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CAN MUSIC CORRUPT? The battle lines are drawn over whether heavy metal's raucous lyrics really endanger teens

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Instead, she said, the PMRC is telling parents that they need to be ``as tuned in to music as they are television or the movies. We want to bring this material out into the public eye, where it can be judged in the free marketplace and not hidden away where only children know where it is and what it's about.''

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However, Howard Bloom of Music in Action, the record industry's leading anti-censorship group, alleges that the PMRC, while presenting a reasoned, rational view to the public, actually harbors views about heavy metal that are ``violently inaccurate.''

Mr. Bloom was particularly concerned about the PMRC video ``Rising to the Challenge,'' which focuses on the most inflammatory aspects of pop music. ``I showed the video at a censorship panel at the new-music seminar here, and the audience thought it was funny, it was so way off the mark,'' he said. ``What they didn't realize is that billions of people who've seen it have accepted it as gospel.''

Although Bloom admits that some heavy metal is downright disgusting, he maintains that such material is a small part of the overall picture.

On the album-warning and censorship issues, the attitude of metal fans and performers ranges from indifference to concern. Some young people view the warnings as a joke. In fact, a few underground bands have devised their own labels: ``Warning - explicit lyrics. Hide from parents!'' But others at the Marathon were worried that provisions of the Thurmond bill, if revived, could get the government involved in setting standards for lyrics.

Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Inc. (NARAS), predictably has come out in opposition to such legislation.

The PMRC's Ms. Norwood says there is no connection between the bill and her group. ``As an organization,'' she said, ``the PMRC does not take a position on any type of federal legislation. Our focus is that it's really up to the parents to teach a child to think critically,'' added Norwood, who grew up in a liberal family and whose parents liked rock and ``listened to Alice Cooper.''

Central questions that emerge from the heavy metal debate: Is the metal phenomenon a cause or an effect? Is it a pernicious influence that is capable of turning teen-agers into angry, hostile rebels, criminals, or Satanists? Or is it merely a mirror of the intensity of our times? So far, no one has been able to give a definitive answer.

One question that can be answered: Are a majority of kids being hurt by this music, or are its possible victims a tiny minority? The evidence indicates the latter is true.

``Not every child is going to become deeply involved with themes of death or depression, which make up a lot of heavy metal,'' says the PMRC's Norwood. ``And certainly not every child is going to be negatively affected, even by the most destructive groups, if there is a good communication between parent and child. That's the key.''

Even many metal performers take a dim view of the so-called ``death metal'' or ``Satanist'' bands. ``A band that only sings about doom and gloom and the darker side of things - I think they're cutting their own throat ... because there's a small market for that kind of thing,'' said Dave Ellefson of the band Megadeth.

Billy Milano, of the group M.O.D., argued that metal songs which mention suicide and Satanism are often misinterpreted. ``We have a song, `Satan's Cronies,' on our upcoming album, which puts down Satan and the people who follow him,'' said Mr. Milano. ``I'm sure somebody's gonna take it as, well, that we're following Satan, and we worship him, and that I'm the most twisted person they can imagine.''

As far as the link between heavy metal and teen-age suicide is concerned, the most widely publicized case is that of a boy whose body was found with an Ozzy Osbourne tape in the pocket cued to the song ``Suicide Solution.'' At the CMJ Marathon, Deena Weinstein, Professor of Sociology at DePaul University in Chicago, said, ``There is very little logic in the criticisms we've been hearing about metal causing suicide. ... After all, the suicide rate has been going up, not only for kids, but for adults and all sorts of demographic groups that don't listen to metal, and they've been going up since before metal was invented.''

Music in Action's Mr. Bloom frames the ongoing debate over regulation in First Amendment terms: ``If we're going to live in a country that's actually free, we're going to have to tolerate a wide variety of expression. If we want to see the forms of expression that we disagree with eliminated, then the question is: Who is going to make the choices about what is distasteful?''

As the debate continues, heavy metal is still climbing the charts. One sign of its growing popularity is that a new category - Hard Rock/Heavy Metal - will be added to this year's Grammy Awards.