By Dana Milbank, page A1!
  Marching Bands
  Clean Up Their Acts
  Or Just Pretend To
  Squeamish Schools, Alumni
  Are Leaning on Students
  To Be Politically Correct 

   NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Harvard leads Yale by 
a field goal at half time, but the Yale 
Precision Marching Band looks as if it is 
about to even the score. 
   "Yale Band, would you please unfasten 
your zippers and belt buckles," a voice over 
the public-address system requests of the 
250 musicians in blue blazers and white 
slacks on the field. The 40,000 fans in the 
Yale Bowl are on their feet.
   "Yale Band, drop your trousers!" 
   Fourteen years ago, the band did just     [Ah, the good ol' days.]
that. Members dropped their pants during a 
half-time show televised by ABC and waddled 
off the field in diapers.
   But times have changed. Last month, band 
members again lowered their pants to their 
ankles - but only to reveal the blue jeans 
they all were wearing underneath. 
   "Boring," crowed the Harvard side, 
   And so it goes. Wary of being too 
outrageous or offensive, the once offbeat 
bands are marching to a more cautious 
drummer. Yale band members decided against a 
religion show featuring "Jesus Chrysler" and 
a "Eucharitz" cracker. Stanford suspended 
its band in the 1990 season after it angered 
a University of Oregon crowd by forming an
endangered Spotted Owl, because the band was 
deemed "insensitive" to loggers losing their 
jobs. This season, the Princeton band was 
barred from performing a skit on telekinesis 
because the administration felt the bent 
spoon would be taken as a reference to drug 
   "We're taking a different approach to 
show writing," says James Breen, the 
University of Virginia's band manager. When 
its football team met the University of 
Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl last January, 
the Virginia band trampled an Elvis 
look-a-like for its half-time show. The band 
was jeered. So when Virginia faces the 
University of Oklahoma in the Gator Bowl on 
this Sunday, the band promises to behave 
itself, eschewing chewing tobacco jokes and 
all references to square dancing. 
   Bands at most Ivy League schools and at 
Stanford, Rice University and Virginia have 
long prided themselves on being the last 
outposts of unbridled - and often uncouth - 
expression. But they are finding it 
increasingly difficult to step out of line; 
campuses have become so politically 
   Of course, the bands are not surrendering 
completely. At the Princeton game this year, 
the Yale band played a popular Michael 
Jackson song and made graphic fun of Pee-wee
Herman (the band director was attending a 
funeral that day). The Columbia band formed   [Here's the script.]
a bridge on the field at Harvard Stadium 
this season and drove a car off it in a 
Teddy Kennedy sendup. And the University of 
Pennsylvania band still manages to make the 
shape of the Eiffel Tower seem risque. 
   But clearly, the mood has changed. The 
Harvard band has canceled its Penthouse 
subscription and removed the Miller Beer 
from its soda vending machine. No longer do 
Yale band buses ring forth with limericks 
about the man from Nantucket; two of the 
three buses are now PG rated. When President 
Bush spoke at Yale's graduation last year, 
he noted that the Yale band had "cleaned up" 
for the day and has "never been better." 
   Some band members blame the taming of the 
bands on an increasingly vigilant 
administrations egged on by irate alumni.
"They just won't let us do anything," says 
senior Natasha M. Kablaoui, a drum major at 
Princeton, whose band, like many others, 
must present shows to administrators for 
review. "We've gotten more into the cute 
stuff because it's the only thing we can 
   But administrators and alumni have been 
trying to tone down the shows for years 
without success. The bands now seem to be 
censoring themselves. Seth Weinreb, a Yale 
drum major, says that is the case. "Students 
aren't as crazy now," he says.
   By the students' own choice, he adds, 
disease, war, terrorism, abortion, race and 
even the environment are no longer suitable 
for half time. In a recent memorial tribute 
to Dr. Seuss, the band planned to change the 
formation "Sam I Am" to "Sam I Was," but 
decided that was offensive and switched to 
"Sad I Am." 
   Those who refuse to march to a more 
decorous rhythm have found the parade 
passing them by. The Columbia University
band, which refuses to clean up its shows, 
has become a rag-tag aggregation of several 
dozen members (only half of whom play 
instruments), with old uniforms, battered
equipment and not much money from the 
   But what it lacks in class, the Columbia 
band makes up for in bad taste. In its 
"history reversal" show, performed at 
Catholic schools, lions are thrown to the 
Christians. "Somebody's got to hit a new low 
each week, and it might as well be us," says 
head manager Joe Schwartz. 
   While the Columbia administration doesn't 
usually censor scripts, it does review them. 
And the band, with tongue in cheek, has 
nodded to "politically correct" 
nomenclature: The university president is no 
longer termed "bald as a cue ball." He is 
"follicularly impaired" and a "person of 
   Offbeat bands sprang up in the 1960s 
mostly because the Ivy League schools 
couldn't summon up the enthusiasm, the 
musicians or the long hours of practice 
common in the Big 10. The bands quickly fell 
into smut. 
   But over the years, some believe, the 
X-rated bands had lost the sense of humor 
that once made them work. Thomas C. Duffy, 
director of the Yale band, says the jokes 
had become childish by the time he arrived 
in 1982. When the band was plotting a 
phallic symbol for its skit on the Falkland 
Islands war, he says he demanded, "What does 
that have to do with Argentina?" Now, he 
says, the band is "less nasty and 
sophomoric. There's more to be gained by not 
doing everything you think of on the field." 
   The Yale band began playing a different 
tune after 1985, when an Army official 
wouldn't let it take the field at West 
Point, calling the band "morally repugnant 
and indecent." (The show merely made 
reference to "subversives" such as Redbook 
magazine, the Cincinnati Reds, the Red Cross 
and Red Skelton.) The next year, the Yale 
band marched in straight lines and played 
patriotic tunes.                            [This is progress?]
   The Harvard band, which once fielded 
scathing Vietnam protests, now jokes about 
recycling bins. Even a Shakespearean 
reference to "by the pricking of my thumbs"
was changed to "by the twitching of my 
   Such circumspection of course puts 
pressure on the last few remaining 
renegades. "There's definitely a feeling of 
being alone in the league," says Columbia's 
Joe Schwartz. But the Columbia band isn't 
bending. "We're doing something meaningful," 
Mr. Schwartz says. "Outrageousness is our 
only goal."