Will there be any room in post-attack America for shock music acts like Marilyn Manson or songs like N.W.A.’s infamous “F*** Tha Police”?
Some music biz vets think not, even as some artists move to adapt to the new heightened sensitivities.
Manson, who was recently arraigned on misdemeanor assault and battery charges for “gyrating” against the head of a Detroit security guard, posted a note on his Web site last week saying, “Even someone like me can show respect for those killed and for the people protecting our lives.”
And Dr. Dre, one of the founding members of N.W.A., has personally donated $1 million to help victims of the tragedy, including families of the police and firefighters who perished in the World Trade Center collapse.
But that may not be enough. Some music biz execs expect a significant shift in the kind of music Americans will be listening to in the years after the attacks.
Andy Gershon, president of V2 Records, anticipates no less than a new wave of songwriters who can tap into the sentiment of the post-attack era.
“You’re going to be able to define music over the next few years as ‘before Sept. 11’ and ‘after Sept. 11,’ ” Gershon says. “The whole world has transformed before our very eyes — there’s no way to overstate that.”
Subtle changes are already happening in the short term:
- Hard-touring rock act the Dave Matthews Band has scrapped plans to release the track “When the World Ends” as the latest radio single from their disc “Everyday” — even though the song’s subject is far from apocalyptic. The title cut will be the next single instead.
- Indie-rock darlings the Strokes has pulled a song called “New York City Cops” (which includes the chorus “New York City cops/they ain’t too smart”) from the U.S. version of their forthcoming debut “Is That It?”
- Gavin Rossdale, front man for British alt-rock outfit Bush, elected to change the name of the band’s latest single from “Speed Kills” to “The People That We Love.”
- Songwriter-singer Sheryl Crow has decided to rethink lyrics in one of her songs that decry the lack of heroes in the world, following displays of bravery by rescue workers at ground zero.
- Metal group Dream Theater hurriedly recalled all copies of its new concert album, “Live Scenes from New York,” because the cover art depicted Gotham’s famous skyline, including the World Trade Center, in flames.
Along with efforts to edit themselves in respect to victims, artists also are taking more concrete positive action. A slew of acts, from Britney Spears to Paul McCartney, will donate money earned from concerts, Michael Jackson is working on a “We Are the World”-style single to support victims and their families, and Arista Records has re-released Whitney Houston’s rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” and is donating the proceeds from all sales.
Gauging the effects of the attacks over the longer term is more challenging. But many in the music biz say the tragedy and America’s subsequent rallying and planned retaliation have the potential to be the latest generation’s defining event, as Vietnam was to baby boomers.
This time around, however, artists may be more likely to be motivated by patriotism than by protest, notes Zomba Music’s West Coast chief, Neil Portnow.
“The situation in Vietnam was so much more divisive,” Portnow observes. Still, if the U.S. response to the latest attack “is prolonged and starts to affect daily life in America, it will filter to the young people who are at the forefront of new creative trends.”
Even now, there are seeds of new projects inspired by the events and Americans’ responses to them. Arista topper Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who traveled around his native Atlanta last week visiting several artists at work in the studio, says many were infused with a new sense of gravity about their craft.
“Writers are motivated to say things that are relevant,” he observes. “People don’t want to write anything that is insignificant. After all this tragedy, we feel insignificant enough.”