31. Priest

Tapehead no 31

A distressing week of ruined childhoods, moral corruption and wanton acts of teenage delinquency. And, as if that was not enough, the sound of Judas Priest.
You remember the case (brilliantly depicted tonight on Fine Cut: Dream Deceivers). Reno, Nevada, the families of two teenage Priest fans, victims of a suicide pact in 1985, sued The Priest for “mesmerising their sons” and inspiring the suicide attempt by inserting backward subliminal noises into their music that implored fans to “Do it, do it”.
The real victims of the case, though, are the poor souls on the jury, who are forced to endure not only numerous graphic descriptions of the shooting of teenagers James Vance and Ray Belkep, and the tawdry details of their dead, short lives, but a barrage from the court’s ghetto blaster.
The sight of Rob Halford in person belting out a few choruses from the witness stand could adversely affect them for years to come.
Belkap died instantly, but Vance survived. Hideously disfigured, his appearance, and his description of the incident, gives the film a shocking pathos.
He botched the suicide, he says, because the 12-gauge was “greasy and slippery with Ray’s blood.”
He still goes to the scene of the suicide.
“I talk to Ray like a dead person. I don’t expect an answer.”
The band complain in their beautiful transatlantic/ Brummie brogue that “people don’t appreciate we’re human beings with feelings like everybody else. But we don’t all sing about love.”
Court footage shows how Priest’s lawyers defend the charge, unceremoniously trashing the kids’ families, despite their Born Again background.
The boys’ mothers admit their sons “fantasised about being murderers… They shot a cat with a dart gun, a sharp dart… They stole, fought, and [on no!] went to Oklahoma.”
A terrible taste of everyday America.
Meanwhile, back in Brum, Tabloid Truth portrays more dead teenagers, and more sensitive souls in the media with the morals of barracudas, in a look at News Team, a tabloid news agency that syndicates stories to the Daily Sport, Sun, Mirror, etc. Even the Church Times.
The agency reporter on a story about a dead joyrider complains that the teenager’s mother is too distraught to be interviewed: “The only thing I’m hoping might break it for us is she’s going to the doctor and I presume she is going to be put on sedatives…”
People at the agency rub their hands with glee when a copper in Coventry is beaten up and in a coma.
“They’re quite sexy in a way – Beaten-Up Copper Stories,” says the reporter selling the story to the tabloids.
Later the copper’s condition changes.
“Fighting for life at all ? No ?” His disappointment is palpable.
Light relief is pretty thin on the ground until someone turns up a piece about an ex-Sgt-Major-turned-Drag-Queen: “Blonde Stunner is Gunner Alf, 75. 36-D-Day Queen, War Hero Alf – Britain’s Oldest Drag Act.”
An everyday tale of folk in Birmingham basically.
Life Stories follows the trials and tribulations of devout Pentecostalist, and single-mother Beryl Mitchell from Halifax, as she watches over her four sons – in particular Stephen, who at 19 has been going straight for six months after several stretches in young offenders’ institutions
Like the tearaways in Reno, Stephen’s room is covered with Heavy metal/comic book images. And like them, Stephen’s poor mother is singing her heart out at church meetings. Perhaps a pattern is emerging.
The BBC are prepared. They’ve got a free and confidential Family Helpline on after the programme (0800 500 800) for Priest fans with Christian mothers and vice versa. Give them a ring. If you can get through.


Fine Cut: Sat, 9.25pm-10.25pm, BBC2
Life Stories: Tue, 8pm-8.30pm, BBC1
Inside Story: Wed, 9.50pm-10.40pm, BBC1