In Times of Need, Clear Channel Turns off the Music

Art can be a welcome diversion in today's climate of sorrow and terror. In the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it felt good to watch a Toronto Film Festival screening of Italian filmmaker

Sep 27, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Art can be a welcome diversion in today's climate of sorrow and terror. In the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it felt good to watch a Toronto Film Festival screening of Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti's heartfelt melodrama, The Son's Room, a sensitive look at a married couple coping with the loss of a teen-age child.

At downtown Cincinnati's Linda Schwartz Gallery, Mark Fox's tornado-inspired artwork offers a playful response to my newfound concerns about destruction and loss.

Later, at a Sept. 21 Music Hall concert, Paavo Jarvi led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in rousing fashion. The morning concert began with the national anthem, a patriotic reminder of America's impending war. But the highlight was the way the CSO's sparkling performance of Haydn's London Symphony No. 104 managed to transport me away from daily anxieties.

Art, whether it be film, drawings or music, makes a positive impact in today's times of national crisis. The feedback from politicians and military generals quickly dissolves into a stumbling drone. Artists are who I look to for compassionate and articulate commentary. They seem most capable of fulfilling my emotional needs.

The chance for people to find a soulful outlet through popular music was dealt a devastating blow by the corporate suits at Clear Channel Communications. A Sept. 17 report in various media, including The New York Times, disclosed how Clear Channel management forwarded an e-mail from a station program director to its 1,200 stations coast-to-coast with a list of 162 songs they should avoid playing. The company's corporate headquarters are located in San Antonio, but management decisions regarding its radio stations come out of Clear Channel's regional offices in Covington.

Some of the titles on the banned list make sense. Playing Heavy Metal favorites like Soundgarden's "Blow Up the Outside World" or AC/DC's "Shot Down in Flames" would be insensitive.

Other banned songs prove comical. I can't imagine how New Wave fluff like The Bangles' "Walk Like Egyptian" or Nena's "99 Luft Balloons" could cause any harm. The Clear Channel list also included retro tunes like Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels' "Devil With the Blue Dress" on its list of banned music. I guess that's the company's way of outing terrorist Osama bin Laden as a cross-dresser.

The most confusing aspect of Clear Channel's list is how many classic peace songs manage to find themselves banned. The list encourages stations not to play John Lennon's "Imagine" or Peter, Paul & Mary's "Blowin' in the Wind." Cat Stevens' inspirational anthem "Peace Train" is targeted due to his' conversion to Islam. Stevens, who now goes by the name Yusuf Islam, can declare himself one of the first victims of anti-Muslim discrimination.

It's puzzling how anyone could find Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" offensive in light of the recent terrorist attacks. Paul Simon's rendition of the song proved to be a highlight of the Sept. 21 TV fund-raiser. The only reasonable answer I can contemplate is that the Clear Channel executives who forwarded this list of banned music have never listened to many of the songs. It's the only way to explain how something as life-affirming as The Youngblood's "Get Together" can suddenly be deemed offensive.

Outside the Clear Channel offices, Cincinnatians continue to collect money, food and supplies for the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy. Local firemen have recently returned from helping New York City rescue crews in their struggle to find survivors.

The good deeds show no sign of stopping. The Art Academy of Cincinnati is planning a special exhibition to help students and faculty address the terrorist attacks. Photographer Thomas Condon, on trial for obscenity charges, diverted money collected at a Sept. 20 fund-raiser from his own legal fund to the Red Cross. But the most infamous gift comes from the Clear Channel executives who allowed an employee to recommend turning off peace-affirming music like "Get Together."

Various Clear Channel stations, including Cincinnati's own WEBN-FM, have paid little attention to the list. In a Sept. 18 press release, the company denies the existence of the list.

The point is that something as foolish as the Clear Channel list wasn't snuffed out by company executives the moment it reached their computers. In response, I've created my own list — I have personally banned all Clear Channel stations from my home and car stereos.