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Tipper got a bad rap

The woman who would bring rock to its knees, who would have artists singing nothing but silly love songs, sits in a cramped backstage room at the Williams Park bandshell in St. Petersburg sipping a diet soda.

She has shoulder-length blond hair and blue eyes that gaze firmly into yours. She does not look like a morality crusader.

But, in fact, this is not the second coming of the Church Lady spotting Satan under every rock.

She is Tipper Gore, who is now more famous for being the wife of vice presidential candidate Al Gore than as the head of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), the organization that pushed the recording industry into voluntarily placing warning stickers on albums that contain explicit material.

Although Tipper Gore says the PMRC's work is essentially done _ because the organization is satisfied with the record industry's compliance with stickering _ she is still the butt of scorn from many artists and other heavies within the pop hierarchy. Still a target.

Here's a song called "Eat My Shorts." Let Tipper Gore chew on this one!

That sort of thing can still be heard on concert stages, large and small, throughout the country.

Ice T, Tipper Gore's worst nightmare.

That sort of thing can still be read in rock periodicals.

Ah, Tipper, come on, ain't you been getting it on?

As Ozzy, Zappa or me. We'll show you what it's like to be free

Those are lyrics from a brand new Ramones song called Censors---.

Ask Tipper Gore why she remains a loathsome figure to many in the rock scene, and she responds by curling her mouth, widening her eyes, raising her eyebrows, turning palms up and shrugging vigorously.

The notion of her being this repressive figure _ this, this censor _ befuddles her. "Voluntary labeling is actually based on individual responsibility and individual liberty. Liberty," she says. "That's the point everybody missed. It's not a First Amendment issue."

This may be an act of rock critic heresy, but it's time to do a little revisionist history on the PMRC and Tipper Gore. "We are only in favor of voluntary labeling," Gore says. She supports the rights of artists to create and distribute explicit material. She does not back the policy of some retail chains that require a person to be 18 in order to buy a stickered album. She is staunchly against legislating the warning label process, although she did hold that possibility over the record industry's head were they not to come up with some workable program.

When you consider the PMRC's real agenda, it's strange that it created such a furor. Stickering is akin to the film rating system or putting Hustler under the counter or television warning viewers that parental discretion is advised.

Ultimately, the overall issue of explicit music grew beyond the PMRC's scope. As pop became more and more violent and fraught with graphic sexual themes, right wing factions got involved. There was a much-publicized crackdown on the Miami rap group 2 Live Crew and other "gangsta" rappers; metal mongers Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest were accused of subliminally causing teen suicides. Legislation for mandatory stickering took root in 18 states, which gave the record biz a severe case of the shudders.

And for some reason much of the rebuttal, from free speech advocates as well as the music biz, was leveled at the PMRC. Tipper Gore, much more so than her partner in the PMRC, Susan Baker, was viewed as somehow a catalyst for all this oppression and was summarily attacked. She was the most high-profile of the "Washington Wives," privileged ladies sticking their noses where it didn't belong. Even her name _ Tipper _ with its goody-goody air, helped keep the darts coming.

But Tipper Gore showed her mettle when, after the recording industry unveiled its voluntary stickering plan, she called a press conference in Louisiana encouraging the governor to veto the state's mandatory program. He did. Then the PMRC actively lobbied other state legislators, she says, and in short order all of the legislation was killed off.

Does that sound like a censor?

So what has been the upshot of voluntary stickering? Not much at all. One of the biggest worries was that the big, bad shadow of a warning label would somehow stifle creative freedom. That has turned out to be bunk. Rockers and rappers who are so inclined are just as explicit as they ever were. And Tipper Gore supports their right to do so.