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Four Musicians Roth Vs. U.S. Would Have Jailed (NSFW)

Samuel Roth
Samuel Roth
AP/Life.com

Standing up for the First Amendement is a hard row to hoe sometimes. Sure, it's fun when you can defend someone like Marilyn Manson, but it's a lot less fun when you realize you also have to defend people like the Westboro Baptist Church. Thems the breaks, though. If you're going to have freedom you're going to have to deal with it.

Lucky for us, for 16 years Americans weren't bothered with this dilemma because the Supreme Court took a pretty significant portion of your right to free speech away. This week, 54 years ago, the court handed down the 6-3 decision in Roth vs. United States that said that material whose "dominant theme taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest" was not protected under the First Amendment.

The case that brought about this decision, thankfully gone to rest after a 1973 ruling that stated obscenity is indeed protected by free speech, was one against a man named Samuel Roth. Roth was the publisher of a magazine called American Aphrodite that specialized in literary erotica and nude pictures. Roth was convicted on an obscenity charge in California, and the case made its way up from there.

Roth is a pretty interesting guy in his own right. He wrote a book that he said was a late work by Nietszche written in an insane asylum near the end of his life, another called Violations of the Child Marilyn Monroe published under the nom de plume Her Psychiatrist Friend, and finally one of him as Jesus. Legend has it that Roth did not die, but instead was lifted bodily into the sky to become what we now know of as the internet.

Nude pics and literary erotica, huh? Good thing that case has gone the way of the passenger pigeon, because some of our favorite musical personalities would've been arrested. Such as...

John Lennon
Four Musicians Roth Vs. U.S. Would Have Jailed (NSFW)

Controversy surrounded John Lennon his entire life because, well, he liked annoying people. If we may quote our favorite line from Hard Day's Night spoken by the band's manager about Lennon, "I put him in chains but he'd just rattle them at me." Urban legends, myths, and outrage sprung up all around him, but few of his antics could've gotten him out and out arrested.

Under Roth, though, he could very well had been jailed for the cover of his first album with Yoko Ono, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. The cover was a simple front on nude shot of both Lennon and Ono taken in Ringo Starr's basement. Distributers insisted on selling the album in a brown paper sleeve, and 30,000 copies were confiscated in New Jersey under obscenity statutes.

 

Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie
Four Musicians Roth Vs. U.S. Would Have Jailed (NSFW)

Siousxie and the Banshees is the only band we can think of where we hold all the side projects up as comparable or even better than the main band. The Creatures was a sort of gothic world music collaboration between Sioux and Budgie that left a brilliant stream of albums in their wake long after the Banshees hung it up.

Fire in the band was also provided by the fact Sioux and Budgie were dating at the time, something they long kept secret form Banshees founder Steve Severin. When it came time to choose an album cover for the Creatures first EP Wild Things, Sioux and Budgie jumped in the shower and writhed their way to the final product.

Bliss Blood and Bert Woodall
Four Musicians Roth Vs. U.S. Would Have Jailed (NSFW)

Bert Woodall was the publisher of Public News here in Houston, a legendary and excellent alternative weekly the Press acquired in 1998 when PN shut down after over 800 issues. Those us of who were here then remember the paper fondly, as fondly as our generation remembers the one and only Bliss Blood and her band the Pain Teens.

Both would certainly have been in trouble for distributing a picture from this 1991 issue that clearly showed Blood in the midst of both a lashing and a wardrobe malfunction. In all honesty, it's one of the tamer entries in this list, but we like to feel that the local flavor and the S&M make up for it. Also, uh, we used to have a big crush on Blood.

The Pixies
Four Musicians Roth Vs. U.S. Would Have Jailed (NSFW)

It's always a big day for Rocks Off when we can mention the Pixies whose catchy chorus from "Space" resulted in the single f nickname we publish under. Surfer Rosa, like all Pixies albums, is a masterpiece containing 'Gigantic" among other great songs.

The cover of the album featured a topless friend of the band half-dressed as a flamenco dancer. The idea was inspired by the topless Spanish bar that Frank Black's father owned in which he frequently wrote songs. He hoped the image would tie into a heavy Catholic theme on the album, and more pictures of the model are what you get instead of lyrics when you open the insert.

We're aware that nudity itself does not constitute, what was that description again? Oh yeah, "prurient interest." However, it's nice to live in a world where we don't have to worry about law enforcement deciding on the legitimacy of our tastes. It was only as late as 1973 that we had the constitutionally protected right to be as obscene as we wished, and hopefully we'll have it forever.


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