Heavy Metal Suicide
The paper will explain the significance of heavy metal suicide as a topic in modern United States history. Heavy metal suicide was put into the public view in the 80s, when two young men killed themselves after listening to Judas Priest’s albums. Many court trials and accusations occurred after this incident and the rock band was openly judged. Although this event made people aware of heavy metal suicide, it was an issue even before. Many bands have been thought to have subliminal messages in their songs that drive people to kill themselves. Several musical groups have been charged with ‘negligence and intentional and reckless misconduct’ when it comes to these cases. This topic was so important that Billy Joel, the musician, included it in his 1989 song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Heavy metal suicide was prominently discussed throughout the 1980’s and was very significant to people everywhere. Whether heavy metal could be a cause of suicide is an important issue that has been debated and argued about through the years.
One famous case of suicide thought to be caused by listening to heavy metal was that of Ray Belknap and Jay Vance. These two men, eighteen and twenty, agreed to a suicide pact after six hours of drinking, drugs, and heavy metal music just after Christmas in 1985. They went to a nearby church playground and shot themselves with a 12-gauge shotgun (Rohter). Belknap, the younger of the two, died instantly, but Vance survived. He underwent a great deal of surgeries and drug rehabilitation, attempting to turn his life around. In the end, however, he died three years later in the hospital (Cunningham).
The families of both men claimed that there were hidden messages in the Judas Priest albums that they were listening to just hours before the attempt. Subliminal messages were thought to be in the songs, including commands and obscene statements. These messages, not covered by the First Amendment, are said to be processed at a subconscious level. They would not be obvious or noticeable to anyone listening, but the brain would process what was being said. Songs off of Judas Priest’s “Ram It In” album were supposed to contain messages (Rohter).
A major accusation was that one of the songs contained the words “Do it, do it,” which had been detected by sound experts. Another lyric that had been identified was that of “Let’s be dead” (Rohter). Lawyers for the two families said that that some of the messages were played backwards, which kept them from being detected by the sound experts. The band denied all of these accusations; their manager, Bill Crubishley, said “I don’t know what subliminals are, but I don’t know there’s nothing like that in this music… If we were going to do that, I’d be saying, ‘Buy seven copies,’ not telling a couple of screwed up kids to kill themselves” (Rohter).
The hearing for this case took place in Reno, in July of 1990. Judas Priest, as a musical group, was charged in a civil suit with the liability arising from the manufacture and marketing of a faulty product. They were also charged with negligence, intention, and reckless misconduct. The courts claimed that the band put subliminal messages into their songs on purposed. The lawyer of the Belknap family said, “[They] pander this stuff to alienated teenagers” (Rohter). He claimed that the bands wanted the two men to kill themselves, but he did not state why or what their intentions would be. There was no support for why the band would put these messages into their songs, but the lawyer declared that this was what happened (Rohter).
The lawyer of Judas Priest, Suellen Fulstone, said that the two men had lived “sad and miserable lives” and that that was the cause for the suicides. She also stated that the music was not the reason why the men killed themselves, but merely a coincidence of circumstances. The lawyer also asserted that there was no cause for the band to want people to kill themselves. Fulstone also argued that the “problems that led to their deaths began ‘long before any connection with heavy-metal music” (Rohter). Accordingly, she stated that the lives that these two men had led were what brought them to the option of suicide, not the fact that they were listening to music by Judas Priest. Fulstone also brought to light the fact that music versus broken homes, dropping out, court convictions, and dead end jobs did not make for very convincing evidence. When faced with those two options, how could one blame music for what was done? In fact, the two men were depressed and just happened to be listening to the music. It was not what drove them to suicide (Rohter).
This entire case led to new concerns for record companies and new issues for bands that were accused. The companies did not want to associate with a band that had had those accusations put upon them and that would not be able to bring in the expected amount of revenue. Having that type of reputation was sure to be bad for income and popularity. Bands that were charged with subliminal messages had a more difficult time receiving contracts after the cases.
Another musician that has been charged several times for subliminal messages is Ozzy Osbourne. In California, a nineteen year old killed himself after listening to one of Osbourne’s albums