We continue our Banned! series with a One On One special bringing together two giants of American rock music and two videos with dark subject matter and violent endings.
Quite often the One On One’s are done in an almost entirely facetious manner but for this one we’re actually dealing with pretty heavy subject matter. In fact both of these videos were and are important for exactly that. I don’t want to to the usual point scoring compare-and-contrast thing here, but rather talk about two videos that were censored for trying to deal with difficult subject matter.
For obvious reasons subjects like child abuse abuse, murder and suicide aren’t common subject matter for songs or videos (although they’re a staple if you’re, say, a Scandinavian black metal band) and by doing so both of these videos were important in their own time and both were banned from MTV because of their content. Which is a shame really because not only do both videos kick ass but by trying to talk about issues that might have affected a fair amount of teenage MTV viewers they had more than mere entertainment value to offer.
Anyway, first up is…
“Janie’s Got A Gun” by Aerosmith
In 1989 America’s biggest-selling rock band were enjoying an enormously successful second coming. Having been one of the biggest rock acts of the 70’s they had, like lots of acts from that period, got kind of lost when the 80’s brought with it new ways of doing things. However, their ground-breaking collaboration with hip-hop group Run DMC in 1984 brought them a new generation of fans and reminded the older generation why they had loved them so much in the first place.
Taken from their multi-million selling album Pump which initially spawned the awesomeness that is “Love In An Elevator” which had been all over MTV that summer. “Janie’s Got A Gun” was the follow-up single and inn terms of subject matter was a million miles away from the comical sexually-charged innuendo of “…Elevator”. It was written by lead singer Steven Tyler who said of it “I’d heard this woman speaking about how many children are attacked by their mothers and fathers. It was fucking scary. I felt, man, I gotta sing about this.”
The video was directed by a young David Fincher who would later go on to make such films as Fight Club, Social Network, and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and tells of Janie taking revenge on her sexually abusive father by shooting him dead. We see Janie on the run, the cops investigating, and the father being generally creepy with the killing coming near the end which sees the protagonist crying and shaking before being led away by the cops. It’s actually very well done and Fincher handles the song’s story with sensitivity and builds to it’s violent denouement well.
Objecting to the violence and the scene in which Janie is seen writhing in distress in her bed just after her father exits her room late at night MTV promptly banned the video upon its release although that didn’t stop them from awarding it an MTV Music Award in their 1990 ceremony.
“Jeremy” by Pearl Jam
Taken from their huge-selling first album Ten (which a much younger me played the absolute hell out of) “Jeremy” was an enormously successful single and is to this day maybe the band’s most recognizable song. Lead singer Eddie Vedder was inspired to write the song after reading an article about a troubled 16 year-old named Jeremy Wade Dell, a sophomore student who shot himself dead in front of his classmates.
The video is directed by Mark Pellington and is a fast-moving collage of live action sequences, still characters, flashes of words like “bored” and “ignored” as well as Biblical references, and fairly stock shots of Vedder singing interspersed. It’s powerful and uncompromising apart from the one part that MTV objected to – the actual shooting. Pellington had originally included a much more graphic shot, however MTV made him remove this scene and replace it with something more ambiguous.
However, this ambiguity led to confusion with many assuming from the blood splatters that Jeremy had massacred his classmates rather than himself. It was an interpretation the director dismissed stating ” The idea is, that’s his blood on them, and they’re frozen at the moment of looking”.
Censored rather than banned at the time the video would later be largely removed from airplay on music video stations in the wake of events such as the Columbine school massacre in 1999 however the video has been shown as part of retrospectives on VH1 and in their 2009 show Pearl Jam Ten Revisited they finally broadcast the unedited version for the first time.
Often it’s the case that when you find graphic content in a music video it’s done so for shock effect, however here are two that used it to try and do something that went deeper than that and found themselves unable to avoid MTV’s over-protective nannying of it’s audience. In truth both could have appeared uncensored but with maybe a 9pm curfew. That said, who are these videos aimed at really? The kind of kids whom such a watershed is designed to protect. In truth both videos should have been on heavy daytime rotation.