Dee Snider got chills when he checked out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum’s new Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics exhibit that opens to the public on Friday. And it wasn’t just because he’s part of it.
“It wasn’t just seeing my stuff — it was seeing THE stuff,” Snider tells Billboard. “They’ve got Hendrix‘s guitar that he played ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ on at Woodstock, John Lennon‘s guitar he played on ‘Revolution’ and the (Apple Corps) rooftop concert. It was just, ‘Holy crap — this is literally rock ‘n’ roll history, and to see it connected to politics like this is so cool.” And he was surprised by the non-partisan nature of the exhibit.
“It’s not just a lefty thing or a righty thing,” says Snider, who was in Cleveland Thursday for a pre-opening event where he spoke and played an acoustic version of Twisted Sister‘s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” “It’s not like the Republican convention is coming here (in July) and they’re going to walk into this big lefty display. (Ronald) Regan is prominently displayed. So is Bush. So is (Bill) Clinton. So is (Barack) Obama. Rock’n’roll has definitely represented all the people’s views and voices throughout history, on both sides. It’s never been just left or just right, so this covers everything.”
In addition to the Hendrix and Lennon guitars, “Louder Than Words” includes: handwritten lyrics for Bob Dylan‘s “The Times They Are a-Changin‘,” Neil Young‘s “Ohio,” Bruce Springsteen‘s “Born in the U.S.A.,” Green Day‘s “American Idiot” and more; artifacts from the Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall and the Kent State University shootings; and correspondence between the F.B.I. and Priority Records regarding N.W.A. The exhibit also includes video interviews with a wide range of artists, and its tenure at the Rock Hall — through Nov. 27 — will include special events, including a screening of the documentary Free To Rock: How Rock & Roll Helped End The Cold War on June 29. The exhibit moves to the Newseum in Washington, D.C. for a Jan. 13 opening to coincide with the presidential Inauguration.
Snider, of course, is included in the exhibit for his testimony in front of the 1985 Parent Music Resource Center Hearings on Censorship, which also heard from Frank Zappa and John Denver — the last thing he expected to be doing as a rock singer. “I sort of thought, ‘OK, I’m gonna be a rock star and live happily ever after, whatever that means — not as a part of history,” Snider recalls. “But when I was asked to testify I viewed it as carrying the flag into battle for the rock ‘n’ roll army, so I jumped at the opportunity. Turns out I wasn’t leading an army; There was nobody behind me with the exception of a couple of other people (Frank Zappa and John Denver, who also testified). Rock fans were pretty apathetic, the rock community rolled over, the RIAA caved before we even opened our mouths.”
The RIAA, in fact, had agreed to a modified version of the warning sticker the PMRC was demanding, which left Snider and Zappa mystified. “We were like, ‘What are we doing here, then? What are we testifying for?” Snider says. And despite initial misgivings that he had committed “a career misstep” by testifying, Snider is proud in retrospect. “At the time parents were like, ‘OK, go see that Motley Crue but we don’t want you going to see that Twisted Sister!’ We were the poster child for everything (the PMRC) was saying was bad about rock’n’roll,” Snider remembers with a laugh. “But I’m extremely happy with my position, and I did the right thing. At the end of the day it was what needed to be done, and through the passage of time I’m viewed very positively for it.”
Thanks to Donald Trump’s candidacy, Snider and Twisted Sister have been in the political arena again during this year’s presidential campaign. Snider, a friend and former Celebrity Apprentice contestant, initially gave Trump permission to use “We’re Not Gonna Take It” at campaign rallies but subsequently asked him to pull it. “It wasn’t an endorsement. We all have friends who have different views politically but you can go on vacation with them,” says Snider, who will be playing 12 40 and F*** It Twisted Sister farewell shows this year and is releasing a solo album, We Are The Ones, in July.” “But I had to ask him to stop using the song. I said, ‘I didn’t realize some of the things you were going to represent — the wall, banning Muslims. I can’t get behind some of these things,’ and he said ‘OK’ and stopped using it and that was it.” But Snider is as blown away as anyone else that Trump has gone from maverick outsider to the presumptive Republican nominee.
“I think the situation is generally awful; We’ve got the most despised person in presidential campaign history vs. the second most despised person,” Snider says. “It’s basically coming down to Never Clinton vs. Never Trump. Do you want him in office? Do you want her in office? Well, if not just vote for the other guy. It’s a pretty sad state of politics.”