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An Old Debate Emerges in Wake of Shooting

Manson, KMFDM, RIAA react to reports of music-violence connection

April 22, 1999 12:00 AM ET

Repercussions from the deadly shooting rampage at Littleton, Colo.'s Columbine High School on Tuesday continue to be felt within the music industry. Because not only did the spree unleash another national debate about gun violence, but, thanks to indications that the two teen-age shooters were fans of heavy metal and industrial music, the question of violent lyrics and their effect on the young has again come to the forefront. The massacre, in which the gunmen reportedly laughed and giggled their way through the terrorized school before taking their own lives with self-inflicted wounds, left thirteen victims dead and twenty-eight injured.

It has been widely reported that the two shooters, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, were part of the so-called Trenchcoat Mafia, made up of social outcasts who are fans of the Goth look as well as Marilyn Manson's music.

In response to that public association, Manson issued a brief statement on Thursday. However, it did not address the question of what role his music may have played in influencing the boys: "It's tragic and disgusting anytime young people's lives are taken in an act of senseless violence. My condolences go out to the students and their families."

Manson was set to perform in nearby Denver on April 30 at a birthday concert for local rock radio station, KBPI. However, that concert has now reportedly been canceled, with station executives deciding it would be the wrong time to celebrate the station.

Meanwhile, lyrics from KMFDM, a hardcore German industrial dance act, were found on a web site attributed to a Trenchcoat Mafia member: "What I don't say, I don't do/What I don't do, I don't like/What I don't like, I waste." KMFDM, which disbanded last January, released its final album, Adios, on the same day of the Littleton shooting.

Trenchcoat Mafia members, including the two gunmen, appeared fascinated with Hitler and all things German.

In a statement to the press, Sascha K., formerly of KMFDM, expressed sympathy to the victims and insisted, "KMFDM are an art form -- not a political party. From the beginning, our music has been a statement against war, oppression, fascism and violence against others. While some of the former band members are German as reported in the media, none of us condone any Nazi beliefs whatsoever."

In an indication, though, that the debate about the effect cultural violence has on the young may not go away soon, on Wednesday President Clinton remarked, "Parents should take this moment to ask what else they can do to shield our children from violent images and experiences that warp young perceptions and obscure the consequences of violence."

But one music industry executive points out the Department of Justice and Department of Education, in response to a string of school shootings, recently issued guidelines for administrators across the country to help them identify potentially violent students. Musical preference was not among the criteria on the checklist.

Said Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the music industry trade organization, the Recording Industry Association of America: "In the coming days, we may find out more about the cause of this tragedy, but we do know that music does not drive teenagers to violent despair, nor does it put guns and weapons in the hands of children. It's too easy to make music a scapegoat."

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

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