Does listening to metal turn people violent? Of course it doesn’t. But it’s notable that whenever shocking acts of violence occur in America, you can be sure that someone somewhere will try and draw a link with the listening habits of the accused.
Last week, Drowning Pool were forced to issue a statement condemning the shootings in Arizona. The Texan alt-rockers spoke out after their 2001 hit ‘Bodies’ was found to be a YouTube favourite of Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old currently facing trial over the incident in which six people were killed and US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head.
In their statement, the band said they were “devastated” to be linked to the shootings and say the song was “written about the brotherhood of the mosh pit and was never about violence.”
‘Bodies’ itself, which is a chugging metal anthem without much depth, has quite a chequered history. It’s been used as a method of torture used at Guantanamo Bay and is frequently named as a favourite of soldiers who want to get pumped up before they engage in active duty. That’s obviously not the band’s fault – but that has never stopped commentators, sections of the media and members of the public from pinning the blame on metal bands in the past.
Back in 1985, when California teenager John McCollum took his own life, his parents discovered that the last song he’d listened to was Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Suicide Solution’ and promptly sued Ozzy for $9 million. It was alleged that the track contained the subliminal message: “Get the gun”. This was nonsense. The case was thrown out.
Slayer were sued twice by the parents of 15 year old Elyse Pahler, who was raped and murdered by three acquaintances in 1996. Her parents alleged that Slayer’s songs ‘Dead Skin Mask’ and ‘Postmortem’ provided detailed instructions on how to kill their daughter. The case was dismissed, but it meant the band had an unpleasant five years being linked to a truly appalling crime.
The most high profile case came in 2002, when Marilyn Manson found himself being labelled by politicians and religious leaders as the cause of the Columbine massacre. Manson was forced to cancel a US tour and has often said he believe Columbine permanently damaged his career. The scandal has dogged Manson ever since – even though it later transpired that the Columbine gunmen weren’t Manson fans at all.
Along the way Slipknot, AC/DC, My Chemical Romance, Cannibal Corpse and countless others have all had fingers pointed at them in the wake of tragic events, with degrees of influence ranging from a poster on a wall to how perpetrators dressed.
When any tragedy occurs that seems to defy explanation, it’s natural that people will want to attach a reason or inspiration to them. Bands, especially metal bands, are easy scapegoats, since they often address controversial subjects in their music and they have a body of lyrics ready to be stripped of their context and turned into headlines.
But reducing senseless violence to a simplistic equation of ‘angry young man + heavy metal = violent behaviour’ ultimately benefits no-one, and steamrollers the complex factors that give rise to these horrific acts.
Doubtless Drowning Pool are reeling at the moment, but they should take comfort from the fact that others artists have been there, and that anyone with half a brain knows that they are not to blame for what happened in Tucson.
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To adapt a phrase beloved of the NRA (who really should take some of the blame) – songs don’t kill people. People kill people.