Guns ‘n’ records

How a nation blamed a 'Seattle band' for the Littleton shootings.

THE NATIONAL NEWS media, it turns out, aren’t jaded or cynical. In their race to be first, they’ll believe pretty much anything they’re told. From the moment the Columbine High School shooting occurred, newspapers, television, and radio snatched at any angle they could get. When it was discovered that gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold played computer games Doom and Quake, listened to music by KMFDM, Marilyn Manson, and Rammstein, and wore black trenchcoats, the pundits nodded their heads as if to say, “That explains it.” When reporters found out that KMFDM had released a record called Adios on the same day Harris and Klebold killed 13 classmates and themselves, it was assumed that the two had planned their attack around the release date.

Then there was the “Seattle connection.”

“So this band that the kids listened to—KMFDM—they’re like dark, industrial, right?” An eager network news staffer called me first thing Wednesday morning, primed for a scoop on the “Seattle band” KMFDM.

Cold-calling another news outlet might be a way to get information, but why not go find the band’s actual music, or read a bio first? KIRO’s news broadcast didn’t help matters, since in its zeal to find a local peg (other than the popular “Could It Happen Here?”), it too claimed KMFDM as Seattle’s own.

The simplest of Web searches would have yielded an official site for the band, which broke up in January (hence the new record’s title). KMFDM was formed in France, headquartered for a time in Germany, and co-founder Sascha Konietzko moved to Chicago in 1991. Yes, he’s also resided in Seattle on and off for the past few years, but calling KMFDM a “Seattle band” is like calling Nine Inch Nails a “New Orleans band” because Trent Reznor happens to own a home in the Garden District.

Everyone wants an explanation for Harris’ and Klebold’s violence, but there isn’t one—rather, there are more causes than you can name in a single sound bite. Already, politicians have begun pointing their fingers at musicians and filmmakers. Why is it that when a troubled kid harms himself or those around him, his CD collection gets more scrutiny than his home life? Everybody knows about the pair’s KMFDM baseball caps, but it took reporters almost a week to start asking where Klebold and Harris got their guns.

Perhaps the most ridiculous response—so far—was a 20/20 episode on the shootings that examined “the dark, underground national phenomenon known as the Gothic Movement,” as Diane Sawyer put it. If anyone at 20/20 had bothered to talk to people who consider themselves goths (instead of a few random Marilyn Manson fans), they’d realize that the average fraternity hazing session is more dangerous than any rock show.

Most of the school shootings in the past couple of years have occurred in the suburbs—yet no one is suggesting that we plow down the cul-de-sacs. And all of these school shootings had one thing in common: These kids had access to guns. But it’s Marilyn Manson that had to cancel its Denver appearance, not the NRA (which has grudgingly agreed to “scale down” its convention by two days).

Music isn’t created or received in a vacuum. Before everyone clamors to censor musicians, we should examine the society their work reflects.