Loudwire recently asked JUDAS PRIEST frontman Rob Halford for his thoughts on the now-defunct Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and the infamous subliminal message accusations against PRIEST.
In 1990, JUDAS PRIEST became the focus of a high-profile lawsuit that charged the band with hiding subliminal messages in its music that led to the deaths of two fans.
According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, other lawsuits at that time sought damages because of violent lyrics in music, but the JUDAS PRIEST case was one of the first to claim that subliminal messages hidden behind those lyrics caused the deaths of two young men.
On December 23, 1985, after an afternoon spent drinking beer, smoking marijuana and allegedly listening to music by JUDAS PRIEST for several hours, Raymond Belknap, 18, and his friend, James Vance, 20, went to a church playground in Sparks. There, Belknap put a 12-gauge shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger, dying instantly. Vance tried to follow suit but, possibly because the weapon was slippery with blood, the shot blew away the lower half of his face. He survived, his face severely deformed.
At the heart of the lawsuit filed against the band was the claim that their “Stained Class” album’s songs contained messages that, when played backwards, said “try suicide” and “let’s be dead.” Lawyers said it was the song “Better By You, Better Than Me” with its subliminal command of “do it, do it, do it” that pushed the two men over the line to end their troubled lives.
“It was a peculiar time, wasn’t it? PRIEST, OZZY, W.A.S.P. — that was just a very unfortunate time for music in general,” Halford told Loudwire. “It’s always been there in rock ‘n’ roll; it’s like when Elvis shook his hips and they tried to ban him being filmed from the waist-down. It’s unfortunate because firstly the subliminal message accusations were a lie. All of the allegations were based on non-truths. We really had to stand up for ourselves and prove that these accusations were false. We really hope it doesn’t ever happen again — the only person that it happened to most recently was Marilyn Manson with the horrible Columbine thing. Here’s the fact: A song never killed anybody, a film never killed anybody, a book never killed anybody, so just back off, you know? It’s got nothing to do with us.”
When asked why he thinks we never see trials like those anymore, Halford said, “Well you’ve got one now with Michael Jackson, but that’s linked to drugs. I think the world has grown up and probably realized that we’ve got way more important things to worry about like giving people a job. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened again at some point. People mistakenly abuse what we do for their own agenda. The whole PMRC was a politically based idea. Do they still put those [parental advisory] stickers on records? I think there’s some value to that. I’m totally against censorship, but I think if you take your kid to the movies you want to go, “I need to know is that an R-rated movie or a PG-movie or is it a kids movie?” You do need some guidance. I’m all for guidance but not for censorship.”