AOL Names Itself Boss Over Lyrics

New York Daily News, 2000-10-25, by:
Those who think America's season of trauma might be a good time to reclaim morality in popular music will be pleased to know America Online (AOL), our largest provider of Internet service, won't let a Bruce Springsteen discussion group quote lyrics from a dozen Bruce songs it considers too suggestive. This includes the sordid likes of "Blinded by the Light" and "Pink Cadillac," as well as "Spare Parts," "Spirit in the Night," "Book of Dreams," "Red Headed Woman" and "Ramrod."

AOL is not a big fan of some of Bruce Springsteen's (r.) lyrics on songs like 'Pink Cadillac' and 'Book of Dreams.' Specifically, an AOL monitor decided the line "My love is bigger than a Honda, yeah it's bigger than a Subaru" from "Pink Cadillac" violated the decency provisions in the "terms of service" agreement for discussion group participants.

AOL didn't return calls seeking an explanation why this was offensive. But as music criticism, it's downright nostalgic. It's been decades since anyone blushed over a line like "taste your sweet red wine" from the Steve Miller Band's "Book of Dreams," a love song so gentle it's almost a lullaby. If this is AOL's new standard, it will be interesting to see how pop music is assessed there in the future. If you can't mention songs from "Shake, Rattle and Roll" to "Baby One More Time," it really cramps the discussion.

The Springsteen case, participants say, started when the tight-knit group, which is about 10 years old, was discussing airline security and whether problems now might be linked to President Ronald Reagan firing the air-traffic controllers in 1981. Someone likened Reagan to a bodily orifice. The monitor deleted it as a vulgarity. Several group members objected, sarcastically asking if the Taliban were now monitoring the board.

Their posts were deleted and at least one member suspended for a week. The monitor suggested the group stick to songs. So it did.

And when the topic of suggestive lyrics came up, the deletions resumed. A column by critic Dave Marsh blasting "AO-Hell" was posted and deleted. The monitor also sent a warning to the person who posted it.

In a way, this may simply suggest we're heeding the advice of our leaders and returning to normal, which in the U.S. often means we like the idea of free speech but we also want a delete button. Ask the crowd at last Saturday's Concert for New York, which roasted Richard Gere for suggesting our national policy ultimately ought to be guided by compassion, not vengeance. Historically, he's got Jesus Christ and a number of other spiritual heavyweights on his side. But he sure didn't have the crowd at the Garden.

Which may simply reconfirm that as much as we like "God Bless America," the nation's real guiding song remains "My Way." Just don't say so on AOL. The line about "one who kneels" might not make it past the monitor.