Plus, senators vs. showbiz on Capitol Hill, Richard Gere bundles up, and more

By Gary Susman
Updated July 30, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Credit: Alicia Keys: Ed Geller/Retna

Emperor Zehnder

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‘A’-1 Not even a strong debut by Aaliyah‘s new self-titled CD could dethrone pop newcomer Alicia Keys, whose ”Songs in A Minor” remained at No. 1 on the Billboard chart for the second week in a row. ”Songs,” which has held the top slot for three of the four weeks since its release, sold 221,750 copies, according to SoundScan, while Aaliyah’s record followed with 186,900 units. D12‘s ”Devil’s Night Out” remained at No. 3, with sales of 142,950. Staind‘s ”Break the Cycle” held at No. 4 (133,300 copies). Debuting at No. 5 was Foxy Brown‘s ”Broken Silence” (130,675 units).

Sean Combs‘s ”P. Diddy and the Bad Boy Family: The Saga Continues” dropped four spots to No. 6. Destiny’s Child‘s ”Survivor” fell two places to No. 7, while Jagged Edge‘s ”Jagged Little Thrill” similarly dropped two slots to No. 8. Linkin Park‘s ”Hybrid Theory” climbed one spot to No. 9, and Kurupt‘s ”Space Boogie” debuted at No. 10.

CAPITOL PUNISHMENT Current hearings in the Senate and the House that were supposed to be about setting standards for marketing pop culture to kids and possibly changing the industry ratings systems have instead turned into referendums on rap lyrics. Last Friday’s House hearing heard representatives complaining about the CDs kids listen to, despite parental-advisory stickers, and saw Congresswoman Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) embarrass Recording Industry Association of America president Hilary Rosen when she refused Cubin’s request to read aloud the lyrics of Eminem‘s ”Kill You,” saying it was unfair to take the lyrics out of context. And in yesterday’s Senate hearing, which heard testimony by parents, pediatricians, and lobbyists but not hip-hoppers, rap impresario Russell Simmons demanded an opportunity to speak. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who chaired the hearing, had initially denied Simmons a place on the panel, saying his request had come too late, but he allowed Simmons to make a statement at the end of the day. Speaking for the hip-hop community, he said, ”Many of us feel that these hearings are really about us, and it, and it would be better in our view to hear from us and speak to us directly before you pass judgment and deny our fundamental rights.”

Simmons said that the committee, made up of white people from privileged backgrounds, had difficulty understanding the cultural significance and positive impact of rap and was distracted from its message of protest by the profanity in the lyrics. Sen. Fred Thompson (R- Tenn.), who had a career as a character actor in movies before running for office, denied that race was a motivating factor. ”The notion that this is racially targeted is not only invalid, but it hurts those of us who are trying to protect the First Amendment rights of artists,” he said, though it’s not clear how the committee’s proposals to tighten restrictions on marketing and impose a government-approved rating system on all media would protect artists’ First Amendment rights. Simmons clarified his statement, saying, ”There’s a lack of understanding of cultural references. There’s a lack of appreciation of the cultural forces. They’re more fearful of the black kids that came out of the ghetto.” Actor William Baldwin, president of the Creative Coalition, was more blunt, saying that lawmakers keep citing Eminem because he is ”the token white guy” among rappers, giving them cover for the racial fears underlying their dislike of rap.

The hearings also heard Rosen and Jack Valenti, chief of the Motion Picture Association of America, testify against a single uniform ratings system covering movies, TV, music, and video games, with Valenti calling an industry-wide set of ratings unworkable and Rosen announcing an RIAA campaign to educate parents about the current music labeling system. Their testimony came on the heels of a study released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation of how parents have responded to the changes in TV since the last time Congress acted on this issue: the V-chip and the TV ratings system. According to the study, only 7 percent of parents use the V-chip. Of those parents who use the TV ratings system, almost all find it ”useful,” though nearly half don’t believe the ratings accurately reflect content. Parents are evenly divided on whether government should restrict the airing of sex and violence during early evening hours.

Meanwhile, producer Steven Bochco, who pushed the envelope on sex and language in prime-time network TV when ”NYPD Blue” debuted eight years ago, plans to push even further with profane dialogue on ”Philly,” his upcoming ABC legal drama starring ”NYPD”’s Kim Delaney. ”I just don’t think in the fall of 2001, given the 143 nominations that a show like ‘Sopranos’ has, that a word that every 10-year-old hears in a schoolyard should be that big of an issue,” he told TV critics in Pasadena.

REEL DEALS Hope Richard Gere has some warm clothes. He’ll be starring in ”Emperor Zehnder,” described as an ”Out of Africa”-style epic romance set in Antarctica, playing real-life adventure photographer Bruno P. Zehnder. Stephen Frears (”High Fidelity,” ”The Grifters”) may direct….

Carl Franklin (”One True Thing,” ”Devil in a Blue Dress”) is in talks to direct ”Out of Time,” an original thriller about a small-town cop corrupted by a femme fatale. He recently wrapped ”High Crimes” with Ashley Judd.

SECRET SERVICE Remember this spring, when a well-known college freshman had a few too many drinks and embarrassed her powerful dad? Meadow Soprano’s actions in the season finale of ”The Sopranos” are apparently something Jenna Bush can identify with. The president’s daughter has taken a summer internship with Brillstein-Grey, producers of ”The Sopranos” and ”Just Shoot Me.” One of her coworkers violated a company directive and leaked word of her employment to the media. She’ll be the one intern in Hollywood whom bosses can’t ask to go on a coffee run or pick up dry cleaning, since her driver’s license was suspended for 30 days on July 6 because of her underage drinking.

STUMPED A collaboration between Bonnie Raitt and Doors drummer John Densmore has gotten the pair into trouble. The two musicians, along with author Julia ”Butterfly” Hill and 17 others, were arrested Wednesday for holding a sit-in at the headquarters of Boise Cascade Office Products in the Chicago suburb of Itasca, Ill. The event, organized by the Rainforest Action Network, was held in protest of the company’s logging policies. The protesters were charged with disorderly conduct and released from jail.

Emperor Zehnder

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