Only Cowards Blame the Music

When I was a teenager, my parents banned from me listening to KISS.

So of course I listened to KISS every chance I got.

Their rationale: someone with religious authority warned them that the band’s name stood for “Knights in Satan’s Service.” The fact that they were men who wore makeup didn’t help. And in the deep south of the 1970s, religious parents didn’t doubt their leaders. If Reverend Buddy or Brother Hypocrisy said something was bad, then it most certainly was. No, they didn’t want to actually hear the music; that might lead to them thinking for themselves. KISS made kids into Satan worshippers, and that was that.

I listened to a lot of KISS. I never worshipped Satan.

In the Nineties, heavy metal music was again blamed for leading kids astray, in this case the “West Memphis Three.” Luckless teens who fell afoul of empowered redneckery, they were convicted of child murder based largely on the fact that they wore black and listened to heavy metal. You can find out more about this miscarriage of justice and the unrepentant Baptist thugs behind it in the Paradise Lost documentaries.

And now we have a young man, the 21-year-old son of a Louisiana deputy sheriff, burning down black churches. Church-burning is one of the most hateful acts a terrorist can commit, striking at the very heart of communities often already marginalized (certainly in rural Louisiana, it’s a safe bet). And almost from the first announcement of his arrest, the blame has been put (at least in part) on the music he liked, in this case black metal.

The heavy metal band Mayhem.

For example, that paragon of journalism the New York Post claims in an April 11 headline that, “Deputy’s son accused in church fires may have been influenced by ‘black metal’.” Of course, all their examples are prefaced by, “purportedly” and “reportedly,” which in the Post essentially means, “clickbait.” Rolling Stone, grabbing desperately at any relevance, headlined their article, “Did a Norwegian Black Metal Band Inspire the Louisiana Church Burnings?” They begin their third paragraph with the disclaimer, “To be clear, Matthews’ musical taste in and of itself does not necessarily indicate what his political leanings were.” But the entire rest of the article says exactly that.

Music doesn’t make anyone do anything. Not even dance. Anything done as a response to music is a choice by the listener. Are some black metal bands linked to Satanism and white supremacy? Sure. Do those bands create white supremacists? No.

Blaming the music is the coward’s way out. It lets the parents, the schools, the churches, society as a whole off the hook. 

This young man is the son of a white deputy sheriff, in the deep south. If he was exposed to white supremacy, you might have to look no further than the schoolroom (Louisiana is #44 out of 50 in K-12 education), the pulpit, or the dinner table. Remember that Louisiana elected David Duke to the state house of representatives after he’d spent five years as Grand Dragon of the KKK. But how much more convenient to blame music, especially music produced in far-off places like Europe? Could it be that he liked the music because he’d already been indoctrinated?

Only cowards blame music for crimes. Or racism.

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