Don't Judge A Book By Its Heavy-Metal Cover
In class when Professor Stein talked about songs and how they make people feel and their meaning, the first thing that came to mind was when Tipper Gore vs Dee Snider (the lead singer of Twisted Sister) and how some tried to create a censorship on music. This is a topic that I love, I grew up listening to bands like AC/DC, Van Halen, Twisted Sisters, Def Leppard, and other rock bands thanks to my dad giving me a intensive music library. Which makes the subject of Gore vs Snider a very interesting topic to me.
Twisted Sister was at the top of their game in 1985 when a committee calling itself the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) had singled them out, along with a handful of other artists, for purposefully making obscene music.
The PMRC ( a committee created by spouses of influential people in D.C. ) but heading the group was Second Lady, Tipper Gore who felt the songs by them and others invoked violence. They included it on a list which contained popular songs that were deemed offensive and which lead to them making the “Filthy 15”. They wanted to create a parent warning system of albums containing offensive material. This system would include letters identifying the type of content to be found in each album (ex. O for occult themes, S for sex, D for drugs, V for violence, etc.).
Music from artist like Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, Prince, Sheena Easton and others was some of the songs deemed to be offensive and called ‘porn rock’. Along with Frank Zappa and John Denver, the group's front man, Dee Snider, was one of the three musicians who was asked to speak at the hearing.
Contrary to what some would think Snider does not drink, smoke or do drugs. Even though
his (Twisted Sister) song's might make you think otherwise.
Snider loved that he was given the chance to show the world that he was not just a dumb, aggressive metal head like he thought the PMRC viewed him. Footage of his testimony shows that the senators along with Al Gore were not ready for him. Before arriving in Washington, Snider worked on his speech with his tour manager, Joe Gerber. Snider described him as a lifelong friend and a very smart man. With him and Gerber attending PMRC hearings to preparing for what was to come.
"Ms. Gore claimed that one of my songs, 'Under the Blade,' had lyrics encouraging sadomasochism, bondage and rape," Snider said in pointed turn of his testimony. "The lyrics she quoted have absolutely nothing to do with these topics. On the contrary, the words in question are about surgery and the fear that it instills in people. ... I can say categorically that the only sadomasochism, bondage and rape in this song is in the mind of Ms. Gore."
I love the clap back at Gore to say that people are going to take the song in what ever way they are feeling. I enjoy watching the testimony of him because Snider comes in all dressed up like he was about to go on stage and like he was very unprepared. With his hair all fluffed up and then in a tight pants and a worn out t-shirt. He pulled his testimony out of his pocket all folded and crumpled on just a sheet of paper like a high school student. Then he began his speech in the video above.
"I didn't have any other clothes. There was no suit in my closet. Jeans, cut-off T-shirt, cut-off denim, hair, it was, 'This is who I am.' I was very proud of being a dirt bag in high places."
In an interview, Snider was asked why he thought "We're Not Gonna Take It" was among PMRC's "Filthy 15"? He stated that he thought these women were very confused. He became aware that they had only passing glance at the content and were quick to assume. 'They just made some snap judgment.' They saw the "We're Not Gonna Take It" video, and thought he was about a father beater, it's a violent song. PMRC thought the song was about violence against adults. It was not thought very well through when picking songs.
After the hearing PMRC was successful with getting warning labels put on albums deemed obscene but some would think that this actually helped with album sales. Snider said that there were some downsides to getting the sticker placed on the album, for one to save time and money the 'sticker' was incorporated into the album art work. Then second, some music chains wouldn't and couldn't carry albums that had the sticker. It didn't necessarily halt album sales because people did not recognize what was happening. They're like, "Oh, it's just a sticker. It lets us know what the real cool records are."
Snider once said, "I've gone on to better things. While my arch nemeses Al and Tipper Gore are long divorced, while this October my wife and I will celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary. You’re damn right I’m bragging." He then went off to say, "Let it be known: if the threat of government censorship ever rears its ugly, perfectly coifed head again, I am ready, willing and able to drag my shaggy mop back into battle."
I am ready, willing and able to drag my shaggy mop back into battle."
Thirty plus years later, almost everything yet nothing has changed. The conservatives still want to dictate and control the masses with what they deem acceptable for the general public to see and hear. The record industry is a mere shadow of its former self and CDs and vinyl albums have almost become “novelties” in a world driven by downloads. Yet, the warning labels still adorn individual track listings and albums online.
Long-term, it was the first time people started to see me as having more to say than just a couple of catchy tunes. That I had a brain. A day doesn’t go by that somebody doesn’t walk up to me and say, "Thank you! For doing what you did."- Dee Snider
This shows whole situation shows that ultimately music can be interrupted differently by each of the listeners. Music has a very big impact on people and is a huge part of pop culture and without it the world would be a very quiet place.
Snider's full speech from the PMRC vs Rock hearing
#1 What are songs you know that could be interrupted as 'obscene' or 'violent' but actually have a good meaning and vice versa?
#2 With Gore vs Snider, how do you feel it has impacted the music industry?