1988: The Summer of Censorship

The summer of ’88 was a weird time for free speech and artistic expression, especially for musicians and music fans. Medium takes a look back.

Released in August of 1989, Mother’s Milk was a big record, marking the start of the ascent of the Chili Peppers from underground heroes to mainstream stars. One year later, buzz had begun to build for another Los Angeles band, Jane’s Addiction, who had already been nominated for a Grammy in 1998 for their debut album, Nothing’s Shocking, and whose second major-label album,Ritual de lo Habitual, was schedule to be released on August 21, 1990, (observing its 25th anniversary this month.) Even before it hit the stores,Ritual had managed to drum up controversy when several major retail chains threatened to not carry the album due to its cover art, a sculpture by the band’s leader, Perry Farrell, which featured a three-some of nude paper mache sculptures, public hair and all, lying together on a bed.

A similar retail ban had occurred over Nothing’s Shocking, which also featured a sculpture by Farrell of topless twin women with their heads on fire. Although the Ritual sculpture was far more stylized than that ofNothing’s Shocking, Farrell and Jane’s label, Warner Brothers, were concerned that sales of the album might be harmed were it not carried in all locations. It was therefore decide that an alternative cover, plain white, with only the First Amendment printed in the center, and a Parental Advisory sticker dutifully placed in the upper right-hand corner, would be made available as well as the original.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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