"Porn Rock: An Unintentional Comedy" - Intentionally Explicit

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Liesel Kopp, Drew Fitzsimmons, Scott Nelson and Terry Tocantins in Porn Rock. Photo credit: Lawrence Meyers

In 1985, the Parent’s Music Resource Committee put together a list of songs they dubbed the Filthy Fifteen for what they said contained explicit lyrics unsuitable for children. Among them were Prince’s “Darling Nikki,” Judas Priest’s “Eat Me Alive,” Mötley Crüe’s “Bastard,” Madonna’s “Dress You Up” and the song that would become their poster child for attack, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister.

Led by a group of “Washington Wives” that included Tipper Gore (wife of then Senator Al Gore) and Susan Baker, married to James Baker (who was Treasury Secretary at the time) their mission was to force record companies and musicians to place warning stickers on their albums.

Their efforts resulted in a “porn rock” Senate committee hearing, which pitted the members of the PMRC against three well-known musicians: Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, all of whom had been invited to speak on behalf of their fellow artists. It was an event that changed the music industry forever and stands today as an example of how easily the demands of an irrational few can compromise what our forefathers clearly stated in our country’s Bill of Rights. If anything, it is a reminder to pay attention. 

Now, Lawrence Meyers has adapted the actual transcript of the hearing and created a new play, Porn Rock: An Unintentional Comedy, directed by Fred Keller, for this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. The topic is right on point with the mission of the Fringe which is based on “freedom of expression” and is “completely open and uncensored.”

Porn Rock is a must-see for anyone who values their constitutional rights. Period. The language alone is so jaw-droppingly funny that you’ll swear it isn’t authentic, and that’s the beauty of it. It is. Tipper Gore really quoted the lyrics to The Mentors’ song “Golden Showers”…on C-SPAN, in front of a congressional audience…and it is part of the permanent record. Think about that for a minute.

Here, it is a deadly serious (and pretty darn hilarious) Liesel Kopp (Tipper) who has the honor. In fact, this cast dives head first into the explicit text without apology.

Written in the style of a late night SNL sketch (but with none of the X-rated language bleeped for television), each actor quickly captures the essence of his or her character. From Don Schlossman’s befuddled and utterly clueless Al Gore to Dennis Delsing’s southern-fried Senator Hollings, this bunch goes for it and, for the most part, they do it successfully. 

The real stars, though, are the musicians. A charismatic Drew Fitzsimmons (Frank Zappa) argues that it is the parents who should decide what is appropriate for their kids to hear, and that parenting is not the responsibility of the artist. Terry Tocantins (Dee Snider) accuses Tipper of being the one with the dirty mind for interpreting his “Under the Blade” lyric as a sadomasochistic rant, in a passionately rough and raw statement.

But it is the soft-spoken Scott Nelson who stuns as the late all-American folk singer, John Denver. It isn’t an impersonation so much as it is his uncanny ability to step into Denver’s rhythm and soulful presence that is so fascinating.

Denver’s testimony, which I’m sure the committee never saw coming, quietly but firmly reminded them that the suppression of a people, of a country, has taken place before in places like Nazi Germany, and it began with the censorship of the written and spoken word. He also reminded them that music gives us clear insight into what’s going on in the minds of young people. “We can know what they’re thinking by listening to the music that they surround themselves with.” Who knew John Denver would be the closer?

In the end, the record companies agreed to a voluntary, more generic, version of the Parental Advisory sticker – which has since become mandatory – and some artists saw their record sales decline because conservative retail outlets refused to carry those that had the label. Even today, the fight for freedom of speech continues. Porn Rocks significance is that it reminds us where we’ve been so we watch where we’re going.

One other reason to see the show – guitarist Rick Steier, who has played with everyone from Kingdom Come, Wild Horses, and Van Halen to Metallica, Bon Jovi and Warrant – provides the scene change music. My only beef, whether it’s before, during, or after the show, he’s got to play a full song. You can’t waste that kind of talent as only incidental music. 

Bottom line – Porn Rock? F**k yeah.

PORN ROCK: AN UNINTENTIONAL COMEDY
June 5 - 25, 2016
Sacred Fools Theater Main Stage
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tickets: $12 at http://hff16.org/3409
Running time: 75 minutes