My Mother, The Censor!
Most people probably believe that Tipper Gore was the first person to ever ask for a ban on rock music. Apparently, they never met my mother.
In August, 1969, The Woodstock Music Festival took place at Max Yasgur’s farm in Upstate New York. It was a four day music festival with the hottest music groups such as Crosby, Stills & Nash, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead. I was waiting at the record store the first day the live album went on sale. I listened to it for hours every chance I got.
One day after school, I came home to find that no one was there! Mom left a note telling me she was at the grocery store. My family of five lived in a 950 square foot house, so time alone was rare. It was the perfect time to put on some music. No one would be telling me turn it off. I picked up my Woodstock album, and pulled out one of the records and put it on my record player.
When the record stopped, I picked it up to turn it over to side 2. I noticed there was something written on the label. I could hardly breathe – I immediately thought my little sister had destroyed my record. Then, I took a closer look and there, in blue ink, in my mother’s handwriting was the phrase - “THIS IS A DIRTY RECORD”. I was stunned. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. You know how you feel when the breathe gets knocked out of you – well this was worse. And, then I began to shake. Oh my God, I am so dead… She is definitely going to kill me and ground me for life and I’ll never get married and I’ll never have children. I’ll just be stuck here - grounded. Oh God, oh God, oh God, please save me was all I could think. I went through the whole Oh God, I promise if you save me, I will NEVER do anything bad for the rest of my life speech. After all, we were Southern Baptists and this WAS rock and roll we were talking about. I was starting to re-think my cry to God because he probably hated rock and roll, too. I decided it was OK to continue my fervent prayer to God just in case the Baptists were wrong.
That woman had taken my prized possession, bought with my babysitting money, and written on the label in INK. Of course it was in ink. She was her own little censor department. I had no clue what she was talking about – dirty? Seriously? I began to read the song titles and then, I saw it - Country Joe McDonald singing “The Fish Cheer”. The “Cheer” was basically spelling out the “F” word, one letter at a time. I had never even said the F word out loud. Basically, a crowd of 450,000 screamed out every letter – gimme an F – F, gimme a U – U. You get the picture. Obviously, my mother got the picture and wasn’t too happy.
First, she went through my room (privacy????) and then she listened to my music??? What about free speech? Oh yeah, there is no such thing as free speech in my Mother’s house. But even at 15 I had rights! I put the record back inside the album and clutching it to my chest, just sat there waiting for her to get home. Mom came home and started dinner, unaware of my discovery. I continued to sit on my bed going over my brilliant speech. Finally, I headed for the kitchen, holding the album close to my heart. My heart was now beating so hard, I’m surprised the album wasn’t moving back and forth to the beat of my heart. I had no clue how this whole thing was going to play out, but I knew I had to stand up for my beloved rock and roll. It was obvious I would be grounded forever anyway, so what did I have to lose?
When Mom saw the album, she knew I had discovered her little gift. Without waiting for me to state my case, she told me in no uncertain terms that the “F” word was filthy and there was no place for it in our house. She went on to tell me she couldn’t believe I thought this song was acceptable and she just couldn’t bear the thought that her daughter was using that kind of language. She threatened to wash my mouth out with soap. I tried to interrupt, but she just kept coming at me. Surprise – I was grounded until further notice. I was to wash and dry the dishes. It just went on and on and on. Finally, she uttered the most beautiful words I had ever heard - “do you have anything to say”?
Finally, my turn! I always felt I was in the Spanish Inquisition when facing my mother. I don’t believe she had ever given me the chance to say anything. Usually, if I tried to explain I was grounded on the spot. My friends used to say I was grounded more than I wasn’t. I took a deep breath and calmly explained to her that I didn’t use the F word and that she shouldn’t be so quick to judge me. I told her one song did not make me a bad person nor did it make the Woodstock Festival a total failure. I asked her how she felt about the whole Woodstock festival and she had to admit she didn’t know too much about it. I found it funny that she was worried about one word in one song instead of all the other things that went on during the festival that were, in my opinion, much worse than uttering the “F” word. The sex, the drugs, and the utter lack of hygiene (isn’t hygiene next to godliness when you’re the mother of a teenager?). I’m not sure how long we sat at the kitchen table talking, but by the time we finished talking that day, each of us had a better understanding of one another. Who would have guessed the censorship of an album would give a mother and a daughter cause to talk and to really listen to one another.
Now years later, my little 85 year old Mom and I are best friends and we still laugh about that day. By the way, I still have that Woodstock album and I still don’t listen to “that Fish Cheer” – at least that’s what I tell my mother….