Perfect Sound Forever

Born To Choose

How reproductive-rights and rock mix (and don't mix)
(November 1997)

In 1993, Rykodisc decided to something that any major label would have been much too afraid to even think about- put out a benefit CD for Pro-Choice causes. Considering how fearful corporations are of boycotts by radical religious groups, this kind of thing is quite a bold move in the United States today. Nevertheless, they were able to coral R.E.M., Soundgarden, Tom Waits, NRBQ, Pavement and other heavy-weights to get behind this cause. How all of this got started and were it's gone is story worth telling. Two of the participants in this project, Barbara Longo (art department, Rykodisc) and Jeff Rougvie (Rykodisc Director of A&R), explain what had to be done to make this a reality. Special thanks go out to Sonya Kolowrat and Paul Dickman for their help with this.

Barbara Longo

I have always believed that abortion is a very private matter, definitely not one that the government should have any say about. So whether one believes that it's right or wrong, it's a decision that should be made by the woman, without goverment restrictions. That's my outlook. And I know a fair number of musicians who feel the same way. The main work was asking these musicians (mostly guys) to THINK about it and to donate their time (and money) to the cause of fighting goverment restrictions.

I was cheerleader; vocal pro-choice person in the office. Before I started working at Rykodisc, I had put together a Rock For Choice benefit in Boston so I was able to give my opinions & tell my experiences about putting together a pro-choice "thing." And once the CD came out, we put on a benefit concert here in Boston at Venus De Milo, which I booked (June '92)- Babes In Toyland, Lunachicks, ZuZu's Petals, Evan Dando, Trenchmouth. The manager of the club was very supportive. Later I also put together the Born To Choose benefit with Uncle Tupelo, Blood Oranges, Lou Barlow (sold out show at Paradise in Boston, December '93).

I ended up booking these shows because going through managers/management agencies was close to impossible. Most managers were very cautious about getting the bands involved, but once I spoke with the lead singer or drummer or whoever, it started to move. After that point, it seemed silly to pay a promoter to put the show together, so I continued on doing it myself. I'd rather not slag some management company in case i need to bother them at some point in the future. Letís just say that some people could have been a lot nicer and a lot more open.

The Born To Chose CD itself was Craig Mark's idea. Craig Marks brought the idea to various labels who ended up passing because they were afraid of the Christian Right causing problems, boycotting their releases, etc. As for us here, we got one package containing a smashed David Bowie cassette with red paint splattered all over it saying something like we were doing something evil by releasing the pro-choice compilation. We expected more, quite honestly. I was asked to keep track of that type of stuff because of my "pro-choice contacts."

Since doing RTC/BTC, I have also been trying to get musicians to donate autographed cds to pro-choice organizations for their yearly auctions (these events make money plus - hopefully - encourage younger people to get involved).

There has been talk about a Born To Choose #2 to bolster clinic defense funds, but there hasn't been any movement on it. Not for lack of interest, but rather a lack of hours in The day. Lots in my head, but i don't feel comfortable giving out their names yet. Personally, i try to contact bands with a lot of guy appeal- the type of audience who should see one of their favorite bands say they are pro-choice. A lot of women are already thinking about it; a lot of guys aren't.

Jeff Rougvie

Craig Marks approached us with the idea for Born To Choose. It was going to be assembled jointly by Craig (through CMJ) and Ivana B Adored (Hits). We ended up doing 90% of the work in house with the help of Michael Hafitz, the attorney who volunteered to assist Craig Marks/CMJ on the project.

There are some tracks that were slated for the project that are still floating around. Some artists weren't willing to grant legal rights which I can understand. Basically, lots of them were supplying us with tracks that didn't make it to their proper albums and they were unwilling to guarantee that they had paid other musicians, or that other musicians on the tracks wouldn't have grounds to sue us for payments due. Strangely, this was a problem with metal bands in particular. I have a scathing version of Danzig doing a T Rex cover ('Buick McKane') lying in my office somewhere.

I don't know if any label said no to the project. Mostly, the other labels didn't try to keep their artists from participating. In fact, they were generally pretty good about supporting the project. However, very few media outlets responded with advertising donations (not uncommon for a charity album). I think this was partly because Red Hot was just getting their alternative compilation off the ground, but also shows the resistance to the issue of women's rights. Frankly, it was appalling. There was definately a real feeling that some people were unwilling to fully commit to supporting the project, mostly from a PR angle, I felt.

The thing that was most galling to me though, was when Sire did a volume of their Just Say... series with a women's rights theme. This series was basically a marketing exercise for Sire artists, via a low-priced sampler. They didn't flow through any of the money to the cause and there are artists on the sampler that we had asked to contribute tracks to Born To Choose. While I can't be sure that we didn't get them because of the Sire compilation, I thought it was pretty weak of Sire to co-opt the issue in the name of promoting their artists. They should have at least donated some money to a women's rights organization.

(There were apparently some early discussions with Madonna, who was interested in coming on board, but then Sire/Reprise did Just Say Roe, which was a little bit of a cop out. Since they're her label, they got an exclusive track.)

On the other hand, they are part of Time-Warner, which is a publicly owned company. If you look at how quickly they folded to pressure regarding rap acts, it's no surprise that Sire maintained a "no-sides in the issue" policy.

I think Born to choose had a real effect on the pro-choice movement: it raised both money and awareness. We'd like to do another one, but it's hard (especially in a depressed music biz) to clear the tracks and chase artists & managers who are more worried about their careers than external stuff. I'll get around to it at some point....