Speaking truth to power isn’t a new concept but in the form of music, the accompaniment of melody turns mere words into fucking war chants. From Aretha Franklin’s divine command of the alphabet on “Respect” to Zach de la Rocha’s belted bombs of ‘Fuck you! I won’t do what you tell me!’ on “Killing In The Name Of”, bubbling frustrations and otherworldly anger is distilled to their rawest form: the anthemic roar.
This doesn’t mean that it’s always welcomed. Look to the ancient Greeks. The Athenians invented “freedom of speech”, but Socrates was also tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by Hemlock for ‘corruption of the youth’ when he implored others to think for themselves by questioning authority (in this case, the gods). Even in 1985, one year after Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was released and 2,421 years after Socrates’ death putting hypocrisy (another Greek invention) on the map, things haven’t changed, but neither has the damn fire in our bellies to fight for what’s right.
I was just under a year old when the trio of Frank Zappa, John Denver, and Dee Snider faced down a snarling committee of the Parents Music Resource Center (or PRMC) in Capitol Hill. As an import from El Salvador, a country going through its own blood-soaked rebellion, I was far too young to realize something major was happening in my new country of America that was to change the course something that would turn out to be a lifelong love and obsession for me: music.
Only years later in the 1990s, during the formative teenage years of free thought and rebellion would I see specials on VH1 and MTV that went deep into the archival stacks to show the real backstory of some of music’s most watershed moments did I learn of the origins of the Parental Advisory sticker, a stamp I once saw as more of a badge of honor on a Cassette or CD for the artist as much as it was for the consumer. To be fair, my mother was a music teacher, and God-fearing as she is, she never restricted musical tastes in the house. (I just wasn’t allowed to watch Simpsons, lest I follow Bart Simpson into the depths of depravity. How does that work?)
Of the fifteen artists in question on this “Filthy Fifteen” list as a sort of bellwether (or rather cowbell) of what’s morally objectionable in the then-modern day music scene, Daniel “Dee” Snider stepped up to represent. The reason? The iconic music video “We’re Not Gonna Take It” portrayed “violence”. Not his song lyrics. Not his message, his music video and one could see that he was going to show Tipper Gore and the Stepford Wives of the Senate that behind his snarling, ambiguous look that is theatrical, his actual words and intentions are the real thing they should be worried about… because they speak truth to power.
Dee Snider with co-writer Frank Marrafino (Marvel Zombies) and the amazing art of Steve Kurth (Avengers, X-Force) take it from the stage to the page in Dee Snider: HE’S NOT GONNA TAKE IT, an explosive 117-page graphic tome from Z2 Comics. I sit down with the legendary rocker from Long Island and get a bit of the skinny on failed band names and the lasting effect of dunking on OG Karens for all to witness in the name of artistic freedom.
Robert Kijowski: I’m Robert Kijowski for the Workprint. I’m here with Dee Snider speaking about his new graphic novel, “He’s Not Gonna Take It.” It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.
Dee Snider: Thank you.
RK: Brio. Grit. Determination. These permeate the entire book. What was the spark of you wanting to make a visual realization about this all?
DS: Well, in all honesty, I didn’t really think about it until Z2 Comics approached me and felt that it was a great graphic novel in not just me going to Washington, but how I became that voice moment at that moment in time.
DS: You don’t just appear from the aether-
DS: You know?! It’s like I had a whole life behind me before that and I know that different people like to get their information in different ways. Like in this day and age, there are people who will not read books, but they will listen to books on tape endlessly.
RK: That is very true! Yeah.
DS: There are people who like a visual representation who don’t just want words on a page. They want to see some images go with it, so I knew that. I’m a fanboy, so I knew the graphic novel would tell the story to people who might not normally hear and know about the story. Plus, I get to be portrayed like a superhero.
RK: Oh, definitely, definitely. The art is honestly in the book is as kinetic as your music. What was it like working with a co-writer and a comic book artist?
DS: Well, credit to my son Jesse, who’s written comics at Marvel and DC and they said “Who do you want to use as an artist,” and he recommended the artist when Z2 saw him, please, look up his name [Steve Kurth]… when Z2 saw him, they said this is the guy and he did an amazing job. So, to see those- my life brought to life in that incredible comic, and by comic, not comedic but just that way those impossible shots that comics get…I wanted me on stage from an angle that I knew existed, but there was no person or camera [at the time] that could see me like that, the hand reaching up [gesticulates holding up microphone], it was just amazing and the artist really just brought the whole story to life. And that’s, I wouldn’t say the most essential part, of course, the story is, but to have something to really capture that, frenetic, you use the word frenetic energy…it is frenetic.
RK: You mention designing band logos and coming up with band names. Are there any that you remember from your youth?
DS: Sure! I mean, you know, there’s “Snider’s Spiders” and “Dusk”, D-U-S-K, which I mention in there, and “Heathen“… “Quivering Thigh“…
DS: Pretty good one!
RK: I like that one!
DS: That was from an R. Crumb comic.
RK: Oh, nice!
DS: Quivering thigh. And a horrible name that I didn’t come up with… a band called “This”. T-H-I-S!
DS: And when they told me the name of the band, I said “That’s the name of the band, THIS?” and they said “Yeah, like this is great, this is the best” and I’m like “What about this sucks??”
RK: Yes! Perfect rebuttal. The perfect rebuttal!
DS: Exactly! When I joined Twisted Sister and they wanted to change the name I said “Ohh, no. That’s money. That’s the keeper! We ain’t changing that name, Twisted Sister.”
RK: It’s got the rhyme, it’s got just the perfect amount of syllables-
DS: Yeah, everything.
RK: Now, you also touch upon a song from your childhood that immediately would make you cry. My mother actually had a song that she would sing at the piano as well that would immediately and instantaneously make me weep.
DS: Ohh.. let’s commiserate for a second… yeah, what a fucked up thing, yeah, sorry-
RK: Yeah! It’s all good.
DS: Yeah, yeah! It was “So Long, It’s Good To Know You” by Woody Guthrie!
DS: And when they [parents] realized how I reacted to the song, they would play it incessantly and laugh! They thought it was hysterical that this child was weeping! But it struck a chord with me, a sadness, but why on earth would you do that to a kid?
RK: That’s true!
DS: Why? Why?!
RK: Yeah, I totally fucking agree with you! Now you were also part of the triumvirate that was [Frank] Zappa and [John] Denver as well with the PMRC. What did it feel like watching them on screen, kicking ass?
DS: Well, I knew they would be there and I was the only one on the “Filthy Fifteen”, so we were spokespeople-
RK: You came to represent!
DS: I came to represent. Frank, you know, I knew where he would stand, and he was brilliant. But Frank and I were in the back area, John was coming from NASA, where they were interviewing him to be the first musician in space, and he was so “mom, American Pie”; we were worried that he would be against us.
DS: And as we watched him speak, his words were so profound because coming from someone appearing straight [laced], which it turns out he wasn’t, he hit very hard to the conservative people that this icon John Denver compared what was going on to book burnings in Nazi Germany!
RK: Yes! Yes.
DS: We were so happy the people were cheering.
RK: I have to honestly say, the PMRC thing was a total inspiration for me.
DS: Thank you.
RK: What does it feel like for the new legions of fans coming up to you and saying, “I’ve seen this on Youtube”? How inspiring, how inspired is that?
DS: It’s crazy that it resonated for decades. It’s taught in schools. And days go by when somebody just like walks up to me and just shakes my hand and says “Thank you!” At the time, with the exception of Frank and John, I felt very left out and hung out to dry.
DS: Most of the music industry sort of just went quiet. They agreed to the sticker. My phones were tapped. My mail was being checked.
RK: Yes, that’s nuts!
DS: Yeah, all that stuff was going on and it really felt like, “What did I do?” Part of me said, “Did you make a mistake here?” but I did what was right. So I never regret doing what’s right.
RK: I will say, I read the comic through and through; it’s a true inspiration.
DS: I haven’t read it yet, so thank you.
RK: I will say, you are a true testament. To anybody that naysays or dream-kills, you are a true testament in saying “Fuck you guys, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do, and I’m going to make it work.” Total inspiration.
DS: People, those are my words, but he heard them and he’s regurgitating them to you! And that’s what really needs to happen! People need to spread the message.
RK: Buy the book! Buy the book!
DS: Spread the message.
RK: He’s not gonna take it.
DS: And you’re not alone either!
RK: It was a pleasure talking with you, sir!
DS: Thank you!