photo by: Frank Schwichtenberg, via Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/
The mid-’80s were a wild time for the music industry. If you were alive back then, you were fortunate enough to experience the confluence of maturing 1960s rockers and next-generation musicians as they collectively pushed the norms of the time. Some of the most memorable music of our lives was composed during this period. However, there was another phenomenon picking up steam during this era. In tandem with unforgettable breakthrough music was a surge of pro-censorship discussion, as music was pushing the bounds of decency in almost every genre. In short order, Americans found themselves at their kitchen tables trying to figure out what this all meant for society and their families. My household was no different.
As I approached my early teen years, “gangster” rap quickly emerged as a dominant force in the music industry. Before the memorable NWA hit the scene in the late 1980s, the boundaries of decency were already being tested by acts such as Public Enemy, Gang Starr, BDP, and others. In the mid-’80s, no one had heard the kind of language and anger these groups were releasing. Half of what was being recorded wasn’t even that good. But the energy (and language) was unprecedented, so if you were in middle school, you knew you had to get a copy of this and hear it for yourself. Which, of course, I did.
At the time, music sharing came in the form of handing your friends blank cassette tapes so they could dub copies for you overnight. As an efficient network of older brothers and sisters helped set up the first peer-to-peer music sharing system, younger kids like me were getting their hands on entirely inappropriate and deviant music without much trouble. All of us had a feeling that this new music was wrong – sinister, even – but we had to get our hands on it…and we did.
Just as our little music-sharing platform was picking up steam, government forces were amassing on the Hill as concerned parents were getting hip to what was going on. However, rap wasn’t in their crosshairs quite yet as MTV was helping to push Rock and Pop into the spotlight. The leader of the censorship movement was Tipper Gore, who, along with a block of concerned parents, was recommending, among other things, the addition of “Parental Advisory – Explicit Content” labels on problematic music. The resistance movement was led by rocker Dee Snider—who was much brighter than he appeared to be.
All this made for great television as the long-haired rock star went toe to toe with the establishment. As my parents watched the nightly news cover the story, my underground music-sharing activity was only weeks away from getting the plug pulled. When they eventually did come for my collection, they took it all. It was embarrassing since I knew it was “bad” music – unsuitable material for my age group. (The most painful of confiscated items was a first-release LP of License to Ill, which I actually bought with my own money. To make it hurt even more, License to Ill was likely the most benign recording I had in my stash).
Last week, Dee Snider returned to the news cycle out of nowhere. His main issue seems to be the GOP’s use of his band’s hit song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” at rallies. Dee is clearly not happy and uses wild terms such as “MAGA Fascist” to lash out at members of the GOP who he clearly disapproves of using his song. Maybe he has some legal ground, maybe not. We’ll leave it to Dee and the legal system to work that out, but watching a once-honored defender of freedom side with the party in power is mind-blowing.
It’s even more confusing to watch Dee struggle to reconcile his opinions with The US Constitution. 38 years ago, Dee was an ardent defender of the 1st Amendment, but today he is all over the map on constitutional matters as he seemingly joins Beto and the anti 2nd Amendment movement. To complicate matters, Dee is also speaking about the recent ruling on the Dobbs abortion case, showing his complete lack of understanding of the Constitution and State’s rights in the process.
As this gains momentum, I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch Dee Snyder sing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” in defiance of the fascism he sees within the minority party. He’s not the resistance anymore, he is part of the machine, and he seems to not have a clue. We’re not gonna take what, Dee? The manipulation of young people with tax-funded CRT and gender bending “education” in our schools? Government’s use of the private sector to enforce compliance during Covid? The open southern border? The deteriorating family unit? Ceaseless encroachment on gun rights? The sacrosanct virtue of the right to abort life? Massive expansion of the welfare state? Cultural rot, in general? Like so many others in the current age, it doesn’t appear that Dee understands what fascism actually means. It’s not a throw away word at the cocktail party.
It’s sad to watch Dee fumble around at this stage of his life but it’s also not unprecedented. With Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and others paving the way before him, these once great revolutionaries are totally, 100%, in denial that they are part of a power structure that has been calling the shots for a very, very long time.