FATHER TELLS SENATORS ROCK GROUP'S LYRICS LED TO SON'S SUICIDE.
Fighting back tears, Raymond Kuntz told a hushed Senate hearing Thursday how his 15-year-old son killed himself while listening to the Marilyn Manson shock rock band play music promoting suicide.
``Our son's friends tell us that in the end, that this was his favorite song,'' Kuntz said in a voice husky with emotion of a song named ``The Reflecting God.''
``I'd say the lyrics of this song contributed directly to my son's death,'' he said.
Blaming himself for not taking the ``Antichrist Superstar'' CD away from his son Richard, Kuntz testified before a Senate committee seeking to make parents aware of the music their children hear and to pressure recording companies to stop distributing such CDs.
``This is not a legislative hearing. There are no bills to be discussed here today,'' conceded Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., chairman of the subcommittee that called the session.
``We're not asking for any government action or bans,'' said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. But he said the committee is asking why a corporation such as Sony would let a subsidiary distribute a band like Cannibal Corpse, ``which recorded one song describing the rape of a woman with a knife and another describing the act of masturbating with a dead woman's head.''
The senators thanked Kuntz for having the ``guts'' to come to Capitol Hill from his home town in rural North Dakota to tell his tragic story.
Following their school-day routine on the morning of Dec. 11, 1996, Kuntz's wife, Christine, had turned on the shower for Richard and gone to wake him up, the father recalled. She found that their only child had shot himself.
``He has left us and is never coming back,'' said Kuntz, recalling how he removed the Marilyn Manson album from Richard's CD player and found a rough draft of a 10th-grade term paper about the band next to his son's body.
Members of the controversial band take their stage names from celebrities and criminals. The lead singer, Brian Warner, calls himself Marilyn Manson, a composition of Marilyn Monroe, the actress who committed suicide, and mass-murderer Charles Manson. With shocking lyrics and on-stage antics aimed at positioning themselves as a parent's ultimate nightmare, the band's performances have drawn protests in several states.
Kuntz was asked about the recording industry's argument that parents should keep their children from hearing offensive music.
``I failed my son as a father,'' Kuntz said, recalling how his ``little boy'' showed him ``Antichrist Superstar.'' While voicing some concerns, he let Richard keep the CD, partly because he thought his son had an ``academic interest'' in writing the term paper about Marilyn Manson.
At the hearing, Kuntz read the lyrics to his son's favorite song. The words include, ``One shot and the world gets smaller. Let's jump upon the sharp swords. . . . There is an exit here.''
``He came to me and said, `Daddy. Daddy. Look what I have,' '' Kuntz said. ``I failed to recognize that my son was holding a hand grenade and it was live and it was going to go off in his mind.''
Lieberman urged the grieving father not to shoulder the blame alone. ``Almost every parent in America would do what you did. It didn't look like a hand grenade. It looked like a CD,'' the senator said.
After Kuntz finished testifying, Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, disputed the notion that music lyrics could cause a teen-ager to kill himself.
``Medical studies have concluded that while music may echo an adolescent's emotional state, it is not the cause of it,'' she told the panel.
Rosen said the recording industry voluntarily puts ``Parental Advisory'' warning labels on CDs with lyrics that could be considered offensive.
``For those who are sincerely offended by any music, the remedy is clear. Read the labels,'' she said. ``If your child comes home with a CD, read the lyrics.''
At least since Elvis arrived on the scene in the 1950s, parents of each generation have been concerned about the music their children liked, Rosen said. She recalled how Shakespeare's ``Romeo and Juliet'' climaxed with teen-age suicides.
She warned against censorship, saying true free speech must apply not only to ``those with whom we mildly disagree'' but also to ``those whose views - and language - make us apoplectic.''
However, senators indicated an impatience with the recording industry's response to concerns about popular music that they said glorifies violence, suicide and abuse of women.
``Often we've heard that a record never killed anyone, and we are casually dismissed as prudes,'' said Lieberman. ``This is not about censorship but about citizenship.''
Frank Palumbo, testifying for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said there have been no studies documenting a ``cause and effect relationship'' between sexually explicit or violent lyrics and aberrant behavior by teen-age listeners, but parents should be concerned about their children listening to such music.
``The most disturbed kids I see in my practice are kids involved in this,'' he said.