Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Jimi Hendrix "Hey Joe"

Here's one from the mailbag, that forced me to put on my Program Director's thinking cap . . .

I got an email from a listener who asked if we could stop playing "Hey Joe" by Jimi Hendrix.

The email was very personal, so I don't want to say to much about it her, to protect the writer's privacy.

But the long and short of it, was that she, herself, had had a gun held to her head by a man who suspected her of cheating.  And she had been friends with another person who was killed, in the same scenario.

She found the Hendrix track upsetting and asked, Could we please stop playing that song?

"Offensive" is a word that gets tossed around a lot.  But it's pretty difficult to pin down what is offensive, because there is so much subjective judgement involved.

A good rule of thumb, as far as potentially offensive content goes on MVY, is to ask if a significant percentage of listeners would find a particular song offensive.  It wouldn't have to be a majority of listeners.  But enough to believe that every time you were playing the song, you were upsetting a good number of people.

"Cousin Dupree" is a pretty good example.  Despite it being a hit in its time, it didn't have a long shelf life at MVY, because enough listeners complained about the implication of an lecherous relative, trying to get a kiss from an underage girl.

"Hey Joe" is a little different, in that it's not a new song.  It's been around for over 40 years at this point.  You would think a song with that much history would have cleared the hurdle.

But I have to say, prior to this listener's note, I would occasionally hear the song and think, "That's pretty explicit."

This is not something that is hinted at, or sketched out, or otherwise alluded to.

And this is not "Folsom Prison Blues" where the shooter faces consequence and penalty.

"I'm going down to shoot my old lady/I caught her messing 'round with another man."

I can actually see why this listener finds the song upsetting.

That being said, can we stop playing every song that someone finds upsetting or deems offensive?

Good Lord, we'd lose half our library.  ALL songs (practically) are about Lust, Greed, Murder, Infidelity and Crapulence.**

On the other hand, is the Hendrix tune essential to MVY?  If we took it out of rotation, would anyone notice?

I spent a good week thinking about it.  Here is what I finally wrote, as a reply:

Thanks for taking the time to write and thanks for sharing your concern.

While we probably can't remove every song that contains troubling images or stories, I do agree with you that the lyrics of "Hey Joe" are very upfront and could be upsetting.

I wanted you to know that I took Jimi Hendrix "Hey Joe" out of regular rotation.

This means that the song won't be a regular part of the station's mix anymore.  It is possible that we will get an occasional request for it, so it may infrequently appear.  But consider it a rarity.

Thanks for writing and thanks for listening.

It felt good to tell the listener that she had been heard, and that there was a response.

Is it the right move?  I'm not sure.

Hear the song on Youtube.

** I have been trying for years to work the word "crapulence" into a blog post.  Success!

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