The Black Crowes, Pubic Hair, Morals And My Mother

There's this point in our development as human beings when we decide we actually care about music. Concequently, there's an intersection of the path which guides our love and selection of music, and our parents' insistence that we are going right to hell and the world is in utter turmoil due to the sounds of the times.

For me, that intersection came MUCH later than it probably did for most people, and MUCH MUCH later than it probably should have. But that's because my mother only selectively cared about negative influences on me, because by the time she noticed that they'd taken hold, I'd already set fire to what I was going to set fire to. Or smashed what I was going to smash. Or pissed off the teachers, preachers and cops I was going to piss off.

Still, being my mother, she had to care, I suppose.

I started to care about music around age 12. And by care about, I mean I quit just mindlessly dancing around to the pop flavor of the times (which consisted mostly of Michael Jackson, the Rocky IV soundtrack and Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus") and I actually begin selecting styles and musicians and bands and sounds I liked more than others.

Now, as a boy, I was big time into rap and R&B. I grew up in Decatur and Atlanta, where the urban influence wasn't so much an influence, it was the world in which you lived. And being the only white kid at all black schools for the majority of my childhood, rap and R&B and Motown was just what I heard all the time, so the tunes I jived to were what was playing on the radios around the town.

But when I moved into the suburbs, I was introduced to all sorts of new sounds. And while I didn't particularly like country or southern-flavored anything, I did enjoy some of the harder rock sounds I was hearing. And the very first band I decided to care about, The Black Crowes, were all the flavor of heavy rock, with this toned-back twang that would eventually lead me to appreciate The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin (once I got over the "Eew, that's OLD stuff..." portion of my stuck-up music selection process).

I still loved rap. Quite a lot, in fact. But I was branching out. Growing. Maturing. And it's thanks to The Black Crowes that I started to discover that white people -- despite their inability to dance overall -- could actually get down and have a bit of soul about them. So in 1990, at age 13, I fell head over heels in love with the Crowes. In fact, they were my first ever live concert.

My friend Matt Harrelson and I went to see them when they came to Atlanta on their first tour (Shake Your Money Maker), and it was there I experienced my first marijuana-induced high. Now, I never actually smoked the stuff (a truth which persists to this day), but given that the Crowes played in the Omni, which has a roof, and holds a LOT of people, and the vast majority of those people were smoking the HELL out of some weed... Yeah. Matt and I got lifted.

Anyway, I kept on loving the Crowes as they released Southern Harmony And Musical Companion, and when they released Amorica, my love had exploded into a full-blown lust. That album was (and still is) a highlight of modern rock. It's a complete experience, and it marked the absolute peak of the Crowes creative period. And it was about three weeks into owning that album that my mother decided to launch a Judeo-Christian fueled moral crusade against every band I liked at the time.

It all stemmed from getting ready for school one morning during my Senior year in high school, while the Judgement Night soundtrack played. Specifically, the Boo-Yaa Tribe vs. Faith No More track:

(Can't see the video? Click here)

The portion where they say "I'm taking off they heads with the mothafuckin' chrome" happened to play just as she poked her head in to see if I was near ready to walk out the door.

She hit the roof.

"I cannot BELIEVE you'd bring this... This FILTH into my home!" she screamed, as if she'd just found the entire Larry Flynt library in my sock drawer. And it was particularly hilarious because for approximately six years, I played N.W.A., Public Enemy, KRS One, 2 Live Crew, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and several other bands that were at least two hundred times more controversial about sex, violence, religion and other aspects which lead to the moral decay of modern youth.

So, from that point forward, she decided to pay special attention to the things I was watching and listening. At age 18. A mite late to start being a moral compass for your child, I'd think. But there it was.

A few days after the infamous "That FILTH!" incident, I was listening to Amorica while drawing a bit, and my mother just casually walked into my room and began evaluating the sounds coming from the hi-fi.

"What's this?" she said with that tone of "I'm going to SOUND like I'm interested because I might want to listen to this one day and bond with you and whatever, but the truth is, I'm judging the shit out of every single thing taking place right now" that parents get when they're finally interested in something their kids are doing.

"The Black Crowes," I replied.

"Who are they?" She said, beginning to flip through some of the jewel cases stacked on my dresser.

"You know who they are," I replied. "I saw them with Matt Harrelson back when I was 13... I've been listening to them for years."

She made some sort of acknowledging noise, which was immediately followed by a bellowing "What in the WORLD... JOSEPH PEACOCK!"

I flinched, spilling a bit of ink on a Spiderman piece I was ripping off from Todd McFarlane. "What?!?" I yelped as I turned around.

She held up the jewel case for Amorica. It looked like this:

(can't see the image? Click here)

"Yeah?" I said, shrugging my shoulders.

"This is DIS. GUST. ING." She said with a sneer.

"Okay?" I said, confused.

"...You don't find this vulgar?" she asked. "You're a good Christian boy... You don't find some woman's crotch desecrating the American flag disgusting?"

"It's a woman's crotch in a bikini bottom, mom," I replied. "So what? There's more disgusting things on MTV."

Which, it turns out was the wrong thing to say, because MTV was immediately banned in our house. It lasted about a month, when my mom forgot her moral crusade on music and focused instead on my staying out late. But still.

"You have to take this back," she insisted.

"Mom," I said with a sigh, "They're not going to take it back. It's a CD. They don't take back CDs."

She looked at me, confused.

"...Because people copy them?" I continued.

She scowled her mom scowl. "You're returning this," she demanded. "TODAY."

There was no getting around it. It was going to happen, or I was going to spend the rest of the weekend in hell. And they don't allow drawing in hell. Or comics. Or good music.

She refused to drive me, claiming the walk would do me good and give me time to think about the types of entertainment I was choosing. Now, I could have just stashed the album in a bush and came back to get it at some point, but for some reason I wasn't thinking clearly. It's probably because at 18, all you're thinking is how to stay the hell off the radar. At any rate, I trudged down to Blockbuster Music and proceeded to have an unnecessary conversation with someone who wasn't going to give a shit about my predicament.

"You can exchange it, but you can't return it," the clerk said.

"But dude..." I said with the kind of resigned sigh that conveyed that I knew how screwed I was, "My mom is giving me shit over the cover... I gotta--"

"Just get one of the black ones," he said.

A lightbulb went off. "Oh yeah..."

Back in 1995, there was a HUGE hubbub about the Amorica cover. In order to carry it in national chains, they had to go back and censor it. They released a blacked-out version, and it looked like this:

(Can't see the image? click here)

So, I took his advice and swapped it out. A few days later, my mother walked in my room. Amorica was playing. With the same casual-but-not-at-all-casual tone, she asked "Oh who is this?" She saw the cd cover, picked it up. This time, I purposely didn't say anything.

"Is this the band? 'Amorica?'" she asked.

"Yes mom, it's 'Amorica'. My new favorite band." I didn't even sneer or roll my eyes.

She stood there for a moment and listened. "This sounds really good! I might have to borrow this album from you!"

She actually made me tape a copy for her, and she listened to it quite a lot the next few weeks. To this day, it's in her permanent rotation of country and southern rock listening lists.

I've never had the heart to tell her that she's actually a moral degenerate and a horrible Christian for listening to such filth.