Sex, Poop, and Homophobia: When Public Officials Meddle With Concerts
Friday, the Washington Post's Bill Turque picked up on a story that had been developing for a few weeks: Local activists were gearing up to protest an August show by Mexican band Molotov (shown above) at Fillmore Silver Spring, citing the band's apparently homophobic lyrics. Activists took issue with a particular song from its 1997 album, which seemed to call for violence against gays. (The band has denied that the lyrics specifically target gay people, but its explanation—that it was actually attacking weaklings who can't stand up to government corruption—doesn't hold up.) Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett got wind of the controversy and sent a letter to the Fillmore's manager, saying he was "personally offended" by the band's lyrics, and asked the Live Nation venue to "reconsider the Fillmore's decision to book the band."
Live Nation rejected that idea. As it should have.
Look, Fillmore can book as much hateful music as it wants—and it already does that quite frequently. Last summer, it booked American clown Ted Nugent, a reliable source of oral diarrhea who once called gays "the most protected class of people in America." In 2011 it booked LMFAO, whose 2009 song "Shots" was a veritable rape anthem. Kid Rock played Fillmore in 2011, too, and beside his everyday assault on good taste, he once called Twitter "gay." J. Cole played Fillmore the same year, and his song "Villuminati" is loaded with homophobic language. Recent Fillmore headliner Tyga has been criticized for at least one homophobic tweet and unchecked casual sexism, and droves of Harvard students protested his show when he performed at the college this spring.
Molotov's lyrics should be protested, too, loudly and publicly in front of Fillmore. But an elected official calling for the show's cancellation is obviously ludicrous. Hey, Montgomery County, just because you lured Live Nation to the county with an enormous sweetheart deal doesn't mean you can tell it what music to book. You're just its landlord. Also, read the Constitution—specifically the thingie about free speech—and curb your grandstanding, please. It sets a very icky precedent.
Officials don't pull this kind of thing around here too often, though, probably because they know they'd be pummeled for it. Take former D.C. city administrator Robert C. Bobb—now weighing a run for D.C. mayor—who as Richmond's city manager attempted to cancel a 1997 Marilyn Manson concert at the Richmond Coliseum because the shock rocker didn't meet "community standards." The concert was eventually uncanceled, and Manson emerged a martyr for it. Of course, Manson's lyrics are just misanthropic, not homophobic, so the campaign just felt like good ol' fashioned fear mongering, not a well-intentioned smackdown against prejudice.
District and Prince George's County officials routinely crack down on go-go concerts and shut down clubs when there's any threat to public safety, too, except sometimes, the threat is questionable. Look at another scenario the District got itself into in 1989, when former Ward 6 Councilmember Nadine Winter tried to shut down two Grateful Dead shows at RFK Stadium. According to Washington Post reports at the time, Winter claimed to have witnessed more than 100 Deadheads having sex, smoking weed, and pooping in a nearby church yard when the band played RFK in 1986. Winter said then-Mayor Marion Barry, who also sat on the D.C. Armory Board, had assured her that the Dead wouldn't be allowed back in D.C. But the band was booked to play two July shows at RFK three years later. In response, Winter attempted to push emergency legislation through the D.C. Council that would effectively cancel both shows. But a technicality blocked her move: Winter had failed to grant her fellow councilmembers 24 hours' notice for the legislation, so when she finally raised her objections at the conclusion of a seven-hour council meeting—to which around 100 Deadheads had turned up to protest—Council Chairman David A. Clarke cut her off. Barry opted instead to increase security and bring in more porta-potties around the stadium.
A lesson for present and future city officials: legitimate threats to public safety = decent reason to cancel a concert. Potential pooping and angry lyrics = not good reasons. Molotov's homophobia, unfortunately, falls into the latter category, too.
The Fillmore should be able to go on booking whatever offensive music it wants, and when necessary, residents should protest it. Elected officials, meanwhile, shouldn't try to shut down those shows—they should be out there protesting, too.