First Amendment Blues: Glocalizing Constitutionality

Well, the Black Crowes are set to release their new album about ten hours from now. They say no publicity is bad publicity, even if it does consist of a 2.5 out of 5 star rating from that vacuous tittie/toilet rag Maxim magazine. Apparently Maxim reviewed this record before even hearing it, and while Chris Robinson and the Crowes are livid, in truth they will probably enjoy a few more record sales despite Maxim’s opinion. When confronted by the Crowes’ manager, Maxim replied:

“On the rare occasion that we are not given music because of our lead time or unavailability of the tunes, we make an educated guess…Of course, we always prefer to hearing the music, but sometimes there are big albums that we don’t want to ignore that aren’t available to hear, which is what happened with the Crowes. It’s either an educated guess preview or no coverage at all, so in this case we chose the former.”

An educated guess, huh? Educated by what? Certainly not anyone with ears! Also, nice slap in the face there in the first sentence to a band who made their own decision about whether they wanted to give their new album to your mag. As if it’s impossible to give a new album coverage without reviewing it. That’s telling in terms of Maxim’s capacity for creativity.

John Zorn, on the other hand, asked jazz critic Howard Mandel, among others, NOT to review his season opener at St. Ann’s Warehouse. He offered press passes to those who agreed to comply. One commentator on Mandel’s blog quipped that someone should “introduce Mr. Zorn to the First Amendment,” but doesn’t Zorn have just as much of a right to make this request as Mandel does to ignore it? True, Mandel didn’t actually review the performance (unlike some others), but his commentary on Zorn’s request certainly brings an interesting spotlight to things, doesn’t it?

Finally, these gray areas do not only touch the highly publicized and widely distributed Maxim, the Crowes, or the cosmopolitan sphere of Manhattan. In my own community a current high school visual art competition features a photograph of two people kissing. While I will respect the student’s copy rights (until I get permission to reproduce the photo here), the people in the photo both have facial hair, suggesting that this is an image of two men kissing. One art teacher with students competing in this show complained that the image was offensive and even called for its removal. While the contest bans nudes as subject matter, this image clearly falls within the rules. I find it disturbing that a teacher of art in the public schools would attempt to censor any creative endeavor, especially one as innocuous as this.

This morning I relayed a comment that Robert Christgau once made to my popular music class. He said that punk irony had been “wasted on pinheads” when neo-Nazis saw swastikas among punk regalia and appropriated the music as anthems for their own dubious purposes. Funny thing about that First Amendment. We must simultaneously defend the rights of 1) rampantly idiotic magazines to produce record reviews without hearing the records, 2) artists who try to circumscribe their reviewers, and 3) teachers who try to censor students. But we don’t stop there; fly the flag or burn it as you please. You’re free to do so as the First Amendment guarantees.

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of the Black Crowes’ new album, Warpaint, after I’ve had a chance to actually listen to the record.

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