The Mahou Blog

December 1, 2006

Judas Priest Suicide Trial Article

Filed under: Uncategorized — mahou @ 10:13 am


(Great article with pictures)

 JULY 1990: Metal on trial
      “I was very much involved with the court case (for the five years before it came to trial as well!) and I was on the stand for the band twice in Reno. It certainly was a very scary time – the whole situation was a nightmare and very nerve wracking!
– Jayne Andrews, Management Co-ordinator for Judas Priest, August 18, 2003

     “It tore us up emotionally hearing someone say to the judge and the cameras that this is a band that creates music that kills young people. We accept that some people don’t like heavy metal, but we can’t let them convince us that it’s negative and destructive. Heavy metal is a friend that gives people great pleasure and enjoyment and helps them through hard times.
     “Whether there’s any ‘subliminal effect’ from the court, I don’t know, but we certainly couldn’t let it interfere with our creativity.”
– Rob Halford, Billboard, November 3, 1990

Along the road to success, Judas Priest have had to face many hard times and trials, but this was to be the ultimate test – Priest would have to be the defenders of the faith not only for themselves, but for all metal!

December 23, 1985, two days before Christmas in Sparks, Nevada. 20-year-old James Vance was hanging out at 18-year-old Raymond Belknap’s bedroom spinning heavy metal and hard rock albums on the turntable while drinking a 12-pack of beer and smoking marijuana. Ray had felt like giving his Christmas gifts out a couple days early to his family, and as Jay was his closest friend, he also handed him his gift: a copy of the Judas Priest record STAINED CLASS. They played the album several times while checking out the album sleeve art, then, while chanting “Do it, do it!” over and over, they entered into a suicide pact, wedged a 2X4 under the door, trashed the room, even tearing at the walls, and when Ray’s mom knocked on the door, the two headed out the bedroom window, Ray grabbing a sawed-off 12-guage shotgun. According to Jay’s mom, only the albums and record player remained intact:

     “The only things not broken in the room were the turntable and the albums.”
– Phyllis Vance, 1989
It was near dusk now, as the two boys ran down the alley behind Ray’s house and climbed a six-foot wall that lead to the yard
of the Community First Church of God.

     “Ray sat on a small carousel in the corner of the courtyard, held the shotgun tightly under his chin, muttered the
words, ‘I sure fucked up my life’ and pulled the trigger – showering the area with blood. Jay had been looking the other way
when Ray took his own life, but caught the horrifying sight of fire shooting from the back of Ray’s skull as the shell
exploded. Fearing he would be blamed for the death of his friend, Jay grabbed the gun, held it under his chin and pulled the
trigger, blowing off the lower portion of his face, but failing to kill himself.”
– Jeff Kitts, Assistant Editor, Foundations magazine, September 24, 1990

     “There was just tons of blood. It was like the gun had grease on it. There was so much blood I could barely handle it
and I reloaded it and then it was my turn, and I readied myself. I was thinking about all that there was to live for, so much
of your life is right before your eyes, and it was like I didn’t have any control…I went ahead and shot.”
– James Vance, 1986

     “James lifted the gun, wet with blood. He said later that he trembled. He felt afraid. He could be blamed for Ray’s
death. He wondered why they had chanted “do it.” He placed the gun under his own jaw, but had failed to brace the shotgun. As
he pulled the trigger the gun lurched forward. The blast shot off the front of his face. It did not kill him. It left him
severely wounded and disfigured. He lived for nearly three years.
– Eldon Taylor, Ph.D., 1990
Plastic surgeons tried all they could to restore what was left of Jay’s face, but were only able to restore his ability to eat and breathe – the disfigurement was too severe. Jay returned home to live with his parents between hospital visits and would ride his bicycle around town shocking people with his grotesque disfigurement.

Four months after the horrible incident that ended his best friend’s life, Jay wrote a letter to Ray’s mother, Aunetta Roberson, wherein he said,

I believe that alcohol and heavy metal music, such as Judas Priest, led us or even ‘mesmerized’ us into believing that the answer to ‘life was death’.
– James Vance, 1986
With such damning testimony, Aunetta took the letter to lawyers, directly blaming heavy metal music and Judas Priest’s STAINED CLASS album as the cause of the boys’ suicide pact. A complaint was entered and a subpoena was served to Judas Priest one night while on a RAM IT DOWN tour stop in Reno, Nevada:

     “We were just about to go onstage one night and the Sheriff walked in and gave us a subpoena.”
– Glenn Tipton, VH1 Behind The Music, 2001

     “We’d heard about the two lads in Reno. We knew they’d been Priest fans, and we heard rumors that the parents thought
our music had somehow driven them to it.
     “It was almost five years later, when we did a concert in Nevada, that we were handed a writ claiming that our album
STAINED CLASS had been responsible for the double suicide, and we were being sued for $6.2 million. Apparently you have to be
handed the writ in the state where the allegations are being brought against you.”
– Glenn Tipton, August 1990

The plaintiffs, looking for answers, hired six local teens to decipher the lyrics to the STAINED CLASS album. The teens reported having nightmares about going on killing sprees in the local mall. Prosecuting attorneys Kenneth J. McKenna and Timothy Post then hired self-taught audio engineer Bill Nickloff to examine the songs through a Mac 2 computer running a “backwards engineering” program he had developed. While no explicit directives to take one’s own life were found, Nickloff did detect references to words such as “kill” and “blood”, as well as the phrases, “sing my evil spirit”, “try suicide”, “suicide is in” and “fuck the Lord, fuck all of you”.

     “Their brilliant audio expert, who is a marine biologist, should really be looking after Flipper…”
– Rob Halford, Rockline, August 20, 1990

Also discovered by the prosecution was the alleged subliminal image of male genitals in the album cover, which shows a metallic head with a projectile moving through it. It was also suggested that the album cover was suggestive of a person shooting him self in the head, thus giving the teenage boys the idea to shoot themselves in the head (rumor also has it that the original album sleeve had the word “suicide” hidden in the ear of the head – since blotted out on further pressings – but lots of album sleeve designers do little things like that as a part of a unique signature on their art):

     “Once you see and hear the subliminals, they’re unmistakable.”
– Ken McKenna, 1989

     “The fact that the Vance boy apparently is quoted as saying he saw fire fly from the back of Belknap’s head, when indeed that didn’t happen, would indicate that his perception is somewhat skewed, and I believe that it’s more than coincidental that the album cover would be essentially presenting what it is that Vance says he saw.”
– Eldon Taylor, Ph.D., 1990 

During the time the case was waiting to be heard, James Vance became addicted to strong painkillers and other drugs. He was eventually admitted to the psychiatric unit of the Washoe Medical Center, where, on November 29, 1988, Jay died from a methadone overdose, mistakenly administered by the hospital staff.

     “Jay Vance was to be the star witness. As the court case got closer, it must have dawned on him that he would be on the stand, looking like he did, facing a band he’d always thought was great, and then finally, when the Judge said there would be television cameras in court, just prior to the case, he died of an overdose. You have to ask yourself who really was responsible for that lad’s death?”
– Glenn Tipton, August 1990

In August of 1989, the case went to pre-trial before Justice Jerry Whitehead.

The complaint was directed against Judas Priest and CBS Records, and focused on two songs from the STAINED CLASS album, “Heroes End” and “Beyond The Realms Of Death”, claiming they contained strong references toward suicide and alleging that the band’s “cult-following”, suggestive artwork and hypnotic beat of the music aided in leading the young men to follow the “commands” of the band.

     “It was originally about the track ‘Heroes End’ – they tried to say the band were saying you could only be a hero if you killed yourself, till I had to give them the correct lyrics which is ‘why do heroes have to die?’… Then they changed their plea to subliminal messages on the album!”
– Jayne Andrews, Management Co-ordinator for Judas Priest, October 2003

As Jayne correctly points out, the prosecuting attorneys had misquoted the lyrics to the chorus of “Heros End” as: “But you, you have to die to be a hero/It’s a shame in life/You make it better dead”, changing the entire meaning of the song. Nevertheless, a recent ruling from the California District Court of Appeals concerning Ozzy Osbourne’s song “Suicide Solution” had found such expressions of art to be a form of free speech, protected under the First Amendment Bill of Rights, so the plaintiffs amended their complaint to state that there were subliminal messages on the track “Better By You, Better Than Me”.

Justice Whitehead ruled that these “non-decipherable sounds below the conscious threshold of awareness” are not protected by the First Amendment because they do not perform any of the functions that free speech accomplishes. Also, Judge Whitehead added that people have a right to be free from unwanted speech and subliminal messages constitute an invasion of privacy. Therefore, it was ruled that the case should be heard, and a trial date was set for the summer of 1990.

The defendants were given a choice of having either a jury decide the case or letting the judge make the decision. According to Rob Halford, because of the emotional nature of the case and the intensely graphic pictures of James Vance’s disfigurement, it was felt the judge would be capable of rendering a fair decision without adding emotions and dramatics to his decision.
On July 16, 1990, the gavel pounded and court was brought to session at the Washoe County Court House in Reno, Nevada, Judge Jerry Carr Whitehead presiding.

     “Just to make sure we’re together: There is nothing in the music, in the sound effects, or the lyrics that is actionable, cause they are constitutionally protected. What is on trial is whether there are subliminal messages present, and if so, if they have an effect upon the listener.”
– Judge Jerry Whitehead, Vance v. Judas Priest, 1990

 For the next 14 days, the STAINED CLASS album was dissected and examined by both sides. Susan Fulstone and Gail Edwin representing Judas Priest and CBS Records, Kenneth J. McKenna, Timothy Post and Vivian Lynch representing the plaintiffs.

The case was drawing media attention, and the frenzy was described as “a circus” by the band, as lawyers for the prosecution resorted to shrewd dramatics in the courtroom:

     “The very first day in court, one of the prosecution lawyers stood up wearing one of Ray Belknap’s suits. It was just like Perry Mason, you know – this man standing in the clothes of a dead lad, holding the shotgun that had killed them, and he turned ’round and looked at us. That was the point when I finally realized how serious the whole thing was.”
– Glenn Tipton, August 1990

And the circus continued outside the courtroom, as those same lawyers would become friendly with the defendants and seek the band’s autographs between sessions:

     “Both of the prosecuting attorneys have children and we were giving them autographs and albums and all of those nice things during recesses, and it was quite strange to have to stand there and sign autographs for a person that’s trying to destroy you, but that was the kind of thing we were up against – it was very bizarre to say the least!”
– Rob Halford, Rockline, August 20, 1990

It was argued that the boys had been chanting, “Do it” over and over because seven subliminal “do it” commands were alleged to have been recorded by a voice other than Rob Halford’s and hidden in the first and second choruses of the song “Better By You, Better Than Me”. Also alleged, were “back-masked messages” on three other songs (the supposed phrases “Try suicide”, “Suicide is in” and “Fuck the Lord, fuck all of you” discovered earlier during the pre-trial).

Here’s a sound sample of the “Do its” in “Better By You, Better Than Me: Do it mp3

     “It’s a fact that if you play speech backwards, some of it will seem to make sense. So I asked permission to go into a studio and find some perfectly innocent phonetic flukes. The lawyers didn’t want to do it, but I insisted. We bought a copy of the STAINED CLASS album in a local record shop, went into the studio, recorded it to tape, turned it over and played it backwards. Right away we found ‘Hey ma, my chair’s broken’ and ‘Give me a peppermint’ and ‘Help me keep a job’.
– Glenn Tipton, August 1990
     “I took the two-track master tape of STAINED CLASS with me to a studio near the courthouse and played it backwards till I found something. It took about two minutes… On the track ‘Exciter’, during the chorus where it says, ‘Stand by for Exciter/Salvation is his task’, played backwards it said, ‘I-I-I asked her for a peppermint/I-I-I asked for her to get one’.”
– Rob Halford, Toronto, 1990

     “I played the track ‘Exciter’ backwards and suggested to the judge that what he’d heard was, ‘I asked her for a peppermint. I asked her to get me one’. When the judge heard it, his eyes lit up. It was as if he realized how ridiculous the whole thing was.”
– Rob Halford, What’s on TV 9, March 15, 2002

     “We chose Rob to give evidence in court, because he was the one who had actually sung the lyrics, so in that sense, he was the one being most directly accused.”
– Glenn Tipton, August 1990

     “I admitted on the stand that we had actually recorded backwards before…but it wasn’t any hidden message. It was just gibberish. And you could hear the prosecution opening the champagne when I said that.”
– Rob Halford, August 1990

Priest had indeed played around with the subject of backmasking back in 1984, when the subject was a hot topic: On the song “Love Bites” from Defenders Of The Faith, Rob Halford purposely placed a backwards message in the song . But it was a slap in the face to the silliness of the moral groups when it was discovered that the “hidden message” was merely the song’s own chorus placed backwards with an added pitch-transposer! More details here

     “Then Rob played a lyric from our song ‘Invader’: ‘Even so we must prepare a defense’ – but when he played it backwards, it sounded like, ‘I have heard some music’. It was so stunning that the prosecution lawyers stood up and shouted, ‘This is rubbish, we don’t believe this.’ So our lawyer offered to pay for them to make the same test in a studio of their choice with their own engineers –
     “We never heard another word about reverse messages, but we still had to deal with the supposedly subliminal messages…”
– Glenn Tipton, August 1990

Not only did the plaintiffs refuse the offer to make their own test, they accused CBS Records of having blocked their efforts when they were preparing their case, because the label had failed to produce the original 24-track master tape for analysis, claiming that they couldn’t find it. The plaintiffs’ lawyers even hired a former Scotland Yard detective to search for the master tape, and under oath, he told the court that he had not been allowed to look in the label’s vaults. Employees at the label who were called to the stand, said it’s very strange that the masters could not be located, as they are needed for further pressings of the album, which is a big seller for the band…

Other backwards message were discovered and presented to the plaintiff’s lawyers, but as the backmasking issue was no longer a valid point, the evidence was not used:

     “I found over 72 speech reversals on this album, only two of which were quoted at the trial. The attorney for the plaintiff completely overlooked the most striking reversals: ‘God is evil / An innocent man help us. Get out of it, get out of it / Say, am I sexy. Give us the truth / You silly fuck. I took my life (A powerful complementary reversal, which occurs on the last stanza of ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’). Take me out / We died for glory/ We died sad’.”
– David John Oates, Founder and Developer of Reverse Speech Technologies, 2001

With the issue of backwards messages settled, it was time to show the court the ridiculousness of pursuing a case that has no existing evidence. The defendants argued that if there was actually any scientific evidence, it would mean that there was the presence of information, making it “supraliminal”, not “subliminal”, information, which is therefore protected as free speech… “Subliminal” information would not be detectible, making it not only difficult, but impossible for the plaintiffs to admit as “evidence”!

     “The only subliminal message I would put on an album would be, ‘Buy seven copies’.”
– Bill Curbishley, August 1990

     “It was alleged that a particular subliminal phrase in one of their songs (“Better By You, Better Than Me”) on the album triggered a suicidal impulse. The phrase at issue was, “Do it.” In isolation, this phrase has little meaning unless there is some antecedent to which the “it” refers. Moreover, the antecedent could not have been anything that was audible on the record (or visible on the album cover), because such material would have been protected by the First Amendment. Consequently the plaintiffs were in the difficult position of having to acknowledge that the boys were suicidal to begin with, and that the subliminal phrase “Do it” triggered the already existing disposition.”
– Timothy E. Moore, witness for the defendants, Skeptical Inquirer magazine, November/December 1996

     “We brought our own expert witness, Anthony Pellicano, the bloke who analyzed the Watergate tapes and the tapes of the shots of the Kennedy assassination.
     “Pellicano played ‘Better By You, Better Than Me’ and established that the sounds you hear are me exhaling, coupled with the guitar (played through a Leslie organ effect), which gives a sound like ‘oowee oowee’ and, when you hear the drums over that, it could be mistaken for ‘Do it, do it.”
– Rob Halford, August 1990

     “We had to sit in this courtroom in Reno for six weeks. It was like Disneyworld. We had no idea what a subliminal message was – it was just a combination of some weird guitar sounds, and the way I exhaled between lyrics. I had to sing ‘Better by You, Better Than Me’ in court, a cappella. I think that was when the judge thought, ‘What am I doing here? No band goes out of its way to kill its fans’.”
– Rob Halford, Telegraph, March 19, 2005

     “An odd reversal of roles emerged during the suicide case, which ended at the weekend, against the British pop group Judas Priest…The principal expert for the families was Dr. Wilson Key. Almost everywhere he looks, Dr. Key sees the word ‘sex,’ and depictions of skulls and penises. He has observed these in Ritz crackers, Rembrandt paintings, and Abraham Lincoln’s beard on five dollar notes. At times, the two prosecution lawyers seemed so infected by their witness’ uncanny ability to discover the sinister in the mundane, that courtroom exchanges became reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch. Brandishing a cassette box, one lawyer fixed a gimlet eye on James Guthrie, the producer of one of the alleged suicide songs, and demanded: ‘Just what does C-90 mean here?’ ‘Well’, Mr. Guthrie explained mildly, ‘the ‘C’ referred to cassette and ’90’ meant 90 minutes’.”
– Christopher Reed, The Guardian, August 1990

     “It is possible that Dr. Key undermined his own credibility with the court by opining that subliminal messages could be found on Ritz crackers, the Sistine Chapel, Sears catalogues, and the NBC evening news. He also asserted that ‘science is pretty much what you can get away with at any point in time’.
     “The most influential expert to testify for the plaintiffs was Howard Shevrin, whose credentials were unassailable. He has conducted research on subliminal influences for over twenty years and has a respectable track record of publications in peer-reviewed books and journals. Shevrin’s argument was that subliminal commands are especially potent because the recipient is unaware of their source and attributes the directive or the imperative to himself – to his own inner motivational state.
     “The fallacy lies in assuming that an imperative message has some inherently motivating effect. His position also required the assumption that a suicidal disposition requires a trigger or precipitant in order to be acted on. This assumption does not square with the research literature on adolescent suicide (Maris 1981). Shevrin was nevertheless persuasive. He provided an apparently respectable conceptual framework for explaining how such a mysterious and almost magical force could operate.”
– Timothy E. Moore, witness for the defendants, Skeptical Inquirer magazine, November/December 1996

     “There are no subliminal messages in the music. The so-called subliminals are nothing more than a combination of incidental noises. Even if subliminals are present, they do not cause suicide.
     “People write about and sing about serious subjects. I don’t think anyone would accuse Shakespeare, Picasso or writers and artists of various kinds with the intent to harm anyone. I just don’t think art causes anti-social activity.
     “They were two young men with nowhere to go, no strong relationships, no futures.”
– Susan Fulstone, attorney for the defense, 1990

     “Their expert had been genuinely convinced we’d put subliminal messages on the record, but when she came face to face with Pellicano, I saw it dawning on her as they spoke, that she actually realized she’d got egg on her face, you know? Like she suddenly realized she’d been talked into something she couldn’t really justify.
     “It took about six weeks before a judgment was handed down that any subliminal messages on the album were not responsible for the deaths of these lads. But that implies that there were subliminals, even though we had proven in court that there weren’t. It was contradictory and unsatisfactory. We were absolved of blame, but the implication was that there were messages on the album. This was presumably to save face for the American legal system, which had allowed this ridiculous case to get this far, at a huge cost to taxpayers.
     “It was a test case for the arts in general, not just heavy metal, because if we had lost, the floodgates would open. Every book that was written, every film, every record…there would be cases based on subliminal messages.
     “In effect, we did win, yet it cost us over a quarter of a million dollars. We went through hell for six weeks, but we came out of it stronger, more knowledgeable, and you learn. It’s all experience.”
– Glenn Tipton, August 1990

     “We have never ever placed any subliminal content on any of our records. I mean, why on earth would we put something on a record that you can’t hear? And, as our manager said, if we were going to do that, why not make it something like, ‘Buy seven
copies of this album’? Besides, STAINED CLASS was made 12 years ago and has been listened to by millions of people. So if you’re talking about percentages and subliminal messages having the ability to kill, then I would think there’d be a lot of dead Judas Priest fans.”
– Rob Halford, Toronto, 1990

     “The scientific research presented does not establish that subliminal stimuli, even if perceived, may precipitate conduct of this magnitude… The strongest evidence presented at the trial showed no behavioral effects other than anxiety, distress or tension.”
– Judge Jerry Whitehead, Vance v. Judas Priest, 1990

     “A Nevada court ruling absolving CBS Records in the deaths of two men who listened to heavy metal music containing subliminal messages will likely go unchallenged, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Timothy Post. In September 1990, Judge Jerry Whitehead ruled that the Judas Priest album STAINED CLASS contained subliminal messages but that the messages were placed there unintentionally. Furthermore, there is no scientific evidence that such messages could influence listeners to commit suicide. Post said that the product liability lawsuit sought $6.2 million, charging that the record was a defective product that bombarded the psychodynamic subconscious mind. The suit was brought under product liability law because it was felt that CBS could be held responsible for a faulty record just like another company should be held liable for an exploding soda bottle or an exploding gasoline tank on an automobile. Defense witness Anthony Pratkanis, a psychology professor, attributed the plaintiffs’ actions to alcohol and drug use, personality disorders, and problems with work and family.”
– Michael Bradford, Business Insurance, September 10, 1990

Judge Whitehead ruled that Judas Priest and CBS Records were not responsible for the the deaths of Raymond Belknap and James Vance, but did award the prosecution $40,000.
Though Judas Priest did emerge the victors in the case, it was the ruling by Judge Whitehead that the album did in fact contain subliminal messages that hurt them on the open market. Regardless that the messages were found to be mere audio anomalies, natural occurrences that happen in all types of audio recordings and not intentionally placed, and that they had no ability to cause conduct of such magnitude, to those on the outside (including important industry contacts and insiders), the name of Judas Priest would be associated with “suicide band” and “subliminal criminals”.  Indeed, the victory was bitter-sweet:

     “The case already has had a chilling effect on free expression and could only get worse.”
– Susan Fulstone, attorney for the defense, 1990
     “People in court said heavy metal is bad, it’s satanic, and everybody that listens to Judas Priest is mad, is crazy, is full of drugs, hates the world, is an anarchic…You know. If somebody said that to you, you’d be pissed off. I was pissed off! So, we stood up in court and said, ‘Fuck you! Heavy metal is great!’ ”
– Rob Halford, Radio MCB, February 2, 1991

     “In a way, we’ve helped to influence heavy metal music throughout the world really – not in any great way, not in any
way more than any other band, but we have helped to shape it – and that’s something to be very proud of. We’ve always flown
the flag for metal and we’ve never denounced heavy metal. We’re proud to play it and proud to perform it.”
– Glenn Tipton, Metal Shop, Summer, 1990

     “The trial affected us more than people might think. I’m sure that people think we just brushed it off, but when you have to walk into court every day for six weeks and have lie after lie thrown at you, with the American legal system making us scapegoats for their own problems, it really winds you up.”
– Glenn Tipton, Metal Hammer, January 2004

     “Why the hell would you tell your buying public to go and blow their brains out?
     “You look at Marilyn Manson, okay… if we were doing that sort of stuff, we would never get away with it. I don�t know why. It�s a ludicrous thing and I don�t know what fires it, I really don�t. It�s just sheer ignorance, I think, that fires these sort of cases – ignorance and greed on behalf of some unscrupulous lawyers. They see an avenue there of making a buck or two and they go for it. It�s the same as these stupid… it�s like somebody suing Coca-Cola because somebody snorted Coke up their nose when they were laughing and gave themselves a cold. That�s what it is – it�s people seeing a little loophole, or a little chance to make a quick buck. And they�re going for it, y�know what I mean? And that�s what they did to us. I don�t know how it came about. There was a wide organization behind all of that! I mean, the whole thing was organized – they had expert witnesses, they were all lined up… and these were the same guys that were working on the Ozzy case as well. And if we�d have lost, they would�ve gone straight for Ozzy. And they�ve got three or four other acts that they�ve got lined up.
     “The other thing is this contingency thing. I mean, listen, at the end of the day, it�s the state that brings the case against you. I mean, these lawyers have to go up in front of a judge and say, ‘Listen, have we got a chance of winning this?’ And the judge says either, ‘No, I think that�s the stupidest thing I�ve ever heard’, or, ‘Yeah, you�ve got a chance’. Now, if that judge comes out and says, ‘Yes, you�ve got a chance’, they�re gonna fight the case. Then if the people who are being accused win, it cost us millions of dollars in defense legal fees. I mean, what do you do? Do you make the other lawyers pay? Do you make the state pay? Well, maybe if you made the state pay, then maybe the state would think twice about bringing these goofy cases to court in the first place! ‘Yeah, we feel much better now with a couple million in the bank’. That�s obscene. It�s more obscene than anything us or Marilyn Manson could do.”
– Ian Hill, Prime-Choice, January 21, 1998

     “So much of this censorship on freedom of expression is enmeshed in politics and religion, and again, unfortunately, so much of it is just for the benefit of those who want to climb the ladder in whatever profession they’re involved in. If you look at the history of culture and arts, there’s never been anything that’s brought down a civilization, including America. In America right now, of course, horrible, horrible things have happened. I went through those same kinds of experiences with the IRA in Birmingham. You’d walk around the city not knowing if a bomb was going to go off. That’s just one measure of the kind of panic that these kinds of conditions can bring into a system. And I think that the worst thing that you can do is bring out a big stick and start beating everything into submission.”
 – Rob Halford, Hartford Advocate, July 8, 2004

But shocking as it may come to the witch-hunters and Don Quixotes of the world, a rarely known detail emerged out of the proceedings: Judas Priest actually engage in charity work!

     “We have often visited seriously or terminally ill fans who have wanted to meet the band. There was one person who had a serious accident and they had to bring him to one of the concerts on one of these life-support systems with this breathing apparatus. Another time we visited terminally ill kids at a ward within John Hopkins in Cincinnati. Manager Bill Curbishley has also been recognized for his major fund-raising events in the music industry through his Trinifold Management company. It’s just part and parcel of the job really.
     “We never come up with or keep a catalog of what we actually do, whether it be visits, auctioning items, or making donations. That’s why there’s the irony with people who give Judas Priest the black mark.”
– K.K. Downing, Metal Hammer, 1990
     “Another point worth remembering is that individuals, such as myself, have often donated personal articles, time, and monetary resources to assist unfortunate individuals within our society. Many musicians, and their management, have assisted runaways who needed guidance, and they have obtained counseling for the physically and sexually abused.”
– Rob Halford, Foundations Forum Keynote Address, 1990

     “The outpouring of support, which we received during the trial in Reno, Nevada from our fans, and from members of the general public who have never listened to a Judas Priest song, showed each member of Judas Priest just how much Priest means to this world.
     “On the day K.K. Downing was leaving Reno, Nevada, he overheard on the radio an American soldier’s song request. The soldier was on his way to the Middle East to assist in the protection of the world forces which have converged in Saudi Arabia. The soldier requested, for his friends in Reno and his buddies in Saudi Arabia, the Judas Priest song, ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.”
– Rob Halford, Foundations Forum Keynote Address, 1990

What also came out in the court was that the two young men who took their lives were already hell bent for destruction:

     “The reasons for the shootings may be more easily found in the lives of the two hopeless young men already deeply marked by broken families, family violence and failure. Raymond Belknap’s life, like James Vance’s, was hard. He had three stepfathers and was beaten by the third, according to the court records. He was on probation for stealing money and under investigation for animal torture after shooting at neighbors’ animals with a dart gun. Both young men had dropped out of high school, drifted from job to job and had been fascinated with guns.
     “James Vance had fled from his home 13 times in the two years before the shooting. An only child, he had no contact with his biological father and frequently tangled with his adoptive father, Emmit Vance, a recovering alcoholic. James’ mother also conceded that she had hit her son too often when he was young. James, in turn, assaulted his mother several times and choked her when he was 8. He once pointed a loaded gun at her head and threatened to shoot her, she said. James’ grade school once suggested that he and his mother receive psychiatric counseling because the boy was pulling his hair out and tying belts tightly around his head.
Another school psychologist later said there was a good chance that James would ‘respond violently to stressful situations’ as he grew older, according to court records.
     “Admitted to a drug and alcohol addiction center the year of the shooting, James said he used LSD, speed, cocaine, heroin, PCP, barbiturates and marijuana. Despite these problems, the Vances think music destroyed their son. Emmit, a forklift operator for General Motors, read books about the negative effects of rock music. Phyllis keeps busy with jigsaw puzzles, sewing and church work. ‘He would quote lyrics just as if they were Scriptures’, says Phyllis Vance, who several times threw her son’s music away because the young man was moody and violent when he listened to heavy metal.”
– David John Oates, Founder and Developer of Reverse Speech Technologies, 2001

     “These two young men lost their lives because of their tragic involvement in drugs and alcohol and dysfunctional family units in which they weren’t given proper care, attention or guidance. I’m not making light of a tragic situation, but this trial was just an attempt to shift the burden of guilt to someone else’s shoulders.
     “We gave them a great deal of pleasure with our music. Now I’d be more than pleased if we were just allowed to get on with our creativity and continue to bring pleasure and entertainment to the countless millions of people who have been listening to this music completely harm-free for many years.
     “The world is not a pretty place. There’s a lot of bad things going on right now, since day one. Freud says we’re all basically aggressive creatures, that it’s all about aggression and sex. I think we’ve got a much better grasp on some of this than the people who attack us.
     “Judas Priest has never written obscene lyrics or advocated Satanism, violence or substance abuse. We are conscious people, a responsible band, and we do have our limits on where we want to go, but once you worry about ‘responsibility,’ you should get out of the business. Once you say, ‘Well I can do this but I can’t do that’, where have you gone? You’ve lost your freedom of artistic expression.
     “Metal’s always been a little bit of an underdog, like certain types of folk music have that kind of needling approach to people, or Lenny Bruce. Certain groups feel uncomfortable about being stimulated and being forced to focus on issues they want to push under the carpet and that’s what this kind of music has never been afraid to do.”
– Rob Halford

     “I would agree entirely that music is a very powerful emotional source of stimulation, but I think the individual has some sort of conditioning already. Because most of us do go to a Rambo movie or a Swartzeneger movie that has incredible amounts of violence and bloodshed, and come out perfectly rational.”
– Rob Halford, Toronto, 1990

     “Those boys who shot themselves – they weren’t driven mad by music. Music was their only escape; it was the only thing they loved. But you know how it is: there was a big political agenda against metal at the time. We just happened to be the unlucky ones.
     “Nothing’s changed since then. In fact, I think things are far worse. All you have to do is look at what’s happening to Howard Stern. I don’t understand it. I spend a lot of time in America – I live most of the year in Phoenix – and I love America, I really do. But this clampdown on artistic rights, this fear of expression – Howard Stern, Janet Jackson’s breast – it’s a uniquely American experience. I’m not saying you have to like it. Listen to Stern, don’t listen to Stern, but you can’t regulate him off the air, just like you can’t stop heavy metal. [sighs] When you get right down to it, this is what keeps me going. ‘Oh, you’re standing in my way? I don’t think so’.”
– Rob Halford, Guitar World, September 2004

The members of Judas Priest were approached to do a movie about the trial, but they turned it down because they felt the subject matter was too exploitive and the true message of substance and family abuse would not be addressed correctly:

     “We were approached by a company that wanted to make a movie but quite honestly, we felt it was an exploitive situation.”
– Rob Halford, Rockline, August 20, 1990

While no movie was ever made, a very important video documentary was put together by David Van Taylor. One of the first true “reality” films, before there was reality TV, Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance vs. Judas Priest is a shocking and revealing look at the families, friends, band and courtroom proceedings as they were happening. Included too are interviews with a badly disfigured James Vance while he was still alive just before the trial.
      “Did heavy metal music influence the teenagers to try to kill themselves? Or was it their dysfunctional families, childhood, and generally aimless, hopeless lives? To its credit, the film offers no pat answers. Recommended for public and academic libraries.”
– Library Journal

     “The material is so overpowering, and the videotape creates such painful intimacy, that the coziness of the small screen may not do it justice… DREAM DECEIVERS will rivet the attention, as it presents a terrible story of mixed signals and wasted lives.”
– New York Times

     “DREAM DECEIVERS provides a nightmare glimpse into America’s spiritual drought and the way people fill that void with diametrically opposed faiths… DREAM DECEIVERS is ghoulish Americana that makes fictions such as BLUE VELVET, WILD AT HEART, and RIVER’S EDGE seem like Mother care ads.”
– Interview
     ” *****[5 Stars – Must Have] Extremely well edited. The primary individuals tell the story (or what they know of it) as footage of the trial is intermixed with interviews. Pacing, scripted narration, and interviews will rivet the viewer’s attention… Both public libraries and schools will want to have this title available… It shows what can go wrong, and is a sobering learning experience for all viewers. This is an excellent documentary.”
– Video Rating Guide for Libraries



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  6. […] societal focus on the potentially damaging effects of heavy metal lyrics reached an apex in 1990, when Judas Priest were sued by the families of two youths that shot themselves in a dual […]

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