It’s Only Rock and Roll… And They Don’t Like It.

It’s a dark day for music lovers in Canada.  This week the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council announced that a hit from the mid 1980’s has been deemed unfit for broadcast on Canadian radio stations.

Money For Nothing

The classic rock song in question is Money For Nothing, by British rockers Dire Straits.   The ruling states that due to a complaint from a listener of CHOZ-FM in St. Johns, Newfoundland an investigation was launched based on his outrage of hearing the word faggot three times in the twenty-five year old song.

The word faggot has apparently become a lightning rod as the council states in the official ruling that even if the word was at one time acceptable it has evolved and become unacceptable in most circumstances in today’s society.

[…] [L]ike other racially driven words in the English language, “faggot” is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so.  The Panel finds that it has fallen into the category of unacceptable designations on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.  In addition to the terms already so categorized by previous CBSC Panels, there are undoubtedly other racial epithets (not yet the subject of CBSC Panel decisions) that would likely fall into the category of words that are inherently problematic.  In any event, the Atlantic Regional Panel concludes that the use of the word “faggot” in the song “Money for Nothing” was unacceptable for broadcast and that, by broadcasting an unedited version of the song, CHOZ-FM breached Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics, and Clauses 2, 7 and 9 of the Equitable Portrayal Code.  The Panel notes parenthetically that the song would not otherwise fall afoul of any of the foregoing broadcast standards if suitably edited.

Now from my singular point of view this creates a very dangerous precedent when a government body can arbitrarily modify my listening and viewing choices.  Also the question of artistic integrity comes into play, according to a 1985 interview between Dire Straits lead Mark Knopfler and music critic Bill Flanagan the concept and lyrics for the song were based on an actual encounter with a guy working in a Custom Kitchen and Television store.

The lead character in “Money for Nothing” is a guy who works in the hardware department in a television/custom kitchen/refrigerator/microwave appliance store. He’s singing the song. I wrote the song when I was actually in the store. I borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store. I wanted to use a lot of the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real. It just went better with the song, it was more muscular. I actually used “little faggot,” but there are a couple of good “motherfuckers”in there. I wanted to do a second version that way but I never had time. I’d still love to be able to do it. Even if just the band had it, because it would be the real version. I mean that is the way people speak. I think people still get the general idea. You can use other words that will suggest the general feel.

Now please don’t get me wrong here I am not for one instant advocating the advancement of hate speech against any one group.  But the audacity of a governmental body to arbitrarily decide that a song is not in lock step with “our” Canadian values after some 25 years of continuous airplay is verging on insanity.   What happens if the council decides to really open up the jacket liners and have a hard look at some of the lyrics that have been out there for decades?

Will the Kink’s Lola, an ode to a transvestite hookup in a London bar become too hot for Canadian ears?  What about Lou Reed’s classic Take a Walk on the Wild Side?  We have been hearing about “Candy, from out on the island” for over two decades now.

Will we follow American preacher Jimmy Swaggart in his ancient crusade against Sting and his epic Murder by Numbers?  After all it describes the planning of a cold-blooded murder.  How about Don’t Stand So Close To Me, a song that describes an inappropriate relationship between a teenage girl and her school teacher?

The point is that I could go on for hours and hours listing song and artists that someone could potentially find offensive.  Now the CBSC ruling does allow for the editing of the song allowing it to be played on Canadian airways, but honestly why bother.  The song is older than dirt anyway and it’s airplay before this incidence couldn’t have measured more than a few times a week in most Canadian radio markets. Wouldn’t it have been prudent to just quietly “suggest” to stations around the country that the song’s airing should be limited to age appropriate hours?

Instead the council has ignited a firestorm of controversy and exposing a whole new generation of listeners to a band their parents listened to before they were born.  The whole thing just makes no sense, I mean come on, we live in a society where people are free to make choices.  That includes the choice to turn the station on the radio dial.  Nothing was stopping this one person from doing exactly that.  I am not a huge fan of the Jerry Springer Show and I exercise my right not to watch it vigorously.

But that doesn’t mean that I should stop you from watching it if you chose to.  I think we lose something as a society when we forget the words of VoltaireI do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

Since I’ve talked this subject to death let’s have a little look at the evidence to see exactly what all the fuss is about.  From Dire Straits – On the Night Tour.  Money for Nothing.

Story Update: In an act of defiance Edmonton’s K-97 fm has decided to play Money for Nothing in it’s entirety from 8 to 9 pm Edmonton time for the entire hour on Jan 14, 2011.  Please join me in listening to this broadcast or add your voice to the growing number of Canadians who are outraged at this unwarranted use of regulatory power.

18 responses to “It’s Only Rock and Roll… And They Don’t Like It.

  1. “Wouldn’t it have been prudent to just quietly “suggest” to stations around the country that the song’s airing should be limited to age appropriate hours?”
    yes thats the logical solution. ha! funny how logic never applies in these situations.

    • Well Evelyn thanks for popping by, all I was really getting at there is that this course of action seems to be the worst case scenario for all parties involved. I am sure that anybody but a government organization would have taken a completely different approach to what is really a very small problem.

      Let’s look at it in the grand scheme of things, one person complained, not one group but one single person. In a nation of 34 million odd souls that inhabit Canada does one person complaining about the lyrics to a 25 year old rock and roll song really warrant a year long investigation by a governmental body? The cost alone for this farce must be staggering.

      I just continue to shake my head on this one.

  2. Wow… that is just ridiculous. I agree that we should not promote hateful words and hate speaches but come on… it is going a bit overboard with the whole political correctness now. What is next… burning books that touch on subjects that we do not agree with?

    As you point out… people have a choice if they wish to listen to the song or not. There are places on this world where people do not have a choice on what is fed to them in media… would we prefer that? I highly doubt it.

    Love this quote: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Freedom of speech in a nutshell.

    • Well bang on there Ivy. The powers that be seem to view things a bit differently here. Censorship of any kind is a slippery slope.

  3. Background on why “faggot” is so hurtful: Wayyyy back when things were Dark, they burn witches at the stake, right? Well, they also burned gays at the stake too. See, a faggot is traditionally a ” a bundle of sticks or twigs, esp when bound together and used as fuel”. Well, they used gays for fuel so often, hence, the terms became synonymous (as did cigarettes apparently – e.g. the English “fag”).

    I think few people, those that use the term and those offended by it, actually know this lil tidbit of history. And don’t even get me started on why history remembers the “witches” and not the gays.

    Regardless. The Dire Straits clearly used it for satire and to reflect reality. Listen to the damn lyrics, people. “Money for nothing and my chicks for free.” I am a feminist, yet I’m not offended by this – even though it’s clearly not all that yay! women! (aside from maybe yay! free whores! – yuck).

    Second Regardless. Doesn’t matter. Freedom of speech is freedom of speech. Period. Done and done (… did they take a page from the States playbook up there or what? Although… we don’t like the gays down here and are ok with calling them f-bombs. And not the fuck kind.)

    One additional note: I am not all that sure with your examples, Bob. None of those songs really use hate language, do they? Maybe I need to revisit… but the examples I’d use? Pick any rap song with the n-word – they probably say some not-so-nice things about women, too. OR, if you wanna go back in time, the Stones’ “Brown Sugar” is a good one. That’s actually one I do find slightly offensive, because I don’t think Mick is kidding. I hope he’s changed his mind about black women. Or maybe he is kidding. Who am I to judge? Doesn’t mean I want to keep anyone from listening to it. That’s not up to me. I can choose not to listen to it (although it’s a rock jam) or have conversations about it but…

    PS. I love the Straits. We could put together a pretty damn good list of songs, starting with the examples you give here.

    • Yes I was aware of the meaning of the word faggot. But if you look at the interview I have provided from Mr. Knopfler I think it will show that he was trying to only project the working mans point of view on the music industry. Indeed if anything he toned the language down.

      On hate speech in music, song Love the Way You Lie featuring Eminem is about an abusive relationship in where the female lead chooses to stay with her partner. Last summer I was DJ’ing an event here in town and it we were literally turning women away that wanted to hear that song. We had played it several times during the night and still they wanted it more. I don’t agree with the subject matter in the song, yet it somehow spoke to them. Maybe they were attracted to the dark lyrics reminding them of a love gone wrong? I don’t know.

      But the fact remains music is art, sometimes it has to provoke to have effect.

      • Oh – I totally agree with you about the meaning for Mr. Knopfler. I was just stating the meaning because it bugs me most people (maybe only in the states – we like to eff with our history around here) don’t know it.

        Now. As far as “Love the Way You Lie” goes… I’m saying it’s different only because I kinda have some additional information there. Since we’re buddies but I’m Anonymous, I’m gonna put a lil personal info out here for all to see: I was in an abusive relationship, many years ago. It was rarely physical, never to the level that song seems to be. However. The lyrics *get it*. What that is like. How difficult it is to get out – even when you know you need to. And trust me, prior to my own experience, I never understood how people stay in those relationships. Now I do. And I understand that song.

        Actually, Esme and I discussed it awhile back:

        Um. Yeah. Sorry – not sure why I went on about that. HOWever – it does make a larger point. THIS IS ART. THIS IS FREE SPEECH. You don’t have to like it – but you can’t take it away from someone else. Period. And – you never know how it is affecting another person. You never know what dialogue will come out of it. Look at the one you’ve started here. If you just shut everyone up, we don’t discuss and learn and question. You cut the dialogue off before it can start AND you close minds before they can exchange.


  4. Tis a sad, sad day for music. You’d think that if it were really offensive to the gay community, maybe someone would have said something about it before now? See, now here’s what’s REALLY offensive about the song…check it out. 😉

    Although it was blasted by GLAAD for pushing the envelope (and I get their argument, I do), I think the message of South Park’s “The F Word” (season 13, episode 12) is a good one. If you haven’t seen the episode, seek it out. It’s a satirical look at the word “fag” and how its meaning has changed over time. The boys put forth a request to the English Dictionary Officiates to change the meaning of the word to refer to annoying Harley riders that they’ve been encountering throughout the episode. Unfortunately GLAAD was worried – for good reason – that some of the less than intelligent viewers of South Park would not be able to understand the critique that the episode was offering. Which is too bad…because it really shines a light on how we could really change so much as a society if we started with our kids. See, the kids never express having a problem with homosexuality…they’re just annoyed with the Harley riders…it’s pretty simple.

    • Good point, and I love the cartoon.
      I think we all need to take a collective breath as Canadian’s and just have an open and honest discussion about who we are and what our morals are about. Really if a 25 year old song is going to upset the apple cart now we are all in a whole heap of trouble.

      And I must say Nice Jacket!!

  5. Sweet post Bob… Rock on

    • I should check with the Federal Government first I really wouldn’t want to hurt any little fuckers feelings.

      Bang My Head…. Wake the Dead!!!

  6. Hey Bob, I knew that you would have this topic posted. This just adds one more item to the long history of censorship produced by the few who declare themselves the politically correct. These protectors of the weak must assure that no individual ever be offended by another. Well, at what point do we as the majority say, I’m offended that you would censor art, literature, and music?

    • Hey Darrell thanks for finally registering a comment on my little part of the web.

      I totally agree with what you’re saying, and I am glad that you thought that I was going to weigh in on this topic. You know me well my friend.
      I thought the point of having an active democracy with working freedoms and responsibility was that people could make their own choices.

      Now as Spider Man’s Uncle is fond of saying. With great power comes great responsibility. Each of us in our own way do have great power, every day we choose to be or not to be a partner in a harmonious society.

      For example, I could CHOOSE to jump in my Jeep and go start running pedestrians down. But then I would be subject to social recourse. In this case Mark Knopfler has chosen to write a song in which the common man is fed up with working for a living and is complaining about the excesses he sees in the “Easy Money” of the music industry.

      As Mr. Knopfler states in the interview I have provided he actually toned down the man’s ranting in order to make an enjoyable rock and roll song. It’s all about context.

      Now Darrell I could call you a lazy slack-jawed inbred knuckle dragging cocksucker and I believe I have on many an occasion. A passer by may be offended by my somewhat colourful language but would have no idea in the context it was delivered. I believe that this is the case here with this song.

      If you read any of the many newspapers or web based articles you will see that many of Canada’s own gay and lesbian celebrities are voicing their opinions on this topic. I believe Scott Thompson and Rick Mercer have spoken out. Although they do not like the word faggot used in a derogatory manner against people of differing gender preference understand the way it contextually used in Money for Nothing and have actually spoken out against the ban.

      Thanks for stopping by buddy, see you soon. You nasty knuckle dragging mouth-breather.

      Your friend

  7. Great post and really disturbing read to be honest, had a couple of mates of mine reading this post as well (they are gay btw) and they were laughing their asses off, it’s a ridiculous ban. Yes I agree on any ban where it’s actually trying to hurt or being offensive but this song is not trying to do either. ohh, I can just shake my head…

  8. In reply to Nikki once again. First of all bravo for having the strength and courage to get out of the abusive relationship that you were in. It couldn’t have been easy and it speaks to your character that you had the sense to get out when you could.

    As to the rest of it, yes I am collecting quite a pile of commentary here but that’s the point of the exercise. The newspapers here a jammed full of comments on this issue, and believe me I am all for stimulating discourse if it can lead to understanding or change.

    I welcome anyone who is reading this page to add their unique viewpoint to this discussion. Feel free to vent your outrage or support the counsel’s decision if that is your will. Only by communicating do we learn, you have a voice feel free to use it here.

  9. Wow. I am not a fan of the word “faggot” but banning the song is stupid. Someone is always going to be offended by something, but I don’t want to listen to nothing but Olivia Newton John on the radio.

    • Hey Singlegirlie.
      I think we’ve pretty much established that no one likes that word in these modern enlightened times. But if we run off screaming to the feds every time something offended us then they would have to hire a whole lot more people to handle the deluge of complaints.

      I am offended by people that cut the crust off sandwiches, is there a department I can complain to about that?