Category Archives: music

VA Lt. Gov. candidate on “Satanic rock music”


Remember when this scared people? Photo by Flickr user scarlatti2004.

It’s hard to say whether anyone takes E.W. Jackson, a GOP candidate to become the state’s next Lieutenant Governor, seriously. I mean, he’s the one who said yoga is a “gateway to Satan” and more seriously derogatory things about gay rights. Now apparently he’s also railing against the evils of rock and roll music, either unaware that it’s already been done to death or perhaps trying to give that old dead horse one more beating.

Actually, the material was unearthed by Mother Jones from Jackson’s 2008 book, Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life, in which he says:

This is why we need not waste time arguing with the media about whether a steady diet of gangster rap, satanic rock music, profane, violent and pornographic films have an impact on people’s behavior. This is not a statistical question; it is a spiritual one. There may never be a satisfactory statistical answer because the period of incubation before manifestation makes it difficult to establish the causal connection with scientific certainty. It is not that some teen will listen to violent rap music tonight and go out to commit mass murder tomorrow. Nonetheless, if that youngster continues to “meditate” those violent, hate filled images and ideas, he or she will manifest those ideas into their lives in one way or another.

In the same book, he also disses witchcraft, Buddhism, and, er, Whitney Houston.

Unsurprisingly, he’s a religious leader and founder of the “Exodus Faith Ministries, a nondenominational Christian church in Chesapeake, Virginia,” according to his campaign website. (I’m not saying that all religious leaders have backwards ideas about modern music, just saying that someone who feels that way is more likely than not to be deeply religious.) He’s also a veteran, and was a lawyer and law professor.

Alas, the site doesn’t say what kind of music he does like. It will be interesting to see how seriously he’s taken in the months leading up to the election.

“This guy got really mad, and he didn’t know how to control himself. People think I helped him.” “Did you?”

Kat Chandler’s short film, “Black Metal,” is getting its big break at the Sundance Film Festival this month. In just a few minutes, the film explores a gruesome murder loosely tied to the music of a heavy-metal band. Only this time, it looks at the situation from the perspective of the musician whose work is linked to the killing. It’s a sensitive, emotional take on the topic, and doesn’t answer very many questions, leaving the viewer to reflect on whether this common scapegoat is really part of the problem.

Given my perspective on the topic, I have mixed feelings about Chandler’s film. On the one hand, I like the suggestion that this musician is baffled and upset by the blame, and the fact that the film mostly makes that blame appear misplaced. I also like the fact that it doesn’t overtly preach an answer; being too heavy-handed would be less effective. But I wonder whether this film is going to change the mind of someone who is already convinced that extreme music directly encourages its listeners to commit violence. I hope so, but part of me doubts it.

Corey Mitchell, a true-crime writer and metalhead who consulted on the film, said this on Invisible Oranges:

Just to be clear, I would not have taken the gig if Kat’s intention was to declare metal responsible for violent crimes.

What do you think the film says? And what do you think of the way in which it says it?

“Fur Elise” is for the dogs; metal, not so much


Is heavy metal music bad for dogs? Photo by Flickr user Diamond Geyser.

Apparently, Colorado State University professor Lori Kogan felt it was time to find out what kind of music dogs prefer.

Sex Pistols or Debbie Harry? Elvis or the Beatles? Bo Diddley or Miles Davis? Actually, they didn’t listen to any of these — but they did listen to classical and heavy metal.

And, after four months and lots of listens, it’s hard to say whether this was the predictable outcome or not, but it seems the 117 shelter dogs in the study reacted more positively to classical than to metal:

Classical songs ultimately won out, proving so powerful in reducing stress that they even trumped the effect of “psychoacoustic” music designed especially to soothe animals.

Heavy metal, by contrast, appeared to amplify dogs’ anxiety, and was linked with less sleep, more barking and increased shaking.

On the classical side, the dogs listened to Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” and “Moonlight Sonata,” Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz,” and Bach’s “Air on a G String.” On the metal side, they heard Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” Slayer’s “Angel of Death,” and Judas Priest’s “Turbo Lover.”

Kogan measured three variables: how much time the dogs spent sleeping while the music was playing, how much time they spent shaking and how much time they were silent.

Dogs slept slightly more during the classical music — 3.7 to 6 percent of the time, compared with .8 to 1.2 percent during heavy metal songs. And they were slightly quieter while listening to classical — silent 88.4 to 95.1 percent of the time, compared with 88.6 to 93.5 while the metal was playing. But the differences in shaking were striking: dogs shook 0.8 to 2.3 percent of the time during the classical songs, but 37.8 percent of the time during “Ace of Spades,” 49.9 percent of the time during “Turbo Lover,” and 71.2 percent of the time during “Angel of Death.” Yikes. I’m guessing they weren’t just headbanging.

This isn’t wholly unlike last year’s informal study on heavy metal’s effect on sharks (spoiler: the sharks liked it). The good thing about the dog study is that Kogan doesn’t try to take her results and extrapolate them to other species. On the downside, while it’s clear that the dogs in her study were made more anxious by the heavy metal they heard, it’s not entirely clear why.

I wonder whether there are sounds native to heavy metal (and to these three songs in particular) that are, to dogs, alert/alarm sounds that would make them more anxious, just because of what their DNA tells them might signal danger. Or, I wonder whether these sounds do cause mammals to become more keyed up, but for some humans that has the counterintuitive effect of relaxing them (just as some are relaxed by stimulants).

In any case, Kogan’s takeaway is that shelter dogs — who already lead stressful lives — could benefit from hearing classical music, and probably shouldn’t be played much or any metal.

What do you think? What kinds of music do your dogs like most? Do any of them like a little Sabbath and Slayer?

Expert: Youth violence is complex, media doesn’t cause violence, reporting on it is tough


A mural in Chicago’s Logan Square. Photo by Flickr user Zol87.

This morning, Poynter.org hosted a chat with Carl Bell, acting director of the Institute for Juvenile Research and a professor in the University of Illinois’ Department of Psychiatry and in the School of Public Health, on how journalists can do better when covering youth violence. The chat was prompted by recent coverage of a wave of youth-involved shootings in Chicago.

Most of the time, Backward Messages focuses on all the things that don’t cause youth violence, even though various sources have claimed they do. Things like violent video games, the occult, and heavy-metal music. I also like to look at the ways reporters get off track when reporting on youth crime — and the ways that misreporting leads us to look for the wrong causes.

So when I heard Bell was co-hosting the chat with Poynter.org managing editor Mallary Tenore today, I jumped in to listen, and to ask questions. Here are some of the highlights:

Carl Bell: I have been studying violence since 1976 and I have learned there are several types of violence – predatory violence, interpersonal altercation violence, gang related violence, etc. There is also mob violence, hate crime violence, violence by mentally ill, systemic violence, etc.

Mallary Tenore: As you’ve studied these various types of violence, what have you noticed about journalists’ coverage of them?

Carl Bell: It has been my experience that journalist regularly do not differentiate these types of violence very well and they mostly get portrayed as predatory violence.

Mallary Tenore: That’s interesting … why do you think that is?

Carl Bell: I think that people are often confused with complexity. … I think journalists have a difficult time. They have to report on complex issues, but keep them simple and they have to get past the editor.

Mallary Tenore: Yes, time can definitely a factor.

Carl Bell: Unfortunately, much that is published or reported on has to have a great hook, i.e. something that appeals to the flight, fight, or freeze response in the brain, not the thinking, discernment, wise part of the brain. So, there is a lot of distortion in the media.

Beth Winegarner: Carl, on the topic of mass murder/school shootings, why do you think reporters so often make reference to a youth’s music tastes or video-game habits when describing youth perpetrators of mass violence?

Carl Bell: There are so many ideas that people have for the causes of violence. When we did the Surgeon General’s report on youth violence we learned, based on science, that many of the things we think cause violence do not cause violence at all.

Beth Winegarner: That’s an interesting response, since many people still refer to the Surgeon General’s report. What things mentioned in it don’t cause violence after all?

Carl Bell: The reality is that risk factors are not predictive factors, due to protective factors. So, a lot of kids want violent videos or play violent video games, but the homicide rates are lower than the suicide rates (both are rare), so things protect kids.

To read the full chat, see the Poynter.org and click at the bottom to read the transcript.

Could Egypt’s heavy metal days be numbered?


A band performs at the Heavy Tune Metal Festival at Nile Country Club in Cairo, Egypt, in July 2011. Photo by Flickr user lokha/Lorenz Khazaleh.

In January of 1997, roughly 100 Egyptian heavy-metal fans were rounded up, arrested, and accused of Satanism. Now, almost 16 years later, it looks like it could happen again.

Over the weekend, Ismail El-Weshahy, a lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), filed a complaint to the Egyptian interior ministry against El-Sawy Culturewheel. He claims that the venue, a regular home for rock and metal shows, was hosting “Satanic” rock bands and events. El-Weshahy even claimed that his clients, members of an independent anti-corruption group called “We’re Watching You,” filmed “satanic rituals” at Culturewheel.

The news comes just as the Muslim Brotherhood is gaining power and legitimacy in Egypt. After the 1997 arrests, most were freed because the charges against them were unprovable. However, the metal scene in Egypt was essentially silenced; too many bands were afraid to play, and clubs were afraid to host them. But slowly the scene re-emerged. Today, it’s a healthy scene, but it remains underground for the most part — it hasn’t achieved pop-culture status. Most Egyptian metal bands aren’t known outside the country. That leaves them relatively to these kinds of political and cultural attacks.

Some metal musicians in the scene saw this latest move coming.

Wael Osama, founder and manager of heavy metal band Enraged, said:

“I was expecting that something like this could happen in the future, but I did not think it would be this soon. No matter how absurd the accusations are, the fact they are brought by a well known lawyer from the FJP will generate a big amount of bad publicity with possible serious repercussions.”

What those repercussions could be remains to be seen. Metal musicians in the country are gathering this week to discuss what to do and how to respond to the attacks.

Heba Ahmed, who works at Culturewheel, said the venue will continue hosting events, including heavy metal shows. In addition, a statement on its Web site denies the allegations: “In our ten years of activity, the Culturewheel has not hosted any kind of practice that could be called Satanic,” the statement asserted, going on to express doubt that Satanism in Egypt existed at all.

Certainly, heavy metal is not Satanism.

In Sikh shooting, don’t blame the metalheads


There’s no need for this.

It’s rare, and very sad, to have three mass shootings in the news at the same time. Yesterday in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Wade Michael Page opened fire in a Sikh temple, killing six congregants and wounding others, including a police officer, before police shot and killed him. It comes just as we are still making sense of the movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, two weekends ago, and as Tucson, Arizona shooter Jared Loughner returns to court tomorrow and is expected to change his plea from “insanity” to “guilty.”

One of the problems I’ve seen with the American public’s analysis and understanding of those who commit mass shootings is that we tend to forget the details over time. Right now, as awful as it is, we have the opportunity to look at three suspects — and coverage of them — side by side: Page, Holmes, and Loughner.

Page: His identity was just revealed this morning, and so far the coverage has focused on three things: his military service, his apparent white-supremacy leanings, and the fact that he played in a hardcore band that expressed those leanings. Early on in the reporting cycle, this is typical; we hear about the surface-level stuff, but deeper issues take time for journalists to tease out. Page was also an army veteran. He was never deployed. It’s unlikely he had PTSD, but possible that other mental issues made him unfit for military service. It’s also possible that his political views took him to a rare and extreme place. We won’t know for a while, yet.

Holmes: At first, there was speculation about whether violent movies or video games inspired him to kill 10 people and injure dozens more. Some also questioned whether the Devil — or demonic possession — was involved. We now know Holmes had deep psychological issues that worried his doctors, and that he was dropping out of grad school — often a sign of worsening mental illness.

Loughner: Again, early reports were way off. Reporters pegged Loughner as a metal fan and an occultist, when in reality it looks like he was deeply disturbed. He has spent the better part of the last year and a half in a psychiatric unit. Now, doctors think they have restored him to a level of competency that would allow him to stand trial. The question remains: was he mentally sound when he fired into that Tucson crowd?

Frequently, psychological issues are core to these men’s struggles. I’m not saying all mentally ill folks are time bombs ready to go off. It isn’t like that. Most people with mental-health struggles, just like most video-game fans, most occultists, most Satanists, most goths, most metalheads, and so on, are not going to hurt anyone. Ever.

What I am saying is, since we know that mental-health issues are central to many mass shootings, what purpose does it serve to call Page a “metal head” on the front page of a major news site — other than to make it sound like his affiliation with metal somehow sparked the killing (it didn’t)? Or even to suggest that metalheads are somehow more likely to fire guns into churches where people are congregating peacefully (they aren’t).

Sure, I know that reporters are also trying to give readers a picture of who this guy was. But the way we dissect these reports, we’re looking for clues — why did he do it? Every piece of information becomes part of the blame game. And when we look in the wrong places, not only does it reinforce negative, incorrect stereotypes about unrelated groups (such as metal fans), but it keeps us from looking in the right places. And that’s the only thing that will help us prevent such tragedies in the future.

Looking for answers in the latest Colorado shooting? Don’t be distracted by false explanations


James Holmes is the suspect in the Aurora, Colorado shootings that killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more.

As reporters work to reveal the identity, history, and character of James Holmes, the suspected shooter in this morning’s massacre in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, they may suggest that his personal interests could have led him to commit a horrific crime.

They’re wrong.

Whenever such a tragedy strikes, we want to understand why it happened, perhaps in the hope of preventing another from happening.

As long as we focus on subjects such as video games, music, faith, or even comic books, we are distracting ourselves from the real clues that may tell us that someone might be on the verge of a violent attack.

Instead, we should be looking at Holmes’ mental state, his life circumstances, his methods of coping — or not coping — with failure and disappointment. These, not patterns of media intake, are the real clues.

I’ll likely have more to say as the story unfolds.