There’s a new book out by Douglas Charles, called The FBI’s Obscene File: J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau’s Crusade against Smut. David Rosen reviews that book and reveals some of what is in it, much of which is rather amusing in hindsight. From the 1920s to the 1990s, the FBI maintained what it called the Obscene File, which was a large number of filing cabinets filled with tawdry tales and evidence of sexual deviance (though ironically, Hoover did not appear in it). This part is pretty funny:
What may surprise many are Charles’s revelations about the F.B.I.’s targeting of popular music. In the 1940s and ’50s, Hoover & Co. went after what was known as “race music,” popular, non-religious African-American music. The F.B.I. considered it as a depiction of “lewd and licentious acts in obscene and foul language.” The funniest episode in the F.B.I.’s endless war against obscenity was the investigation of the 1963 rock n’ roll hit, “Louie Louie,” by the all-white teen group, the Kingsmen. Hoover got letters from Indiana’s Governor Matthew Welsh and others that the song’s lyrics were secretly obscene. Agents amassed a 119-page file and came to the momentous conclusion that the lyrics, written in a quasi-Caribbean meter, were too difficult to discern.
In his dogged scholarship, Charles offers some interesting stories about public figures who had sex-related F.B.I. files. As expected, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Alfred Kinsey had files as did pop artist and very-out Andy Warhol; surprisingly, no mention of John F. Kennedy’s well-documented sexcapades is made. But who knew about the comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello? A police informant reported that Abbott was a porn collector, allegedly having 1,500 reels of obscene motion pictures. According to another report, Costello paid two prostitutes $50 each to put on a lewd performance.
The real obscenity, of course, is a government that feels the need to pry into the sex lives of adults who have harmed no one at all.