The road to hell

A Fort Worth crime-prevention group is warning parents about Goth-rock, but is that such a good idea?

After spending half an hour preaching the evils of Marilyn Manson and those pale-faced, black-clad Goth-rock kids who he insists are gang members, no different from Crips and Bloods, Ramon Jacquez lets out a slight chuckle. He is about to hang up the phone when the program director at the Fort Worth-based Crime Prevention Resource Center says, "I apologize if I sound negative against certain groups. That certainly wasn't my intention."

Say what?
Jacquez is the same man who has spent the past few months going around to area schools, most in Tarrant County, telling teachers and parents that their children are being threatened by the likes of Marilyn Manson and other so-called "shock-rockers." This is the same man who's in cahoots with various area police departments to spread the word about the violence being wrought by Goth kids--vandalism, self-mutilation, arson, suicide, murder, you name it. This is the same man who calls local television stations whenever he sees something that he feels spreads a "negative" message. And this is the same man who tells the Dallas Observer that not all Goths are Satan-worshipers, but most Satanists are into Goth...which brings us back to that dangerous gang thing.

But Jacquez doesn't want to be perceived as a bad guy here, one of those religious-right extremists out to ban rock and roll and shut down record companies that sell such morally bankrupt trash. He is actually rather concerned about seeing himself portrayed in the media as a zealot unconcerned with the First Amendment, a crusader out to instill fear in the hearts of parents across the metroplex.

"I have told parents we are not trying to start a movement [to] ban Marilyn Manson from the community," says Jacquez. "[But] if they see a child who is withdrawn and has a lot of problems as it is and all of a sudden, they get into this Gothic movement, teachers need to identify him and see if the parents are aware of the change and, if nothing else, try to intervene. It's the same thing we do with regular gang members. The point is, young people in this Gothic movement are no different from Blood or Crips or the Latin Kings."

To that end, the nonprofit Crime Prevention Resource Center has hosted at least four so-called "Marilyn Manson awareness" training sessions with area schools, including two in White Settlement and Birdville. Jacquez usually shows up with a Manson home video, excerpts from songs and lyrics, and a few highlights from Manson's official Web site. According to one source, Jacquez has compiled a sort of best-of-Manson in a 100-page booklet; he denies such a pamphlet exists, saying he prefers parents and teachers go out and do their own research on the subject. "Don't take our word for it," he says.

Jacquez, who says he was turned on to the dangers of Manson and Goth-rock by Arlington police officer Buddy Evans, could not have picked a better time to start spreading his cause. Last month, 17-year-old Fort Worth high school dropout Jay Fieldon Howell was arrested for stabbing 14-year-old Selena Jones in the neck while, allegedly, watching a Manson video. Howell, who has a nine-year-history of psychiatric problems (dating back well before Manson released his first album, thank you), had apparently turned a backyard shed into a "secret room" filled with black candles, Satanic markings (pentagrams, the number "666" written over and over, and the like), and other occult-related symbols. Police officials told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on October 20 that Howell stabbed Jones because he wanted to know how it felt to kill and that "Satanism and the occult were major influences in the commission of the offense."

According to Jones, Howell stabbed her only after he forced her to write on the wall of his shed that "Killing is my business, my business is good" (which is actually the title of Megadeth's 1985 debut). As she was writing, she said, Howell hit her over the head with a cinder block, then a bat, and then began stabbing her with a six-inch hunting knife. This apparently went on for three hours, until Howell called 911--only if Jones promised not to rat him out.

Earlier this summer, a fire at an abandoned icehouse in Deep Ellum also was blamed on Manson fans and Goth kids. Dallas police insist some local Goths ("wannabe vampires," Dallas police Sgt. F.G. Holland said at the time) had been in the building conducting "rituals." And, of course, every kid who kills himself these days who has a Marilyn Manson CD in his collection is automatically labeled a troubled Goth kid driven to suicide by Manson's music.

To those in the local Goth movement (that is, those who hang out at The Church at the Lizard Lounge on Thursday nights or cruise the Galleria in black clothes and white face paint), Jacquez is regarded, at best, as a zealot; at worst, as a dangerous kook. Though, to be fair, nobody had any idea who he was until they were contacted for this story.

"What violence is he talking about?" wonders Forrest Jackson, publisher of the local 'zine Heliophobe, a self-proclaimed "health and beauty journal devoted exclusively to pale-skinned women," of which there are many in the Goth community. "There's not any violence in the Goth crowd, except for sissy Goth boys getting in fights with other sissy Goth boys over Goth girls."

Manson has long been the target of Christian-right groups such as the American Family Association, which refers to him in a recent newsletter as a "Christian-hating shock-rocker" or "hate-rocker" whose songs "promote a nihilistic, depressing, hopeless worldview." In November of last year, he was one of myriad musicians whose name and work were bandied during congressional subcommittee hearings hosted by Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, and Joseph Liebermann, a Democrat from Connecticut. The hearings--titled "Music Violence: How Does it Affect Our Children?"--featured testimony from North Dakota parents Raymond and Christine Kuntz, whose 15-year-old son, Richard, killed himself in December 1996--while listening to Manson's Antichrist Superstar. (A few months before, in June, a teacher at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, had told a similar panel that Tupac Shakur's music was to blame for the March shooting rampage at her own school, resulting in five dead.)

Shortly before he shot himself in the head, Richard Kuntz had also been working on a term paper about Manson, which his parents presented to the committee as proof that the musician had worked his evil voodoo on their son. Yet, ironically, Richard's thesis seemed to echo his parents' own concerns: He wrote of how Manson "shows that it is possible for Christian society to produce someone who is against everything it stands for" and how "many children's minds are being degraded" by such "evil" groups as Marilyn Manson. Several editorials that ran shortly after the hearings ended wondered why Brownback or Liebermann never considered that Richard's suicide might have been the result of poor parenting.

Brownback, who read Manson's lyrics aloud, displayed the same sort of panic attack that manages to turn any serious debate about music and violence into a politician's dog-and-phony show. He insisted that "there doesn't seem to be many Marilyn Manson fans over the age of 20," and lumped most music into the category of "hyperviolent, misogynistic" without citing specific examples. This, even though Frank Palumbo of the American Academy of Pediatrics told the committee that "to date, no studies have documented a cause-and-effect relationship between sexually explicit or violent lyrics and adverse behavioral effects."

The Crime Resource Prevention Center's attacks on Manson are the first time a law-enforcement agency has gone after the musician. But it's certainly not the first time a Texas law-enforcement agency has threatened a musician or his record label: In 1992, the Dallas-based Texas Peace Officers Association went after Time-Warner when Ice-T's song "Cop Killer" appeared on the Body Count album. Some label officials at Warners were threatened with legal action if they didn't dump Ice-T; a few were even sent death threats. Eventually, Ice-T left the label for the much-smaller Priority Records. He claimed he did it to take the pressure off Warners; others at the label insisted he jumped after he was pushed. Either way, Ice-T's career was never the same. In time, the Original Gangsta would turn up as a talking kangaroo in the movie Tank Girl.

But Jacquez insists his organization is not advocating censorship of Manson or his label, Interscope Records, merely responsibility on the part of parents and teachers who need to know more about what their kids are listening to--and why they're listening to it.

"It's not about Mr. Manson," he claims. "It's about the parents' responsibility to take responsibility with their own child, whether he's 5 or 50. It's about sitting down with your child and saying, 'Let's listen to your music and discuss it. I don't understand it, so explain it to me,' and hopefully the parent will get close to the child, because a lot of our problems with gangs and juvenile violence is the family has been fragmented."

Some of what Jacquez has to say makes sense: There's nothing at all wrong with a kid telling his parent why he or she likes a band--any band, whether it's Manson or 'N Sync or Sepultura--if the parent is willing to listen and understand. Better to get to listen with Mom and Dad than have the folks panic behind your back.

But where Jacquez gets off track is when he begins classifying Manson fans and, in particular, Goth kids as gang members. He likes to talk about how Goth kids are into graffiti, drugs, violence against themselves and others. He says he knows this because police officers have told him as much. Yet he offers no statistical information to back up his claims--because no such information exists.

"A gang by definition is a group of individuals, three or more, that meet on a regular basis and have certain identifying characteristics and have a leader they look up to that commits criminal activities," he says, pointing out that Goths do fit the "criteria" for being included with Crips and Bloods as gang members. (Then again, using his definition, frat boys and farmers are gang members as well. Jacquez insists that what's really going to save these children's souls is...school uniforms.)

"What we're saying is, these Gothic kids are all meeting together, usually in schools or malls, and are all dressed in their garb or their attire," he says. "They might have an individual within that group they look up to in the group or outside the group, like an artist they get their philosophy from. Our experience shows us they're into graffiti. That's vandalism. A lot of them are practicing and advocating the use of drugs. And a lot of them are into self-mutilation, cutting themselves, slashing, that kind of stuff. There have been some cases where some have been committing sacrifices."

Talk like that turns thoughtful parents into raving lunatics, especially when Jacquez has nothing to prove him right, simply the words of a few police officers who think anyone who listens to Marilyn Manson or any heavy rock is a Satanist.

"Parents should want to understand it, because if they put pressure on these Goth kids, then extreme things will happen, like suicide," says Forrest Jackson, who also has co-written a book called Cosmic Suicide: The Tragedy and Transcendence of Heaven's Gate. "But letting these kids ride it out--and most will grow out of it--would be best. Cops will fan the flames, parents will fan them, and then we'll have witch burnings."

Jacquez's little seminars have begun to attract the attention of some music-rights activists around the country. One, Nina Crowley of the Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition (the most outspoken activist, and the one writers go looking to for good quotes), likens his comments to slander and says, "If I was a Goth kid in Texas, I'd be really offended." She also offers up the same response often given when people try to link rock to youth violence: Musicians are just scapegoats when parents aren't doing their jobs.

Yet there are a few old-school Goths who say that a number of teens have indeed come in and misappropriated their culture without understanding it. Goth was never about suicide and self-mutilation--though there have been a couple of Goth and mope-rock stars who've offed themselves, among them Ian Curtis of Joy Division and Goth-king Rozz Williams of Christian Death, the latter of whom hung himself in his West Hollywood apartment in April. If nothing else, Goth-rock was supposed to be about looking good and feeling bad.

The Goth vets talk about the kids who wear their black drag 24 hours a day, boys who wears dresses to the mall and girls who smear on white makeup with trowels. The old-school Goths used to revere bands such as Bauhaus, Sex Gang Children, Rosetta Stone, even Joy Division; the new-school Goths embrace near-metal bands, such as Korn and Tool and, yes, Manson, who's more glam than Goth--not that Jacquez can be expected to keep up with such distinctions. (But perhaps Goth is near its end: A Web site maintained by members of the beloved Rosetta Stone contains only this message: "Abandon All Goth Now. Major Rethink in Progress.")

"I think these kids today are into Goth because--oh, man, this is gonna make me sound like a parent, but I have a pretty negative outlook on the kids into Goth today, because they have no idea what it's about," says Joe Gonzales, a founding member of The International Assembly of Media Pirates, a local collective of Goth and industrial bands that has just released its first compilation CD, titled Tactics of Infiltration. Gonzales knows what he is talking about: For years, he has been a DJ on the Goth club scene, spinning records and booking shows at such venues as the Impala in Fort Worth and, now, The Church at the Lizard Lounge. He is also writing a book he plans to self-publish titled Glamour Goths in Plasticaland, which he describes as a "self-help guide for Goths." Chapter 666, he says, will provide dating tips--and, of course, there will be 13 chapters.

Gonzales no longer considers himself Goth; playing in bands such as Vampire Cathedral and Solemn Assembly (both of which are featured on the disc), he's more into industrial rock now, more into metal-machine music than mope-rock. (Only one true Goth band, the Carrollton-based Gropius, is on Tactics of Infiltration.) Gonzales speaks with disdain of the new blood that has infiltrated his once-beloved scene, and has even given the various Goth subgroups pet names: The Glamour Goths ("the royalty of Goth, old-school people who were into the old scene who would go to Ritual at the Baja Beach Club and Industry and DV8 and Club Chaos"), The Patio People (high school kids who go to the Lizard Lounge and play a role-playing vampire game out on the patio), The Mansonites (who wear bad makeup and Marilyn Manson T-shirts), The Traditional Goth ("dresses in black, stands in the corner"), and The DJ and/or Band.

"When I was in the scene, I thought it was to be as pretty as possible," says Gonzales, who today wears a black leather jacket with a gas mask hanging from one lapel. "It was a beauty thing. Now, I see kids with torn-up clothes and face makeup too big for their face, and it never used to be about that. Even the music had meaning. It was a political statement, not a shock-value statement. We used to get beat up for dressing like that. But the same jocks who, four years ago, were into MC Hammer are kicking it to Nine Inch Nails in their cars now. That upsets me the most. I think those people think it's cool now because Beverly Hills 90210 had a Gothic character."

"I suppose it's all a matter of perspective," says Jackson, a man who proves that Goths do have a sense of humor. "Or crazed paranoia, which is always fun. They should just send their terrified pale-faced women to me for counseling." Right now, Ramon Jacquez is probably starting a seminar on the dangers of Forrest Jackson.

Ex-Christian Death vocalist Gitane Demone will perform November 25 at the Galaxy Club as part of the Sin Factory. Also on the bill are Nocturne and Gropius.

Send Street Beat your pale-faced women to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com. We will forward them along.

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