The Current Rewind: The Peters Brothers' anti-rock crusade

The Current Rewind
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Parental Advisory: The Peters Brothers' anti-rock crusade
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A family of pastors hell-bent on saving souls. A pro-sticker Washington wife. A B-horror blood-gusher with a heart of gold. Plus...Prince's photographer? This episode's cast of characters is just a peek at the wild ride of the Peters Brothers, the evangelical trio who hosted record burnings and condemned rock music throughout the 1980s. But for all the Peters' popcorn-worthy stunts, you could say darkness was at play.

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The Current Rewind is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Culture Heritage Fund.

Transcript of Episode 8 - Parental Advisory: The quasi-crusade of the Peters Brothers

Dan Peters: Question number one, Steve: the lifestyles of today's rock musicians.

Steve Peters: What about the lifestyles? We think they need to be examined. We think you need to look hard. Because, you know, Jesus did say that it's important for us to know the kind of people we're hanging around with.

Dan Peters: Mötley Crüe openly talks about all their sleeping around with so many girls. They openly brag about these sexual innuendos and opportunities they have after their stage shows.

Steve Peters: They have even bragged about the gang fights they have gotten into.

["Winging It" by Lazerbeak fades in]

Andrea Swensson: Evangelical leaders shout unsettling warnings about outsider lifestyles, stoking tribalism in their congregations and mainstream white culture. Sound familiar? We're travelling back to the 1980s, the decade forever associated with conservative morality and Cold War anxieties.

The Peters Brothers — Steve, Dan, and Jim Peters — were the controversial St. Paul ministers who spent the eighties traveling the country to preach against rock music. They even hosted record burnings. Their story, besides illustrating the divisive nature of the era, also shows just how much of a moral battleground pop culture was during the "Stranger Things" years.

[Rewind sound effect]

Andrea Swensson: I'm Andrea Swensson. This is The Current Rewind, the show putting music's unsung stories on the map. For the finale of our first season, we're sharing a fascinating story from the eighties — how the anti-rock movement was led by a trio of youth pastors from St. Paul, Minnesota.

In addition to consuming a lot of Peters Brothers media — from their documentary "Truth About Rock" to their book "Why Knock Rock?" to their mid-eighties video "Youth Suicide Fantasy" — we spoke with Steve Peters and some of the folks who encountered him along the way, including the frontman of the St. Paul heavy metal band Impaler, who went toe-to-toe with the Peters in a series of public debates. We also got on the phone with Susan Baker, who's one of the people behind the Parental Advisory stickers on albums that warn of "explicit content."

It helps to understand the era here. In 1979, a new conservatism rose up in the United States. That year, Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, a lobbying group that helped galvanize the voters who elected Ronald Reagan president in 1980.

1979 is also the year when Steve Peters began to preach against rock.

Steve Peters: My mom and dad had prayed that all four boys would go into the ministry, all four of us, and all four of us went into the ministry, and Dad followed in our footsteps and became ordained at age 58.

I was more the athlete of the family. I was going to try to pursue something there, maybe being a teacher and a coach. Wasn't quite sure, and a youth group became available when I was 18. They told me I was the state of Minnesota's youngest youth pastor.

Those kids were really needy — a bunch of them trying to get off drugs, and they just needed a friend. They needed a friend more than they needed some guy from on high, so I just became their friend and started caring about them, and the youth group grew and grew and a lot of them gave their lives to Christ. We started a little tiny church in 1973 out of that youth group and it just took off from there.

Andrea Swensson: Steve and his brothers preached at Zion Christian Life Center in St. Paul. There, a parishioner gave him a tape of another minister's sermon.

Steve Peters: I think his name was Craig Harrington. And a gal in our church — we had a very small church at that point, maybe 100. She came up to me and said, "Hey, you gotta listen to this cassette tape" — it was a cassette tape back in those days — "This guy's done a lot of research on music. I know you work with a lot of young people. Maybe you'll get something out of it." And he was the one that actually called it a rock music seminar.

Andrea Swensson: The brothers decided to try it out themselves.

Steve Peters: The kids in my youth group were really on fire for God. They wanted to live closer for God. A lot of them had already told me they wanted to get rid of those records. They were just laying around back in those days. There were records.

They started turning in thousands of dollars worth of music and drug paraphernalia before we ever talked. We did our first talk on a Friday night, and it was kind of interesting. We had announced we were going to do it a couple weeks earlier. This would've been probably the middle of November of 1979. Took a bunch of pictures and realized we had used the wrong kind of film. It wouldn't be available for a week or so. Our Friday night youth night was the night we needed it, so we stood up there and said, "We didn't have any pictures to show. Two weeks from tonight we're going to do it again."

It happened to be Friday night of Thanksgiving weekend, so the day after Thanksgiving, and we thought there'd be nobody there — our youth group ran about 75 people. We had 400-some people there that night. I don't know how they found out about it. We had buses pulling up.

So we were wondering what to do with all this music that's being turned in, and I remembered reading something in the scriptures about — back in Acts chapter 19 where when these Christian men decided to live for Christ, they got rid of all their astrological books. I just thought if they burned that kind of stuff back in the New Testament, maybe we should burn it. It said this in the Bible: burn that stuff before all men.

Andrea Swensson: That phrase is basically straight out of Acts 19:19, King James Version: "Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men."

Steve Peters: Somebody suggested, "Why don't you invite the news media? They'll tell everybody about it." So we did the seminar Friday night. They told me to call the assignment desk of channels 4, 5, 9, and 11. And all four of them came. I hadn't prepared the kids for this, and I thought, "Oh my gosh, these guys are making us look like Hitler Youth."

Andrea Swensson: Steve asked a TV cameraman what he thought of the sermon.

Steve Peters: He said, "You did a great media event." I said, "What's a media event?" He said, "Well wasn't this a media event?" I said, "No, I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do." He said, "Well you did everything right." I said, "What did I do right?" He said, "Well, you did it at night, and you used fire. Cameras are attracted to fire."

And so we started getting calls from the newspapers. The St. Paul Pioneer Press called us up and asked to talk to us. We said no way. We just did this one time. We're not interested in talking. The news media is making us look bad.

He said, "I'm not going to tear you apart. You got three, four minutes on the news. Everybody wants to know who you are and why you did this. I'm just going to tell people who you are." But then a day later or so, Minneapolis Star and Tribune called us up and said everybody wants to know who you guys are. Who are you? We want to send a reporter over. So they did.

So it would've even died there. Except the AP newswires back in those days, and United Press International, they read the newspapers of the major cities all over the U.S., so they must've read about the Peters Brothers. They called us up, verified a few facts, sent it out to what we found out later was 7,500 newsrooms all across the world, and printed our phone number at the end of the article, and we did nothing for three weeks except answer the phone and tell people in Toronto, Canada and Sydney, Australia and France and you name it, what we were doing and why we were doing it.

And then the story ran Monday morning on Good Morning America. We received tens of thousands of invitations to go and do our rock music seminars. But we probably only did 40 or 50 record burnings out of those thousands of appearances, but it would sure get the media attention.

Andrea Swensson: Whatever the percentage, the Peters Brothers' record-burning rallies became instantly notorious. They soon incorporated as a business called Truth About Rock Ministries, and they took their show on the road, culminating in a 1981 appearance in Lafayette, Louisiana, where, as the Washington Post reported, "Seventeen hundred young Christians turned out and burned about fifty thousand dollars' worth of rock and roll."

Steve Peters: We had gone to the Assemblies of God Bible college, but it seemed like not even a lot of Assembly of God churches started out with us, so I really think the secular media promoted us more over those 17 years than anybody else did. That's how people found out about us. And when we spoke on ABC Nightline with Ted Koppel, they said 15 million people were watching that Friday night. 15 million people. Jesus never ministered to a third of that; maybe a fifteenth of that.

After that, all we had to tell the pastor, the superintendent, the principal: "Pick up the phone, call the media outlet, tell them the Peters brothers are coming to town. They were just on ABC Nightline with Ted Koppel." As soon as they'd say that, the media outlets would devour us.

Andrea Swensson: Their timing was perfect. The '80s saw the rise of several made-for-TV ministers, from Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker to Pat Robertson. The Bakkers, as well as Pentecostalist Jimmy Swaggart, would end the decade mired in scandal. (You can hear the Bakkers' story on the new APM podcast Spectacular Failures.) But the Peters seemed to walk a straight path.

Fundamentalist activists like the Peters operated from a conviction that popular culture was a modern-day Gomorrah: a jungle of sin from which children required protection. When MTV debuted in 1981, its often provocative videos, full of sex and violence and impiety, caused a moral outcry, and not just among fundamentalists.

As critic Mick Farren wrote in Creem magazine: "Clearly, any parents who were raised on A Hard Day's Night and Woodstock but missed out on everything between Ziggy Stardust and Judas Priest is going to be a trifle concerned should they happen to catch, say, the video for Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It." Crosby, Stills & Nash just got stoned, they didn't want to push daddy through a wall.

One band that the Peters locked horns with in person, a couple of times, was Kiss. In February 1983, Jon Bream of the Minneapolis Star & Tribune, as the local paper was known then, refereed a conversation between Dan Peters and Kiss's bassist Gene Simmons. After discussing Kiss's song "Plaster Caster," about a famous fanatic who made plaster casts of various rock stars' genitalia, Dan Peters said:

"We've started a national petition drive to rate rock records. If the subject deals with groupies and making plaster casts of penises, we think there should be a logo in the upper right hand corner [of the album] that says, 'Caution. This album includes lyrics that sing about making casts of penises.' So the parents know what you're singing about upfront."

To which Simmons replied: "Oh, I may even do that willingly. What a great idea!"

["Plaster Caster" by KISS]

Andrea Swensson: It should be noted: Not everything the Peters said was accurate. In fact, a lot of it was wildly in-accurate, like this "Youth Suicide Fantasy" take on the Rolling Stones.

Steve Peters: Mick [Jagger] first got known by going out and urinating onstage in front of the music critics. The critics tore him to shreds, and made him a millionaire, made him a famous man.

Andrea Swensson: None of that actually happened. But the Peters Brothers' smoothly polished, back-and-forth preaching style led many people to believe them.

Steve Peters: It actually started out with my younger brother, Jim Peters. That original night. And my brother Jim, after about a year and a half, two years, said, "Steve, my wife's a concert pianist. I want to start a Christian rock band myself."

So I grabbed my older brother, Dan, and he's the one that I've authored most of the books with, and we've appeared on ABC Nightline together. We developed that style by just doing that thousands of times together.

[Theme music and intro for "Youth Suicide Fantasy"]

Dan Peters: How about a group like AC/DC? A group that's done nothing but get to the top in rock music by promoting raw sexuality, if you will?

Steve Peters: Dan, I guess it really disgusts us. As this album cover is showing, Highway to Hell. We hope these guys aren't on the highway to hell. And yet, even in the news, a night stalker in California paid homage to them, that one of their songs was the —

Dan Peters: That's right, it's their song "Night Prowler," and I'm also thinking about the former member of the band called Bon Scott, who died choking on his own vomit. Just a little more about the lifestyles of rock musicians.

Chris Strouth: They were kind of like everywhere when I was in high school. You kind of couldn't avoid them.

Andrea Swensson: Not everybody watching was devout. Minneapolis composer-musician Chris Strouth was one of the Peters Brothers' more secular devotees.

Chris Strouth: I grew up a recovered Catholic and then almost recovering almost instantly, but I went to a Catholic high school. I went to Totino-Grace. I graduated class of '86. I was a sophomore, I think.

I was a recent convert to rock and roll. When I got converted it was like I had found Jesus. That was my religion. So seeing these guys go after something where they were quite obviously wrong about a number of things really bothered me.

They came to a place where I went to grade school that had converted into a Christian academy. And so in the gymnasium they had this thing where they were going to come and talk, and they would have pamphlets everywhere, so it was constantly advertised. I had listened to the records at home, and now I was getting to see the live show, if you will.

Andrea Swensson: The Peters brought their show to Faith Academy, a fundamentalist Christian school across the street from Totino-Grace.

Chris Strouth: I went with one punk rock friend and two very suburban looking people. And the whole idea was we're just going to go and watch the slide show and all that. So you go in, and it's the whole hullabaloo. They've got more or less a slideshow and they're talking about the evils of rock, how KISS is "Knights in Satan's Service."

Steve Peters: What about KISS? We need to talk about KISS. Does their name really stand for "Knights in Service to Satan"?

Chris Strouth:At the end of it they were like, "Does anybody have any questions or anything they want to talk about or any records that they want us to be aware of?" And of course being the dutiful child that I was, I raised my hand and I'm like, "Yeah, I go to the Catholic school next door, and there's a book they're making us read. It's not an album, but do you guys have problems with books?" And they're like, "Of course we do."

I'm like, "This book is really problematic. We've had to study it at length, and there's a lot of violence and a lot of bloodshed. There's incest in multiple cases, patricide, matricide, full on mayhem and total genocide. There's threatening of killing of children. There's marrying of daughters."

You would think you'd just see this coming like a freight train. So they're getting very concerned, and the whole audience is getting quite concerned about how can they read this book and like what is this called. I'm like, "It's the King James edition of the Bible." It was like, "Oh very funny," and they're getting angry." But it is.

Next thing I know I'm picked up by the scruff of my very large polyester suit. It's kind of like an old-timey movie, like you're a hobo in a railway station, like, "Come on, kids, you got to get off!" They hauled me — one by the back of my jacket, one by my belt loops — "I'm going to throw you out a door."

Which, if you've never been thrown through a door I don't recommend it. But everybody should do it once, I suppose, when you're that age.

["Youth Suicide Fantasy" theme music]

Andrea Swensson: By that point, the Peters were starting to sell all sorts of merch: audio cassettes, videotapes, bumper stickers, and even muscle shirts. In 1984, they published "Why Knock Rock?" — their first title from the St. Paul publisher Bethany House, after a couple of self-published books.

Steve Peters: We were one of their biggest selling non-fiction books. They sold a lot of fiction stuff and lovey-dovey books and Christian books. We sold 150,000 copies of that, which is — anything over 10,000 back in those days was considered a bestseller.

Andrea Swensson: In "Why Knock Rock?," the authors refer to themselves as "The Giant Killers," little Davids taking on the Goliath of the record business. The book includes a petition, ready-made for the reader to send to Congress or the FCC, with calls to ban "indecent, obscene, or profane" records.

But the Peters Brothers were having the opposite effect for many — making illicit records seem cool. They insisted that certain rock records employed "backward masking" — literally recording something in reverse to subliminally instill evil messages in their songs. Their campaign against backward masking led some bands to start doing it, just to needle them.

Besides, being called to the carpet on nightly news shows was a great sales aid. As one metal musician told Billboard, "A lot of people watch Ted Koppel. So if they tell their kids, 'You're not buying that album,' the kids will go out and buy it."

One of the musicians who put a backward-masked message on his record was Prince, at the end of "Darling Nikki."

["Darling Nikki" by Prince, forwards then backwards, revealing the phrase, "Hello, how are you? I'm fine, 'cause I know that the Lord is coming soon. Coming, coming soon"]

Andrea Swensson: Needless to say, the Peters Brothers were not big fans.

Dan Peters: Let's talk about the lyrics of Prince Rogers Nelson.

Steve Peters: Boy, people have asked us, "Is he really a Christian? Is he really living for God?" Because he's dedicated some of his albums to the Lord. I mean, if you can't look at his songs, Dan, and find out where he's coming from, I think maybe you need to go back and read your Scriptures.

Andrea Swensson: Prince wasn't the only Minnesota musician the Peters singled out for attack.

Steve Peters: This one just sickened me when I saw it in a rock store. It's called Impaler. It's a rock star with blood just coming out of his mouth. Do you think that's going to influence you to live for God? And yet, do you know that I saw young people in that store — the store was packed — grabbing albums off those shelves. The worse it is, it seems like the better it sells.

["It Won't Die" by Impaler]

Andrea Swensson: Bill Lindsey, founder and frontman of the veteran St. Paul metal band Impaler, remembers his first exposure to the Peters Brothers.

Bill Lindsey: The way I became aware of them was my youngest brother went to Central Lutheran School in Roseville, and they came to his school and did a presentation. And so he's sitting there watching their presentation, and Impaler, Rise of the Mutants comes on their screen and they talk about how we're advocating cannibalism and disemboweling victims.

And so my brother went up to them at the end of the show and said, "Hey, that's my brother's band, Impaler." And they were very shocked. They thought we were from California or London or something. They had no idea we were from the Twin Cities.

Andrea Swensson: Bill was born in the Black Hills, but he spent most of his childhood in St. Paul.

Bill Lindsey: I got my first garage band together when I was about 13, 14 years old and started playing music then. Early on, we concentrated on writing some original material, and as we went along and learned how to do things, as you do when you're garage bands, we just kind of figured out how to improve a show and make it more elaborate.

That was always something I wanted to do, being inspired by Alice Cooper, and then shortly after that KISS came into my life, and Aerosmith. I always wanted to have a band that had a presentation — a stage show — and so we pursued that, and it just grew as we went along.

When we got our demo tape together, we got Impaler together as it was at the time, and recorded a demo tape. We took it to Goofy's Upper Deck, which was a den of iniquity of punk rock back then, and we gave them our demo tape and they said, "We've been looking for a band like this, a band that's into metal but sounds dirty and raw like Motorhead and Venom and stuff like that." And I was like, "That's exactly what we were inspired by, y'know?"

Andrea Swensson: Bill and Impaler also found inspiration in the early '80s punk scene in Minnesota. In fact, a couple of punk rock VIPs were in the crowd one night at Goofy's in 1983.

Bill Lindsey: Bob Mould and Grant Hart from Husker Du were at the show, and then they said, "We really love your band. We'd like to have you come and warm up our Metal Circus tour. It's going to be [the] first date at First Avenue." And we were like, "Yeah, that would be great." So, like, our fourth show we were playing in the Mainroom with Husker Du.

Andrea Swensson: Bob Mould ended up producing Impaler's album If We Had Brains... We'd Be Dangerous in 1986. But Impaler have never been renowned for their studio work — it was all about the live show.

Bill Lindsey: We wore costumes and makeup, and we had props and we had a really primitive flashpots back in the days when you could light off flashpots in clubs. We had a very caveman version of pyrotech — soup cans nailed to 2x4s. It was crazy.

Andrea Swensson: Impaler's imagery was totally grotesque, but never exactly lifelike. They were campy — on their Facebook page, Bill is credited with singing "VoKills" — and outrageous. The grislier, the better.

Bill Lindsey: Oh, we did all kinds of things. We had coffins and cages that I would come out of at the beginning of the show — break out of a cage — severed head impaled on a spear, disemboweling of a victim at the end of the show — a lot of stuff like that — kind of B horror movie graphics. Fans at the time would come up and say they'd love to be onstage and do that. We never had a shortage of victims.

Andrea Swensson: Nor did they have a shortage of critics, as Bill remembers.

Bill Lindsey: They jumped on right away with our first, Rise of the Mutants. That seemed to upset the PMRC and the Peters Bros.

Andrea Swensson: Though the PMRC, or the Parents Music Resource Center, was formed without any knowledge of the Peters Brothers' activities, they began with a similar origin story. In the spring of 1985, Susan Baker, who was married to then-Treasury Secretary James A. Baker, had an alarming revelation.

Susan Baker: Well, my husband was in government and we had lots of kids. The youngest was seven, and one day she just came to me and she said, "Mommy, what's a virgin?" I said, "What?" She said, "What's a virgin?" I said, "Honey, why do you want to know that?" And she said, "Well, Madonna was singing this song about 'touched like a virgin for the very first time.' What does it mean to be touched for the very first time?" And I just — I kind of fell out. I thought, "Oh my gosh, what is this?"

I was really upset about it. I thought, "These lyrics are just not appropriate for young kids. I just don't know why they're being broadcast all over." And I talked to several friends who'd had sort of similar experiences. And we just decided that parents — parents would just say, "Turn the music down." They weren't listening to the lyrics.

Andrea Swensson: Tipper Gore, who was married to Tennessee senator Al Gore, had a similar experience with Prince's "Darling Nikki." She joined forces with Susan and a few other like-minded women and founded the PMRC.

Susan Baker: A lot of people came to this, and we were really sort of surprised. And one of the people that came was the wife of Eddie Fritts, who was the president of the National Association of Broadcasters. So he wrote a letter to 800 station owners, alerting them to concern [from] parents about porn rock.

Andrea Swensson: In September of 1985, the PMRC headed up a notorious Senate hearing on so-called "porn rock" — the term the organization used as a warning. Along with singer-songwriter John Denver and Dee Snider from the band Twisted Sister, vanguard rocker Frank Zappa testified against the PMRC's ideas, claiming they'd lead to censorship. That's something Susan Baker refutes.

Susan Baker: Frank Zappa kind of was the spokesman, and he called us cultural terrorists because we were — you know, he felt we were government wives and shouldn't be able to do this.

And we ended up being on lots of TV programs, and we had a lot of defenders, but we sure had a lot of people in the music industry who thought we were for censorship. We had never been for censorship. We just wanted truth in labeling. You know, we just thought if I'm paying money for my kid's music products I should know if there's something that is totally contrary to our values and ideas.

Andrea Swensson: Some of those contrary ideas were on Impaler's album, and the PMRC singled the band out for attention.

Bill Lindsey: The way I became aware of it was the PR guy or the A&R guy at Combat would call me up and say, "Bill, you heard about this PMRC, right?" And I was like, "What is that?" And he said, "It's these Washington wives, and they're demonstrating against rock music, and they're trying to have hearings to have rock music censored in some way." And I was like, "I wasn't aware of it."

He said, "Did you know you were on Nightline last night?" I said no. "Because they were on there, and they held your album up and talked about your album." And then the next day, they'd call back and say, "Bill, you were on Sally Jessy Raphael yesterday," and I was like, "Oh, I was at work. I didn't see that."

And they were doing the circuit. They were trying to build up their campaign, so they were going on every major show — Phil Donahue — and they're showing our album on there. And so parents tell the kids, "You don't buy that Impaler album." When they get their lunch money, they save it up, and they go to the record store, and what do they buy? Impaler or Metallica or whatever they were told was going to be bad. So we really laughed all the way to the bank, you know?

Andrea Swensson: In the wake of the PMRC hearings, debates about rock lyrics were a hot topic for morning TV, and that's when Channel 5 invited Impaler to a debate with the Peters Brothers.

Bill Lindsey: I got a call, and it was the director at Twin Cities Live, this Twin Cities morning show that used to be on. It was a show where they'd bring in a live audience and have different guests. The director of the show called and said, "We're going to have the Peters Brothers and one of the people from the PMRC on the show, and we'd like to have you guys on there too."

They said, "Can you come down in makeup and costume?" We said "Yeah, sure." So we actually went down in full makeup and costume and sat in a special section of the audience and debated with them.

Steve Peters: By '85 we had had six years of experience, so we would take anybody on. We would take any disc jockey on. We debated many and many of the top rock promoters in the United States. They told us towards the end of our run in the Twin Cities, when they would try to interview us on talk shows, they would tell us, "We invited a number of disc jockeys or people to hold the other position, and we can't find anybody who's willing to debate you guys anymore."

But Bill Lindsey had kind of a loose screw I think, and that's probably why we sort of hit it off with him. We had heard about Impaler — they explained to us that at the end of their concert or somewhere during their concert they would impale a young woman, supposedly, and throw her guts out into the audience. We thought they were great targets.

We wanted to have a hard-nosed rocker right across from us arguing to the top of his lungs. That would bring out the best in us. So Bill Lindsey was very verbal, very articulate, so he was a formidable foe, and we did a few different things with him.

Bill Lindsey: Well, their shtick is they really like to control the conversation, so when they're asked, they kind of do a tag-team thing, and one of them will start talking and the host will try and break in, and then the other one will start talking, and they talk over you when you're trying to make a point. So you end up raising your voice and trying to talk over them to make your point, and the host would try to get things back into control. But that's how they kept people off-kilter.

The first taping, they'd say, "Look at the graphics on your album. This is sick. This is cannibalism. What are you teaching children when they look at an album like this?" They didn't know me well enough to personally attack me. I worked at a nursing home taking care of people for my day job. What do they even know about me?

We're inspired by classic horror movies. A lot of our shtick comes from "Night of the Living Dead." They'd get very mock exasperated with claims that I would make: [imitating the Peters Brothers] "Oh, come on now!" Just very Bobby the Brain Heenan or something: "Oh, that's not true!"

Andrea Swensson: The appearance went so well that Bill Lindsey was invited back a year later, in the summer of 1986, to go toe-to toe with the Peters on TV. This time, KSTP broadcast the debate from the Minnesota State Fair.

Bill Lindsey: A very wide mix of people are there. You have the teenagers who got wind of the show and what it was going to be about. There was some of that there; a lot of agricultural people, farmers that came and sat down to watch the Twin Cities Live show taping.

We were outside in the sun, but it had a canopy, and then all the people were in chairs out on the lawn area. It was full. All the chairs and everything were full. And more passersby would stop and watch.

But they were in the trailer and they were all talking about their points that they were making in their book, and this publisher and that publisher, and I was sitting in there just listening to them, and I was going "Mm-hmm, that kind of confirms my suspicions about these guys. They're making a buck."

Andrea Swensson: The host showed a clip from Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach" video.

Dan Peters: That's a great sequel to her song "Like a virgin, touched for the very first time," as she writhes around on the floor like an experienced prostitute. She tells the girls of America, "Sleep with anybody you want, have sex as often as you want, because when you find Mr. Right, you can start all over, like a virgin."

And now here's her song, "Papa Don't Preach": "I'm now pregnant, I've decided to keep my baby, don't give me no hassle, I'm gonna live my lifestyle." I mean, that's a tremendous good set of values to teach to the teenyboppers of America, don't you think, Bob?

Bill Lindsey: I was at the State Fair and we were at this trailer, and we were getting makeup put on to even up our complexions on the air. The director came to me and said, "Bill, can I talk to you for a minute?" I said sure. I went out of the trailer with him, and he goes, "Hey listen, I don't want you to get too friendly with these guys because when we go on the air — " He wanted the friction. He didn't want us to be too buddy-buddy, because I was talking to them normally in the trailer. I said, "Don't worry about it. Once the camera starts rolling, it's on." So it was a bit like pro wrestling I guess.

Bill Lindsey [from the 1986 State Fair]: Rock and roll's tired of being a scapegoat to you people. And I know you're making a living off it, you know —

Steve Peters: And you're not making a living off it?

Bill Lindsey: This is a gimmick and I know you guys know what good gimmicks are, because you're selling books and paraphernalia.

Andrea Swensson: Before the end of the show, Bill made the Peters an offer they couldn't resist.

Bill Lindsey [from the 1986 State Fair]: I want to challenge the Peters Brothers. We've invited them many times down to our shows to see us play and perform, and I just want to tell them to come down and see us Sunday night at Ryan's in St. Paul.

Bill Lindsey: It used to be called Ryan's Corner, then it became the Lab, then it became Station 4. It's down off St. Peter and 5th in St. Paul. It's a legendary metal venue.

Andrea Swensson: Not only did the Peters Brothers take Lindsey up on attending the show, they actually got onstage and introduced Impaler. But first, they organized a protest.

Steve Peters: That one was even more than protesting. We were trying to share the gospel with some of the attendees and some of the patrons. We showed up. I'm not sure we accomplished much.

Bill Lindsey: A band called Vile, which was another great metal band from the time, they went all out. They played some pornography on the wall on a little 8mm film projector. They just went out of their way to completely tick off the Peters Brothers. And we just kind of did it naturally — we didn't go out of our way.

Shortly before the music was going to start — and they were milling around with their Bibles in hand inside — I went downstairs to finish getting ready, and the Peters Bros. actually came down in the dressing room. I have a couple pictures we took of them down in the dressing room at Ryan's Corner.

Andrea Swensson: Another person in attendance that night was Allen Beaulieu, the Minneapolis photographer who'd shot the covers for Prince's early '80s albums Dirty Mind and Controversy.

Allen Beaulieu: Actually I heard from Bill, the Impaler guy, that Steve Peters was protesting that show at Ryan's that night, and I said, "Let's go out and meet him." So I took Bill the Impaler guy and the Peters Brothers guy, and we just did an impromptu photograph, and those two seemed to get along.

Bill Lindsey: Then later on I got a call from Steve, and he wanted to do a photo session and he wanted Impaler attacking him in the photo session, and he said he'd pay $500. I said all right.

Steve Peters: I needed a new promo picture, and I called him up and said, "Hey Bill, it's Steve. Would you ever appear in a promo picture — you and a couple of your band members?" He said, "Steve, we would love it. In fact, I'm friends with Prince's photographer, who just took a bunch of Prince's pictures, and I will get ahold of him and he's got a studio. We'll just go right there." And sure enough, Bill was true to his word.

Allen Beaulieu: I think outside I only took about five or six shots outdoors, and then I think when we did the studio set — of course there was a lot more rolls of film there, maybe two or three rolls of film, and if everything had gotten made up and had this story arc of the Peters Brothers shaming Impaler and all that, and Impaler kind of taking it, it was really all for fun.

Steve Peters: I took a couple of the most awesome promo pictures with those guys. Bill had blood coming out of his mouth. One of his guitarists is ready to crush my skull with a guitar, and we were going to print up thousands of those as promo pictures and send them out, and we got a call from the printer's studio and said, "Do you want us to take out this naked woman on this guitar?" We said, "Yeah, we're going to use it in churches. You probably better etch over that somehow."

Andrea Swensson: According to Steve, you can be crushing skulls one minute and shaking hands the next.

Steve Peters: You can debate someone, they can be completely on the other side of the issue, and you can be friends. You can go out to Starbucks afterwards and have a coffee with them.

Andrea Swensson: By the end of the eighties, Truth About Rock Ministries was beginning to run out of steam, and so were the Peters. Steve and Dan had begun working separately, and both had families.

Steve Peters: We had our second child. We didn't have kids for the first seven years, and then it took about three years for the second one. Having two kids whining in the middle of the night, you have to get up at 6:00 a.m. and get on some radio program. My wife stopped going out with me, so that wasn't that fun. She was raising the kids without me. I was winning the world, and then I developed vocal nodules.

I would get up in front of a crowd and I couldn't even finish sentences sometimes. A lot of rock stars get vocal nodules too, and they've got to rest their voices. I would go into some cities and they'd have me on an AM radio station at 6:00 a.m. By 9:00 a.m I might be on their local Good Morning show. Then by 10:00-10:30 I'm in the local junior high or middle school with a 35-40 minute rally. We couldn't talk about God or anything, but we could talk about sex, violence, drugs, all those things, so wise choices.

Then that afternoon, by after lunch, by 1:00-1:30, we'd be in a local high school. And then that night we'd be talking to the people who brought us into that city. They want to ask us lots of questions. And then we had a two-hour rally that night and I'd have 50-100 kids come up onstage wanted to debate, wanting to talk, and I'd be there an extra hour. So my voice was literally being used 12-14 hours a day.

And I developed vocal nodules so bad the doctor said I could only go out twice a month. I thought, "I can't even support myself doing that." So we grudgingly let it die.

Probably about '96, '97 would be our very last things. The problem with doing something on rock music, if you go out and talk to teenagers and you talk about a group that was popular last week and you're not talking about the group that's popular this week, you're a has-been and they won't even listen to you. The groups began to change so fast, we just couldn't even keep up anymore. We would hire people to do research.

I feel really good about those years. Those were hard years. They were tough years. It's a confrontational ministry. I told people, "I want to go out next time and just talk about love." First of all, it never changes, and I never had to worry about changing another slide, doing research on a new group. But I love those years of my life. I felt like we impacted a lot of lives.

Andrea Swensson: In 1990, the recording industry widely adopted the "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" warning sticker. Even now, streaming services tag songs that have explicit language. But it's harder than ever to stop the flow of art, or as some might call it, "questionable content." Susan Baker has received mixed feedback about her efforts.

Susan Baker: Things haven't really drastically improved. But we did alert people and I think it has helped a lot of parents. We have a bunch of teenagers, and they said, "Mom, what are you doing?" They thought we were nuts. And today I have people come up to me and say, "You know, I really thank you all for what you did at the PMRC, because I would never have known."

Andrea Swensson: The Peters Brothers and the PMRC's impact on the U.S. reached beyond music. Not only did they pave the way for boycotts of book series "Harry Potter" and "His Dark Materials," they also showed how easy mass media make it to spin sensationalism into profit. Talk shows and newspapers gave a platform to the outrageous — the fringe players exploiting the public's appetite for entertainment over accuracy. Something that still happens today.

["Winging It" by Lazerbeak]

Andrea Swensson: The Current Rewind is produced by [reversed] Cecilia Johnson. Michaelangelo Matos is our writer, Marisa Gonzalez Morseth is our research assistant, and Brett Baldwin is our managing producer. Okay fine, we'll stop.

Our theme music is "Winging It" by Lazerbeak from the album Luther. Corey Schreppel mastered this episode. Thanks to our guests: Steve Peters, Bill Lindsey of Impaler, Susan Baker, Chris Strouth, and Allen Beaulieu.

Well that does it, folks. This is the end of our first season of The Current Rewind. Thank you so much for checking it out. It's been a wild ride, especially this episode. If you've dug it, please go over to Apple Podcasts and leave us a rating and review, we'd really appreciate it.

Go to to find transcripts and bonus materials.

The Current Rewind is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. It is a production of Minnesota Public Radio's The Current.

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  • Playlist: The rock that fueled the Peters Brothers In the '80s, controversial St. Paul ministers the Peters Brothers traveled around America preaching about the dangers of rock music. From shock-rock to suggestive pop, this playlist compiles some of the songs that fueled the Peters Brothers' protests against rock & roll.

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