Anticensorship Mom

“Tom says I’m famous in England,” Mary Morello is saying. “But I don’t know because I never see the papers. I have a lot of Japanese members, too. There’ve been articles about me there, too. I have them here but it’s useless ’cause I don’t read Japanese.”

A conversation with Morello, the Libertyville woman who runs the anti-anti-rock outfit Parents for Rock and Rap, is a dizzying whirl around the world, with conversational stop-offs in Europe and Asia, in Kenya and New York, in the studio with Ice-T and on the road with Lollapalooza; she makes passing references to everything from Carol Moseley-Braun to that Fishbone concert last week at the Vic. Her involvement in anticensorship activities began in earnest in 1992, when she opposed Lake Forest’s attempts to legally prohibit local record stores from selling gangsta rap. After that she started publishing a newsletter spotlighting censorship-oriented no-goodnikness across the country. Her entree into the rock world was further solidified by the growing success of her son, the aforementioned Tom. He’s the guitarist in the explicitly political industrialish band Rage Against the Machine, a main-stage attraction at Lollapalooza last year.

Morello doesn’t give a damn about constitutional theory. Her take on censorship comes down to three axioms: “You don’t have to listen to it if you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it if you don’t like it, and parents should take responsibility for their children.” An Eric Zorn column in the Trib a few years back put her name out there; some days, she said, she was doing eight to ten radio shows a day across the country. In her newsletter, she collects news articles and submissions from around the country and spits ’em back out with her own comments and recollections. “It grieves me as a parent, whose son was always free [to do what he wanted], to be at a concert and have a young man come up to me and say, ‘My parents don’t approve of my being here,’ as happened last summer,” she writes of her stint on Lollapalooza introducing Rage. While Parents for Rock and Rap is avowedly music-oriented, Morello is finding, as others have before her, that it’s difficult to keep the issue narrow; the new issue of her newsletter takes on opposition to the TV show NYPD Blue and includes a list of books currently under attack in libraries. “After this newsletter I will again go back to strictly censorship against artists in the music industry,” she writes, apologetically, in closing.

Morello was an undergrad at the University of Illinois, got her master’s in history from Loyola, and has done more graduate work since. For years she traveled the globe as a high school teacher of military brats. Her husband was a Kenyan diplomat, part of the country’s first delegation to the UN after it gained independence in 1964. They married in Nairobi but were later divorced; then Morello spent 22 years as a teacher in Libertyville High School. Now retired, she keeps busy volunteering at the local Salvation Army rehab center, helping the down-and-out get back into society, and works on various other political causes.

When she was visiting her son in LA in 1992, she had the chance to meet Ice-T as he was working on what would become Body Count’s notorious Cop Killer LP. “If people would listen to what he’s saying it would help you understand what’s going on in South Central,” she says. “It would help you understand a lot of things.” She readily concedes that a lot of rap’s subjects aren’t nice, but insists that attacking the music won’t help. “I’ve tried to think up a solution to it,” she says. “And the only thing I can think of is to give everyone in the inner city a good education. A country that has billionaires shouldn’t have street people. People from the city shouldn’t have to come out to Libertyville to be rehabbed.”

She stops and sighs. “Well, there’s a lot of things I believe, but I’m just one person.” Those interested in her crusades can join Parents for Rock and Rap for $3, which includes a subscription to the newsletter. Send it to PFRR, PO Box 53, Libertyville, IL 60048. She’ll also be speaking briefly at a meeting of Michael Flores’s Psycho-Rama Film Society, just before the showing of the 1965 Z-movie The Monster and the Stripper, Saturday night at 6 at Delilah’s, 2771 N. Lincoln. That costs $2.

Dylan Watch

On the liner notes to his last album, World Gone Wrong, this is what Bob Dylan had to say about his now infamous Never Ending Tour, which began in the summer of 1987 (punctuation or lack thereof is his own): “by the way, don’t be fooled by the Never Ending Tour chatter. there was a Never Ending Tour but it ended in ’91 with the departure of guitarist G.E. Smith. that one’s long gone but there have been many others since then. The Money Never Runs Out Tour (fall of ’91) Southern Sympathy Tour (early ’92) Why Do You Look At Me So Strangely Tour (European ’92) The One Sad Cry of Pity Tour (Australia & West Coast American ’92) Principles of Action Tour (Mexico-South American ’92) Outburst of Consciousness Tour (’92) Dont Let Your Deal Go Down Tour (’93) & others too many to mention each with their own character & design. to know which was which consult the playlists.” Dylan’s back with a handful of local shows this month, at the Coronado theater in Rockford April 12, the Peoria Civic Center April 13, the Athletic Center at Indiana’s Valparaiso State University April 16, two shows at the Riviera April 17 and 18, and an April 20 show in Champaign with Arrested Development. The band includes Winston Watson on drums, Bucky Baxter on pedal steel and percussion, John Jackson on guitar, and Tony Garnier on bass.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Sue Hostetler.