Niles West High School Gives Music a Bad Name

By Merrill Miller

Senior Merrill Miller on censorship.

One of the best songs the Rock N’ Roll Club played last year was “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi. The club has  played this song at many shows during the past year including an assembly in front of the whole school.  To the majority of the public, the lyrics are tame, but apparently Niles West High School is not included in that public. When reading the lyrics, most people wouldn’t see anything upsetting or offensive.  However, when preforming this classic, instead of saying “Oh! You’re a loaded gun” the club had to change it to, “Oh! You’re a loaded one.” By changing the lyrics the authenticity of the song is damaged.

“Oh! You’re a loaded gun, yeah

Oh! There’s nowhere to run

No one can save me

The damage is done”

The reason the club had to change lyrics is unknown  No rule exists that vulgar words or lyrics are prohibited in art.  Even in the student handbook.  It’s not like the club is dropping F-bombs left and right.  All that’s being said is “gun.”  A harmless word, that is used just about every day by just about everyone.  In fact, I’ve read books and watched movies that have worse language in English class.

The Rock N’ Roll Club cannot say things as simple as “cigarette” as well.  My question is, what’s so bad about that word?  Yes, I think most people in our school understand that smoking cigarettes are bad and I agree, but just because it’s a part of a song, that word should not be the deciding factor whether or not the song should be allowed to be performed or not.  Nobody is going to be brainwashed by one word in song at a school assembly.  If that does happen, well, I didn’t realize we were living in a TV land.  This type of stuff only happens in TV.

To put this into context, lets compare what Rock N’ Roll Club can do to the freedom that the Niles West Theater Department enjoys.  If the critically acclaimed theater department put on a play, it would be Pg-13, if it were a movie.  They are able to reference drugs, sex, and even drop some swears, and no one seems to care. The Rock N’ Roll Club has a fixed G rating. One drug reference, one sex reference, one minuscule controversial line and the mics are unplugged and the club is kicked off stage.

Many people in the club find this to be unfair. Everyone who attends and works at Niles West is 14 or older, so what’s the problem?

When principal Kaine Osburn was asked this question he explained, “If the artistic value is kept, then the controversy within the lyrics may be lessened.”

Essentially he said any song, unless swears are being thrown around too often, can be played. Now, what if the message of the song is dirty, but the lyrics themselves are clean?  Well, chances are that students won’t be analyzing the song while it is being played.  Unless you are like me at a concert, most people don’t sit there and try to figure out what the lyrics are.  Usually they already know them if they are a big enough fan.  So, since this is true, what makes it any different for Rock n’ Roll Club to play those songs?

As stated earlier, there is no rule in the student handbook on censorship in fine arts, which also means just about any song can be played. For example, at last week’s “Laramie Project” show, the other f-word and cocaine were all referenced. Really, if it were a perfect world, then we could play any song with any lyrics. However, the school still will censor us because they believe that parents will not want to pay tax dollars to a school with a potty-mouth for a student population.

Another reason why it might seem Rock N’ Roll Club is being censored more than other extra-curricular groups is because of the venues they play at. According to student activities director Jessica Ogulnik, we would be censored more at a school assembly, since everyone must be there, than at the variety show, since people know what they might be getting into. She also explained that the reason why theater can get away with less strict censorship rules is because people who go to their productions should know what they’re getting into, since in a lot of cases there are more mature lines in the scripts.

“It’s different because theater because [when] I buy a ticket [to a production] I know what I am getting in to,” said Ogulnik.

Though there is a problem with that. As a club, the Rock n’ Roll Club should have the same rights as theater.  That “PG-13” status that theater holds should be able to be used by other extra-curricular clubs when doing something in the form of the arts.  The club is just as active and is a pretty big part of the extra-curricular scene as far as music goes.

She also stated that a song with a large meaning such as war, will have less of a chance of being censored because of the great meaning rather than a song about doing it all night long.  Though this is understandable, to an extent.  Even still, why can’t songs that non-serious that may be pushing the envelope be played?  There are plenty of songs that are not about serious topics that are written with the careful hand of a poet that could be pushing the same envelope.

For example, they were not allowed to play the song, “Anyway You Want It” by Journey.  This is because it is about having intercourse all night long.  By just listening to the lyrics, you couldn’t tell it’s about anything of poor taste. Even by reading the lyrics you could not tell either.  You would have to deeply analyze the lyrics to figure it out.  At the same time the club tried to play this song, another song by the same band was performed at the Variety Show, by faculty members, has multiple lines referring to sex, drugs, and alcohol.   Can anyone guess what song that is?  I bet not.  That song is “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Surprised? I was too, and they were allowed to sing it. Yes, it was the Glee version, but the lyrics are the same.  So what I don’t understand is, is how “Don’t Stop Believin'” is the exception to the rule? Does the artistic value in the song out way the multiple lines about sex? The club has never tried to play this song, but chances are, they would have to change the lyrics.  However, it’s such a famous song, that it probably doesn’t matter anyway.

So where is the line actually drawn?  In reality, the line is drawn where the song is famous enough that people won’t care, and the lyrics have as few swear words as possible.  Throughout the end of the year, I hosted a little experiment with the club.  I had them play songs that in the past they would not be allowed to play.  Actually, out of all the songs they played, not one person cared at all.  They just either didn’t mind or cheered them on.

To be completely honest, we are all in high school. Yes, there is a certain threshold in which we cannot cross, but looking forward any music group should be allowed to be play just about any song they wish so they can express how they feel through music.