2 Live Crew made “obscene” music and
accidentally made history
by Dan Hinkel
This July 4th, we should yet again honor the philosophers-statesmen-slaveowners who carefully and deliberately drafted the founding documents that continue to make our country mostly free.
We should also honor the citizens who accidentally stumbled into constitutional history and forced our court system to prove its theoretical commitment to liberty. The Bill of Rights was born nobly, but it was invested with power in less dignified moments: the day Larry Flynt’s porn magazine, Hustler, made a dumb joke about God-salesman Jerry Falwell losing his virginity to his own mother; the day a chronic loser named Ernesto Miranda signed a confession without being told he had a right to speak to a lawyer; and the day a pool-hall break-in in Panama City, Fla., led to a man’s prosecution without the help of a lawyer, which led to the expansion of free public defender services.
We should also celebrate the 1989 release of 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty as They Wanna Be, an explosively tasteless Miami bass album that touched off a series of court cases that — while less formative than Brown v. Board of Education or Buckley v. Valeo — demonstrated a citizen’s right to be as nasty as he or she wants to be, provided the nastiness falls within the legal safeguards of Miller v. California. You will have your chance to thank original members Fresh Kid Ice and Brother Marquis when they appear at
The Fox Theatre on June 26. They have promised to play the raunchy stuff.
Ice and Marquis are not the club-packing crossover wonders they were two decades ago in the version of the group that included lead-provocateur Luther “Luke” Campbell. Ice sounded none-too-pumped to be on the phone with a reporter. Brother Marquis admitted the group’s brand-name freakiness now sometimes feels like a burden. Some days, you just don’t feel nasty, he said.
Marquis warily asked about the size of the venue and the other acts on the bill, sounding familiar with unpleasant surprises.
But talk of his place in First Amendment history invigorated Marquis. He called the First Amendment fight “the main highlight” of the group’s career.
“I’m definitely proud of that. You know, we took the fight to the Supreme Court, and we won,” he said. “We kind of allowed other rap groups to come forth and definitely express themselves without worrying about being censored.”
The link between Thomas Jefferson and Miami bass music was forged in 1989 when the Crew released Nasty. The content was unambiguous. The lyrics were stilted, even by the standards of 1989. The album’s most notable track is “Me So Horny,” now a booty rap classic. The song contains things that closely resemble rhymes.
2 Live Crew would never have air-humped their way into legal history if not for a few lawyers and judges who should have guessed what a little legal trouble can do for record sales (ask NWA and the FBI). A federal judge ruled the album obscene, and a Broward County record store owner was arrested soon after. Three of the Crew were themselves arrested after a performance in Broward County. They were soon acquitted, and in 1992, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the obscenity ruling. It bears noting that this case probably forced judges to listen to “If You Believe in Having Sex.”
The First Amendment doesn’t protect all speech — “obscenity,” threats of a certain credibility level and the old fire-in-a-crowded-theater trick are among the forms of expression that can be regulated. Obscenity, in particular, has bedeviled our highest courts. Supreme Court Justice John Harlan, writing the opinion overturning the conviction of a man who wore a jacket reading “Fuck the draft” into a courthouse during the Vietnam War, said it well: “One man’s obscenity is another’s lyric.”
If a thing can be ruled obscene under the standards set in Miller v. California, it can be illegal. How close did the Crew come?
Maybe pretty close, said Professor Donald Downs, an influential libertarian-ish First Amendment scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The obscenity standard set in Miller v. California dictates material can be obscene if it is prurient, patently offensive according to community standards and lacking in significant political, scientific, literary or educational value, Downs said.
“I don’t think that 2 Live Crew is obscene under this definition, though it might come close,” Downs said.
Artists and hip-hop fans should thank 2 Live Crew for demonstrating the difficulty of banning vulgar music. The Crew were lyrically frivolous, but perhaps their example shielded more skilled musicians from cops and prosecutors who could just as easily have objected to Biggie Small’s violent downheartedness, Lil Wayne’s nihilistic cough syrup sex poems or the gruesome dungeon humor of the Wu-Tang Clan.
2 Live Crew deserve little thanks for their music. But we owe them credit for their contribution to our freedom. The First Amendment gives us the right to live without any law “abridging the freedom of speech.” With a few exceptions, that means we can be as nasty as we wanna be.
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On the Bill
2 Live Crew performs with Intalek and Black Prez at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 26, at the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.
An isle of hope
Celtic Woman brings Irish culture to the Front Range
by Alan Sculley
As Alex Sharpe sees it, the timing for the Celtic Woman’s Isle Of Hope tour this spring couldn’t be much better. The show, which Sharpe said relates to the United States and its history as a land of opportunity and optimism for immigrants (especially from Ireland), took on new meaning that couldn’t have been anticipated when the show was conceived.
“Now with a new president in office in America, I think a lot of people there are very inspired and full of hope,” Sharpe said in a recent phone interview. “I think the theme of the tour as well almost goes in harmony with the hope that America has with a new president, and it just touches on that with the show, with the hope that the Irish had coming to America, the hope for a better life. I think it kind of is very appropriate.”
The Isle Of Hope tour represents a major next step in building on the stunning success Celtic Woman has had over the past five-plus years.
Not only does the group plan to release a new studio CD called Isle Of Hope, plans also call for the recording of a concert DVD sometime during the course of the tour and possibly a PBS special.
Those kind of projects have always been big components in the success of Celtic Woman.
Originally, Celtic Woman was created for a television special filmed in Ireland, and musical director David Downes and producer Sharon Bowne essentially recruited the four singers — Orla Fallon, Chloe Agnew, Lisa Kelly and Meav Ni Mhaolchatha, along with fiddle player Mairead Nesbitt — to perform that single concert.
That show went on to become a popular fund-raising program for PBS in spring and summer 2005 and helped pave the way for a concert DVD that sold more than a million copies. Meanwhile the group’s self-titled first studio album topped Billboard magazine’s world music chart for a record-setting 68 consecutive weeks.
Solo albums by each of the Celtic women arrived in 2006, and in the fall of that year a holiday CD, A Christmas Celebration, was released and immediately topped the world music album chart.
For 2007, audiences got another spate of Celtic Woman releases. There was a second studio CD, A New Journey, and a concert DVD, A New Journey: Live at Slane Castle, Ireland. The CD A New Journey, in particular, was another blockbuster. It ended 2008 as the top-selling CD on Billboard magazine’s world music chart.
Last year, the group took a look back with a best-of CD and DVD, both titled The Greatest Journey: Essential Collection.
Celtic Woman’s huge success has continued, despite several personnel changes. Both Fallon and Ni Mhaolchatha have left the production, with Sharpe and Lynn Hilary filling those slots. In addition, New Zealand singer Hayley Westenra — a major star in her own right — also sang with the group during 2007.
Sharpe, who came on board in spring 2008, is the newest addition, and she adds a bit of a theatrical singing style to Celtic Woman.
A native of Dublin, her big break came in 1998, when musical producer Cameron Mackintosh cast her in a production at Dublin’s Point Theatre of Les Miserables.
Next came a chance to sing on the soundtrack to the movie Evita (starring Madonna), followed by perhaps her most prestigious stage role, when Andrew Lloyd Weber and Ben Elton cast her in the London production of their musical, The Beautiful Game.
Sharpe, though, was ready for a change when Downes called, looking for a singer to fill in for Kelly, who was expecting a child and
unable to do the summer 2007 tour.
“I had kind of stepped back a bit from musical theater myself because I have a son,” she said. “I had moved back [to Ireland] from London when I had him… I was doing a lot of concert work here and I was doing some musical work here, but it really came at a good time for me.
“As it turns out, Orla retired this year, so now I’m on board full time,” Sharpe said. “Like they say, timing is everything.”
With this spring/summer tour, Sharpe and her fellow Celtic women arrive in the states with a whole new production.
“There will be some of the old favorites in it music wise, ones that fans really love, like ‘Orinoco Flow,’ ‘Snow,’ ‘Sky & The Dawn,’ ‘Spanish Lady,’” she said. “Then we’ve got a broad new spectrum of new songs. There are some new songs written by Brendan Graham and David Downes. Brendan wrote ‘You Raise Me Up.’ So we’ve got about three new songs in there from Brendan, which I’m sure the fans will absolutely love.
“Then there are a lot of the solos, we’ve all got new solos,” she said. “And we’ve got a whole new stage setup as well. It’s a much bigger production… I think it’s going to be a very exciting show.”
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On the Bill
Celtic Woman performs at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1, and Thursday, July 2, at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 W. Alameda Pkwy., Morrison, 720-865-2494.
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