"Warning: This CD could kill you." It sounds dramatic, even far-fetched, but that's the message the bands and the label behind the Free the West Memphis 3 benefit CD hope to convey: The type of music you listen to could land you on death row.
The compilation — which hits stores Oct. 10 — is an attempt to call attention to the arrests and convictions of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley — and in the case of Echols, his death-penalty sentencing. Known as the West Memphis Three, the teenagers were accused of the brutal 1993 murders of three small boys in the Robin Hood Hills neighborhood of West Memphis, Ark., in 1993 and were later tried and convicted, though there were no witnesses and no concrete physical evidence against them.
The trial, captured in the acclaimed documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders in Robin Hood Hills, saw prosecutors link Echols to Satanist writings, ignore alleged evidence that could have cleared the three boys, and call attention to the Anne Rice and Stephen King novels they read, the color of their clothes (black), and the type of music they listened to — heavy metal.
The artists and producers behind the Free the West Memphis Three CD, who include the Supersuckers, Eddie Vedder, Tom Waits, Rocket From the Crypt, The John Doe Thing, Joe Strummer + the Long Beach Dub All Stars, and Steve Earle — hope to raise money that could assist Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley in receiving a new trial.
"It seems to us the injustices stemmed from the music these kids were listening to, and the solution may come from that as well," says Danny Bland of Aces & Eights Records. Along with label partner Scott Parker, Bland became interested in the plight of the West Memphis Three through The Child Murders, as well as its sequel, Paradise Lost II: Revelations.
"It's such a music-oriented issue," Bland says of the conviction.
Supersuckers singer and guitarist Eddie Spaghetti concurs. "The thing that touches me about those guys is the fact that they could be any one of us," he says. The Supersuckers contributed two songs to the release, including one (a cover of X's "Poor Girl") with special guest Eddie Vedder.
"You've got to contribute," says legendary X frontman John Doe, whose band contributed "Hwy. 5." "If there's anything you can do to stop injustice, you've got to be there."
The WM3 will get an extra turn in the public eye when Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is released Oct. 27. Filmmaker Joe Berlinger, who, along with Bruce Sinofsky, made the two Paradise Lost documentaries, was handpicked to direct the second installment of the Blair Witch saga.
Sinofsky hopes all of the media attention will pull the plight of the West Memphis Three off "the entertainment pages [and] onto the editorial pages."
"It gives me hope that justice will be done," Jason Baldwin says of the CD, the Web site (www.wm3.org) devoted to the trio's cause, and the attention of the documentaries. "It gives me hope that the real killers will be found and the deaths of those three boys will be vindicated, and Damien, Jessie, and I will have our names cleared, and this curse will be lifted from us."