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BANNED!

Updated: May 1, 2023


I HEART BANNED ART.

I have a thing for banned stuff and the people who make it. Banned books, banned designs, banned albums, banned album covers, etc… As a banned artist myself, I resonate with and have come to identify with this imposed classification. I like the idea that someone, or a group of someones, felt threatened enough by an artist or a work of art that it drove them to a form of madness; compelling them to take the time out of their rigid life to limit its use and spaces for it to exist in, as a means of so-called protection. It’s a form of censorship, much like those atonal bleeps or sloppy voice-overs in R-rated movies on basic cable, or films edited for content due to violence, explicit verbiage, or, how dare they, SEX.

Being a New Yorker, each day can bring exposure to the best and worst of humanity. Being an American, I acknowledge that we have a thirst for violence, bad behavior and shock. Being a human, I know we are innately drawn to the obscene. But where is the line? It’s purely based on someone in a so-called position of power’s opinion. Seems like some people can’t wait to be offended. They must get off on it- how cyclical.

While I believe that some material isn’t “age appropriate", I think that most of the time people can and should make their own decisions and have access to information, stories and options regarding what they allow into their orbit. That’s the glory of CHOICE. If you don’t like the movie, you are FREE to change the channel. Of course, I’m speaking as a semi-entitled American, I won’t even touch on the parts of this planet whose culture, religion and/or government fully takes these rights away from its citizens.

Grunge kings, Nirvana, were sued by the heir of British artist C.W. Scott-Giles for using her grandfather’s artwork on their merch. The artwork depicts the Layers of Hell, seen in Dante’s Inferno. When I first heard this my immediate reaction was to go on eBay and purchase one of the T-shirts before they disappeared. Some people criticized me for this, saying that I was wrong for purchasing the shirt because the art was stolen and I was financially adding fuel to a system that encourages art theft. I get that perspective; an artist always deserves to be paid. However, in this scenario, the artist is long-deceased and the family will likely, eventually, get their Nirvana/Hell money from this lawsuit. However, as the shirts’ availability evaporates and we are left with the typical overblown and mass-reproduced smiley face Nirvana logo – which, A) How do they have clearance for that one? And B) I believe they are still involved in a lawsuit over this artwork against Marc Jacobs. (The cycle continues…) Nonetheless, I get to keep this potentially rare slice of the band’s history.

The thing that kicked off this whole BANNED conversation with myself was Henry Miller. I have always adored the works of Anais Nin. Henry Miller was a lover or hers and brilliant mind in her artistic circle. For years I’ve heard about the illustrious, controversial and mysterious works of monsieur Miller- forbidden titles with erotic themes and brash language. I always wondered, ‘what could he possibly have written in these books to make them be shunned on such a large scale?’ I finally got my answers recently by downloading his legendary book, Tropic of Cancer on Kindle. Honestly, it's pretty graphic- it made me laugh out loud at times. It's like reading the mind of a middle-aged man- very stream of consciousness. But it reminded me of how plenty of people talk about sex now; blunt, yet way less descriptive. We take free speech and language for granted now. How cool of him to be so graphic, honest and frank, in tune with his truest thoughts and desires, colorful and communicative, back in his day of 1934, before it was socially acceptable. Props.

Punk legend GG Allin was the king of banned chaos. If you don’t know, Google him. Although I find him overall to be pretty gross, I gotta respect him for being an extremist and mold-breaker. I appreciate anyone that dares to go beyond the limits of so-called decency. (That’s the Scorpio energy in me.)

I first got banned in the early 2000’s with my hard rock band, Swear on Your Life. We had just released our first and only e.p. titled “BURN MY CROSSES” named after one of the songs on the album. We did a college radio promotion and the first week of its release it was banned immediately at several Catholic colleges- including Seton Hall’s WSOU, the one station I truly gave a fuck about getting played on. Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) told me that it was a badge of honor to get banned. I had never really considered that the title could be deemed “offensive.” As the songwriter, “BURN MY CROSSES” was a simply metaphor for someone taking something sacred to you and destroying it. Ironically, I went to Catholic school, and my English teacher, Sister Anne Higgins, taught me about the use of metaphors. I wonder if she would have found the title offensive. Out of context, highly likely. Here’s the lyrics- what do you think?

BURN MY CROSSES
Self-hating
I played into
Who knows just how much I’ll let you get away with
When I wanted you
The highest highs
The lowest of lows
This is what it feels like to want you
This is what it’s like
When you tear my world down
And BURN MY CROSSES
You wear my soul out
...

You made me wait so long
I’ve seen enough to know
This is why I have to let you go
When everything is wrong
It’s time to end the show
This is why I have to let you go

Self-raping
I gave into you
Who knows just how much I’ll let you get away with
When I fucked you
The bluest skies
The blackest snow
This is what it feels like to fuck you
This is what it’s like
When you tear my world down
And BURN MY CROSSES
You wear my soul out
...

You made me wait so long
I’ve seen enough to know
This is why I have to let you go
When everything is wrong
It’s time to end the show
This is why I have to let you go

You made me wait so long
I’ve seen enough to know
This is why I have to let you go
When everything is wrong
It’s time to end the show
This is why I have to let you go

Aside from the f-bombs, not so raw, right? It’s definitely not a jab at the Catholic church. Promise. Because if I have something to say against the Catholic church, I would say it, considering I went to the infamous Seton Keough High School for girls (Check THAT Wiki.)

In other news, I’m currently on a short-list of banned artists at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), where Alice in Chains filmed their legendary MTV’s Unplugged. It was Halloween 2015 and I had been invited to perform at the BAM Café, as I have several times before. I wanted to make the concert extra spooky and militiously memorable, so I included some unannounced pyro in my show. I just told them my sax player was performing. I left out the part about him having a flame-throwing, fireball-spitting horn from hell aka “The Flameophone” to be exact, created and played by the ingenious Stefan Zeniuk. I knew I likely wouldn’t get fire approval and I typically live by the mantra that it’s better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. We had just done our fire show at NYC Lower East Side spot DROM with no announcements, questions, comments or concerns. The ceilings are very high at BAM and we came prepared with our own fire extinguishers circling the stage and had our own mics to melt... My feelings about this code of conduct concerning fire shows have since changed, especially when performing in *ahem* landmark buildings. Now my fire shows are done with the utmost safety in mind, in cooperation with the local fire department in whichever town we’re performing in.

BAM also has a no photos or video policy in the building which was a double-whammy on that gig, because once those flames started flaming, every cell phone and camera in the room was up and documenting the action.

The icing on the cake that evening was this: of course, I was dressed in my wicked-best, down to my sparkle-studded stiletto boots. BAM had just gotten brand-spanking-new monitors with octagonal-pattern netted grills on the front. First song in, SELF TAUGHT I believe, I was lead-singer stancing and my spike heel stabbed through the grill on one of the monitors. I was stuck for a moment, and when I pulled out, the monitor fell backward off the stage and crashed onto the floor below.

Days after, the rumors were flying “Did you hear about Militia’s Halloween concert at BAM?? Militia came in here and destroyed the place! She went crazy - smashing the monitors and shooting fire!” OK, semi-accurate… But not fully intentional! So, I paid the fines and I’m banned at BAM until I’m not. Also, I’m on some sort of arson list with the NY Fire Department. Shoutout to Darrell McNeil for handing the mountain of paperwork on that, the Monday after the show.

SO, I started writing this blog/piece/whatchamacallit and then stopped. My mom got sick, she passed, then the holidays came and went, then I got into a musical, did that musical, then came back to NYC, then flew back down to see my dad, and then back to NYC, then I wrote an essay on Edgar Allan Poe for Mercer University Press (coming soon!) and now here I am, back at this banned bit. The thing that revived this telling was the news that a certain Governor had begun banning the classic works of black women writers in a certain state. I first heard the news while I was there, in that certain state, performing the role of "Justice" in Rock of Ages. During the run, I read that particular Governor banned such epic works of literary magic such as Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Color Purple by Alice Walker and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Dr. Maya Angelou to somehow "protect children." Meanwhile, the number one killer of children in this country is not and has never been books. I hope that his list ignites curiosity in people, much like Parental Advisory stickers did for music in the 90’s.

The moral of this story/blog/whatchamacallit: If you or your art gets banned, you’re doing something. Write.

Shoutout to other banned beings of controversy: Madonna, Loretta Lynn, Rage Against the Machine, 2 Live Crew, The Beatles, Cannibal Corpse, Bjork, Mayhem, M.I.A., The Who, Nine Inch Nails, The Dixie Chicks, Billie Holliday... you?



TELL ME - what's your favorite banned art or artist? What's your banned experience? If you like this blog and want more, let me know in the comments.

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