Music, Society, and the Columbine Tragedy
Within the past couple of years, the number of school shootings in the United States has risen dramatically. In February, 1996, Barry Loukaitis, a ninth grade student who was continuously teased, arrived to Frontier Junior High in Moses Lake, Washington, dressed in black and armed with a rifle gun. By the end of this school rampage, two students and a teacher had lost their lives. As unfavorable and vile as this shooting seemed at the time, it was only the beginning.
Two fatal shootings occurred in 1997. In October, Luke Woodham, then sixteen, killed his mother, went to his high school in Pearl, Mississippi with a gun, and shot nine students. Two of them had died during the rampage. Two months later, during the holiday season, three students were killed and five injured, as Michael Carneal, fourteen, brought a gun to a West Paducah, Kentucky school and started shooting in the hallway.
In March, 1998, the death toll reached five during a shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The shooting occurred when Andrew Golden, eleven, and Mitchell Johnson, thirteen, pulled the fire alarm and waited in a nearby woods for the student population to make their way out of the building. Once they had a clear view of the students, they opened fire and claimed the lives of four girls and a teacher. Three other shootings occurred that year, including a shooting at a Fayetteville, Tennessee high school parking lot on May nineteenth. However, only two days later in Springfield, Oregon, two teen-agers were killed and more than twenty injured when Kip Kinkel, then fifteen, opened fire at his high school. In addition, Kip's parents were found dead at their home.
There aren't always warning signs before such an event takes place, though. Within these six school shootings, only three of the killers showed signs of aggression beforehand. Barry Loukaitis, who opened fire at his school in Moses Lake, Washington, wrote poetry about killing with the "ruthlessness of a machine" weeks before the incident. Kip Kinkel, who murdered his parents, then some students at his school in Springfield, Oregon, told a class that he dreamed of becoming a killer. Finally, Mitchell Johnson, the gunman at Jonesboro, became more aggressive in nature after his parents' divorce in 1994. "He started talking back and always pushed the limits," recalled his father, Scott. Mitchell saw a therapist on one occasion after the divorce. However, his mother, Gretchen, asserts, "...A therapist for what? This is a little boy who played football and basketball. He loved school and wasn't on any drugs." To this day, she doesn't understand why her son resorted to murder, though many continued to speculate that violence in the music that Mitchell listened to contributed to such actions.
"Perhaps the reasons for such tragedies are right under all our noses and we just don't want to see it," explains Eric Johns, a member of the heavy metal band Simple Aggression, and, "We don't want to believe that the society we raise our children in is somehow flawed." The unfortunate truth is, there are numerous flaws, many of them brought upon by our very own parents, as in the case of Mitchell Johnson. The child is left with no one to trust, and thus relies on music to get him or her through the darkest of times.
According to Donna Freydkin in an on-line article for People, the music of bands such as Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, and more recently, Marilyn Manson, have provided the perfect escape from reality, a reality that some children and teenagers just don't want to deal with, since their parents are constantly arguing or were never there for them. On the other hand, to a working parent, the music that these bands play may seem dark or repulsive. As a result, this has pin-pointed rock and metal bands as prime targets whenever a tragic event arises. "People are going to lash out at things they don't understand," explains Johns. Yet, the members of heavy metal bands across the country, and even across the world, seem to know where the problems lie, perhaps more than anyone else.
It shouldn't have to take the help of a fifteen year-old boy from Australia, Daniel Johns, to help us recognize that parents are guilty of creating the mental anguish in their own children. Since Daniel was a victim of the crime of divorce, he attempted to make parents see that they are the ones who are creating a negative environment for their
children in a song that he wrote with his band, Silverchair, called "Pure Massacre:
"Family's been torn apart, it don't have to be this way
Some people just have no heart, it's happening everyday
Machine guns pumping, hearts thumping
Death is all around
People crying for freedom, yet no one hears the sound...
...There's people crying, there's people dying
But someone's taking it all
Pure massacre, it's gonna be a pure massacre"
Writing "Pure Massacre" presented Daniel Johns with a safe way in which to vent his anger for all of the nonsense that was going on around him; moreover, the dark and murderous title of the song is not about going out and killing people. It is about children being massacred by their parents, and thus, it did not encourage massacres of any kind. If anything, children and teenagers took shelter in the music because it depicted a person that they could relate to, who was stuck in the middle of a raging war.
However, divorce is not the only cause of violence, and Beagley argues that nature and nurture account for biological roots, "Early experiences seem to be most powerful to a child. The dark side of this is that the young brain is extra-vulnerable to hurt, such as abuse, neglect, or terror, in the first few years of life, and physical changes may occur in the brain if these happen." Biologist Michael Meaney, of McGill University, was quoted in the article as saying, "If parental care is inadequate or unsupportive, the brain may decide that the world stinks" and would stop caring about themselves or the people around them. This is enhanced when parents refuse to stay home with their children during the first few years of their lives. As a result, they become dependent on their child care workers and do not know their parents as well as they should.
James Hetfield, singer for Metallica, was a victim of this parental crime. His parents both worked, and there was no one around to watch young James. He picked up on this unloving atmosphere and developed emotional sensitivity. When he was sixteen, he recalled his early childhood in a song he wrote called "Dyers Eve," which was recorded years later with the band:
"Dear mother, dear father, you've clipped my wings before I learned to fly
Unspoiled, unspoken, same thing I've always heard from you
'Do as I say, not as I do'
Children are seen but are not heard, tear up everything inspired...
...Innocence torn from me without your shelter, I'm living blindly...
...I'm in hell without you, can not cope without you two
Shocked at the world that I see, innocent victim please rescue me
Dear mother, dear father, ripping wounds in me that never heal
Undying spite I feel for you"
Alan Paul, On-line Editor for Guitar World magazine, states, "Music provides a safe way of venting frustrations and anger." This may explain why James only suffered mild effects of emotional sensitivity. The dark music of Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, and Black Sabbath seemed to comfort the wounds left by his childhood, yet there are many others who suffer from more severe cases because they don't know how to vent their anger. "These are the adolescents who do not respond to punishment, and their ability to react has died...These are not loners, and they tend to associate with others who are just like them," explains Meaney. In short, what is being said is that parents who have little or no interaction with their children are shaping them into violent beings who often have trouble relating to other people.
According to eye-witnesses, who gave their accounts in a People on-line article, both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold seemed to fit in perfectly with these explanations. They "belonged to a group of about twenty juniors and seniors who called themselves the Trenchcoat Mafia and seemed misunderstood, so they kept to themselves," says Justin Kehm, who used to play soccer with Harris and Klebold. "The jocks would also make fun of these guys and tease them," recalls Wes Lammers, a junior at Columbine High. Brooks Brown, a senior who was on bad terms with Harris, had miraculously survived the shootings, despite the fact that the two came face to face during the melee, "He had told me he was going to kill me and had threatened my friends. But, on the day of the rampage, I had bumped into Harris. All he said was, 'I like you now, go home.'" Bree Pasquale, another survivor, told the Denver Post, "He (Klebold) put a gun to my face and said, 'I'm doing this because people made fun of me last year.'"
This leads one to wonder where the parents of these two kids were. If they are failing to take the responsibility for the aftermath, then they were definitely failing as parents. Dickenson writes in a Time on-line article, "So far, the only parents who are taking any kind of responsibility for the shootings are those of the victims." Michael Shoels, father of eighteen year-old Isiah, wonders if he could have done anything to prevent this from taking place. Dickenson assures, "It's not your fault, Mr. Shoels. You did your job as a parent and knew him well. Isiah was in the library working on a research paper when he was killed."
Still, there is little or no information that is being made public as to Eric's or Dylan's parents, except for the fact that they supposedly apologized for the shootings. This is a way of getting out of moral responsibilities, and it is further supported by the fact that both families have requested immunity rather than console the families of the victims.
Dickenson feels that if they are busying themselves with their vintage BMW collections now, just imagine what they were involved in when their children cried out for their attention. They must have known that something was wrong when Eric and Dylan
left to go to school wearing shirts with swastikas on them. Pete Mould, drummer for Vicious Circle, asks, "How could parents not notice all this stuff
going on? I mean, an event of this magnitude had to have been planed far in advance." With all of the questions and fingers being pointed toward heavy metal, Jaysinn, a member of the Kentucky-based band Crush, wants to know,
"Why didn't anyone show them some attention before this? Is this what one has to do to get some attention? If it is true that the music did play a part in this, how can the parents be so disconnected with their children that they aren't aware that they have a hate-filled web site, making bombs, or planning the mass-murder of their peers?"
The only conclusion one can gather is that the parents of these kids immersed their lives around themselves so much, that they failed to recognize their child's needs, and as a result, "basic morals have been lost," states John Bruno, a band member of X Factor X.
Joe Paciolla, bassist for Enertia, recalls "seeing very young people on the street on my way home from band practice at midnight, when they should be home sleeping." Vince Bossio, bassist for Bone Orchard asserts, "The youth of today seem to lack a sense of responsibility for their actions, and we need to stop being 'politically correct' with our children. 'Quiet time' is no substitute for discipline." He sums up his feelings by saying, "If we got 'quiet time' for speeding, would that be a big deterrent? No. That's why they hit you where it hurts -- in your wallet." The same holds true with Harris and Klebold. Love does not come from a BMW that a father buys his son; it must come from the hearts of both parents.
In conclusion, it seems as though heavy metal musicians have a better sense of morals than the people who are pointing their fingers in every direction for answers. The shocking truth is, they also have a better understanding of the crumbling family structure in today's society than most parents. Bruno feels that it is a "combination of everything around a person that helps to shape his or her moral values in life." However, it can be traumatic to a child if his or her parents are fighting amongst themselves or are too immersed in their own lives to recognize any signs of trouble. Violence may become part of the child's personality, and in some cases, it can lead to tragic results. Violent behavior and school shootings by children is not a new problem in today's society. It has been around for years and will continue to get worse if people point fingers instead of finding the true catalyst for such events. Bruno concludes, "People can not see, or don't want to admit, that it is society as a whole that causes these events to transpire." Bill Smith, drummer for Drift, sums up his feelings by saying, "If the public would like to point fingers, they might look to the parents of the youth involved." They could not get any closer to the truth. In today's society, the majority of disenfranchised youths turn to music as a substitute for their parents. Maybe things would be different if we paid more attention to curing society's ills, rather than patching its holes. We should not have to place extra counselors or security guards in our schools when an event such as this occurs. Instead, the focus should be put on family structure. "Hopefully, this incident has opened the eyes of parents, teachers, and peers," states Tim Bream, of Florida-based Moral Anxiety, who feels that, "We must learn from negative situations and how to make them into positive ones." It is only then, that violence will see its demise, and people of all creeds and backgrounds can live as one in a peaceful environment.
Vince Bossio of Bone Orchard
Tim Bream of Moral Anxiety
John Bruno of X Factor X
Jim Dixon of Deathmetal.com
Jaysinn of Crush
Eric Johns of Simple Aggression
Gerri Miller of Metal Edge
Pete Mould of Vicious Cirkill
Joe Pasciolla of Enertia
Alan Paul of Guitar World
Max Shred (formerly) of Revelation--Fall Victim
Bill Smith of Hevy Reign
Kimberly Wood of Crush
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