On December 23, 1985 two Heavy Metal fans from Sparks, Nevada, USA – 18 year old Raymond Belknap and 20 year old James Vance – attempted to commit suicides with a sawed-off 12-guage shotgun by a church in Reno. Raymond Belknap went first and successfully killed himself by blowing his brains out. James Vance attempted to do the same but only blew much of his face and frontal brain lobes off, turning his suicide attempt into an utter failure.
In the summer of 1990, James Vance’s family decided to sue Judas Priest, claiming that the band’s songs contained subliminal messages which enticed the listeners into committing suicides. They said Judas Priest was to blame for the deaths of Raymond Belknap and their son James Vance, who died 3 years after the shooting.
James Vance’s mother hired a lawyer whose job was to persuade the judge that the Judas Priest song “Better By You, Better Than Me” from the Stained Class album contained a “Do It” subliminal message. I don’t suppose Nike had their slogan going back then cause they would have gotten sued too.
Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance Vs. Judas Priest is a full name of the 1991 documentary by David Van Taylor that covers the trial and contains interviews with family members of the victims. Although said victims were only victims of their own uselessness as well as uselessness of their failed parents who brought up failed kids. Luckily, that’s also the way judge Jerry Whitehead who presided the trial saw it and the case was dismissed. Good riddance.
One of the ludicrous arguments brought up by the family was that if you played certain Judas Priest songs backwards, you could hear subliminal messages. I’ve listened to Heavy Metal, as well as Classical, Jazz, Blues, Industrial, and all kinds of other musical styles except mainstream pop for 3 decades and have yet to play myself a song backwards. I mean – who the hell exactly listens to music backwards?
It’s also quite convenient that of all the entities they could sue, the family picked a successful band – I suppose they realized that the only solid chance at making money from their son’s deaths is by suing someone who had money to begin with. Suing someone who’s broke or just about getting by won’t necessarily fill the plaintiff’s bank account even they you were to win. Suing someone with assets is the key.
Although I’m pretty sure that in this case, suing someone was also the way for the families to make themselves look like the victims. You bring up a failed kid who fucks up in life, then you as a parent are to blame. Unless of course you can successfully strip yourself of this responsibility by suing someone and all of a sudden your failed parenting is off the radar cause you put blame on a superficial bad guy. It’s a very disingenuous way to not account for your own mistakes. And by listening to what James Vance’s mother says in the video it’s pretty straightforward to assume that she’s in denial about what was really going on with her son and with Ray Belknap.
It also must be taken into an account that music of Judas Priest has been listened to by millions of people, yet it’s only these two nutters who offed themselves. I mean seriously – you want to blame a band for their deaths? Those boys had a history of alcohol and drug abuse, dropped out of school, their employment history was spotty at best and both were gun snackbarists (a gun at home = someone’s gonna get shot)… Plus their single mothers were failures start to finish. But hey… let’s blame Heavy Metal music and Judas Priest.
According to court records, in the two years before the shooting, James Vance had fled from his home 13 times. He was an only child who had no contact with his biological father and did not get along well with his adoptive father, a recovering alcoholic Emmit Vance.
His mother admitted that she had hit James often when he was young. James, in turn, assaulted her on a number of occasions and when he was 8 year old, choked her. Later when he was older, he pointed a loaded gun at her head and threatened to shoot her.
Raymond Belknap, like James Vance was a child of a single mother (aka a failed woman). He had three stepfathers and was beaten by the third. He was on probation for theft and under investigation for animal torture after shooting at neighbor’s animals with a dart gun.
“Well… do what? Mow the lawn? Have a cup of tea?” – that was Rob Halford’s response to the accusation that when played backwards, the song “Better by You, Better Than Me” contained the “Do It” subliminal message.
Check out Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance Vs. Judas Priest documentary below: