Tancredo has “asked Marilyn Manson not to play,” said his press secretary, Greg Meyer. Owen’s press secretary did not return phone calls.
Janz’s group is also endorsed by Focus On the Family, the Christian ministry in nearby Colorado Springs founded by Dr. James Dobson, who served on White House anti-pornography and anti-gambling committees. Dobson considers Manson “problematic entertainment,” said Bob Waliszewski, manager of the organization’s youth culture department, who has panned Manson albums on the group’s Web site.
Such high-profile political partners are exactly what free speech activists like Shearer fear. “To me, it’s scary when you have very right wing religious people meeting behind closed doors with the governor,” she said.
Both the anti- and pro-Manson groups plan to hold separate rallies on the state’s capital steps on June 20, the day before the concert.
Janz, who believes you can’t “say and do what you want” in a song, says this is not a First Amendment issue, but one of personal responsibility. Only Manson, he says, can decide if he wants to show up in Denver. No one is forcing him to cancel his show or forcing fans to boycott.
That, however, is “still censorship,” said Marjorie Heins, director of the Free Expression Policy Project in New York and the author of “Not In Front Of The Children: ‘Indecency,’ Censorship and the Innocence of Youth” (Hill and Wang).
“There’s a whole continuum of ways people try to censor, from the heavy artillery approach to criminal prosecution to gentle, or not so gentle, persuasion,” Heins said. “Any private individual has a first amendment right to say ‘this music stinks,’ but there is a line.”
“Symbolic headline grabbing” protests like the one by the Denver group, she said, has “gotten really epidemic.” Heins said a more sober media literacy approach would involve kids to discuss whether music has an “antisocial effect or a cathartic effect, or if it differs from one individual to another.” “You can’t make generalizations,” she said.
Manson — a 32-year-old Ohio native whose real name is Brian Warner — said he understands why he’s under fire in Denver in relation to Columbine. But he still plans on playing the show.
“I don’t think it’ll ever be gone from public consciousness,” he said last week, speaking from his home in the Los Angeles area. “I’ve never taken anything personally. For someone to be the good guy, they have to find the bad guy … They want to be able to say, ‘Well, everything that bad happened is because of this guy. So if we stay away from him, go to bed, everything will be fine.’ That’s the way America likes to function. It always has.”