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The Censors Go Global

by Dave Marsh

The Czech Republic just passed a law giving anyone “promoting drugs” up to five years in prison. So much for the Velvet Revolution. Pathetically ineffectual President Vaclav Havel, a leader of the Velvet Revolution, is currently hospitalized. But when two dozen Czech artists turned themselves to the Prague cops on July 2, ratting themselves out by handing over “incriminating” CDs, Havel was on the street. He offered no support to the critics of this regime.

The Czech law says that anyone who encourages or, supports “the abuse of habit-forming substances other than alcohol through the press, film, radio, television, publicly accessible computer networks, or or in any other comparatively effective way” gets one to five in the slammer. Come to think of it, Havel, dying of lung cancer as the result of very public use of the addictive substance tobacco, probably should turn himself in. He could write his next book on the back of the 6,000 signature petitions handed to him on July 1 by Art Against Censorship, a group that staged a Prague concert against the new law.

Czech cops took the demonstration seriously enough to investigate lyrics like Hudha Praha’s “Everybody smoking marijuana.” Yet not only has Havel been silent, so has the international media (even though Hudha Praha, for instance, records for Sony), with the exception of an article buried in the back pages of Billboard. If a communist regime had done such a thing…ah, but in Havel’s new Czech Republic, a journalist was threatened with five years in prison for advocating socialist revolution, so there’s no need to worry about that.

Here in the States, we worry about relatively slight incursions on the First Amendment–and we should. No farther away than Mexico, the stuff of John Ashcroft’s repressive dreams happens regularly. On July 18, Baja California radio stations promised in writing to air no more narcocorridos, corridos (polka-beat ballads) about the dope trade which outsell almost any other popular music in northern Mexico and, among Chicanos, in parts of the U.S. Southwest, too. (For a gripping explanation of all this, I recommend Elijah Wald’s book, Narcocorrido and its CD soundtrack, Corridos Y Narcocorridos [Fonovisa, Mex.]) A radio industry representative in Baja said his clients wanted to help “in eliminating themes that go against good, moral customs and apologize for violence.” He didn’t say whether the stations would oppose the governments of Mexico and the United States which create the violence, support and benefit from the drug trade, and behave immorally every single day, often in collusion with each other.

Baja’s censorship presents a NAFTA dilemma. U.S. stations operate under no such restrictions. But as Wald stresses, few Mexicans use the drugs the narcocorridos discuss. Drugs are an export product and the importers are all Yankees, as are the users.

In easier times, the Yanqui government’s hypocrisy on drugs and censorship made me laugh and cringe. Now, smiling is out of the question. U.S. troops will invade Colombia-although the news takes a backseat to Palestine and Pakistan, it’s still just a question of when. The pretext will be the drug trade. The true target will be advocates of socialist revolution.

Meantime, in Miami, hiphoppers Busta Rhymes, Ja Rules and Ashanti played a benefit for Janet Reno campaign for Florida governor. I guess they don’t know that Reno made it plain both as Dade County (Miami) DA and as U.S. attorney general that she advocated ruthless suppression of poor people who get caught making their living selling drugs, and of the poor (but not rich) people who use them.

To quote a song Tipper likes, it’s a small world after all.

(what’s playing in my office)

1. The Complete John Lee Hooker, Vol. 4: Detroit 1950-51 (Body & Soul, Fr.) – The most important blues reissue series in memory. Beautiful sound, annotation that seems to get better (Neil Slaven starts out this time with the fact that, in the third year of his recording career, Hooker had already made 164 sides!). He never sounded better than he does here-at his peak, he’s a nastier Muddy Waters.

2. The Rising, Bruce Springsteen (Sony)

3. Love That Louie: The Louie Louie Files (Ace UK)–Includes a dozen important Louies, rarities like Jack Ely’s “Louie Louie ’66,” source material (“One for My Baby,” “El Loco Cha Cha”), and sequels (“Have Love Will Travel”). Arguably the greatest rock’n’roll anthology of all time. Or, I guess, the worst.

4. Africa Raps (Trikont)–Hip-hop jes grew to cover the entire planet. When it got ALL the way back to everybody’s original home, it grew beautiful, important, relevant, all-encompassing again. (

5. Watermelon, Chicken and Gritz, Nappy Roots (Atlantic)

6. The Dark, Guy Clark (Sugar Hill)

7. “Sway” and “Moonlight Mile,” Alvin Youngblood Hart from Songs of the Rolling Stones, All Blues’d Up (Compendia This Ain’t No Tribute series)

8. Try Again, Mike Ireland and Holler (Ashmont)

9. Adult World, Wayne Kramer (MuscleTone)

10. 18, Moby (V2)

11. 1000 Kisses, Patty Griffin (ATO)

12. Living in a New World, Willie King and the Liberators (Rooster Blues)-“Talk about terror,” sings the West Alabama activist-bluesman, “I been terrorized all my life.” The freest, most compelling music King has made.

13. Que Pasa?: The Best of the Fania All-Stars (Columbia/Legacy)

14. Millionaire, Kevin Welch (Dead Reckoning)

15. Keep on Burning, Bob Frank (Bowstring)

Dave Marsh coedits Rock and Rap Confidential. Marsh is the author of The Heart of Rock and Soul: the 1001 Greatest Singles.

He can be reached at:


Dave Marsh edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: Dave blogs at

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