Column: Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider to MAGA ‘fascists’: Write your own damn songs
Dee Snider’s Message to Trump-Supporting Republicans
Last week, Dee Snider, the frontman for the 1980s heavy metal band Twisted Sister, made it abundantly clear how he felt about Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and other Trump-supporting Republicans using his iconic song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” at their campaign rallies. Snider took to Twitter to address the issue, directing his message at what he referred to as “QANON MAGAT FASCISTS.”
Snider’s tweet read, “Every time you sing ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ remember it was written by a cross-dressing, libtard, tree-hugging half-Jew who HATES everything you stand for. It was you and people like you that inspired every angry word of that song.”
In another tweet, he specifically addressed Kari Lake, saying, “Write your own damn song.”
Snider’s message was unequivocal and found widespread support. If the person who penned “We’re Not Gonna Take It” feels that its meaning is being distorted and does not want his song associated with a particular campaign, then the logical step would be to respect his wishes and find an alternative.
Campaign songs have a long history in American politics, dating back to the earliest days. They were initially designed to spread the candidate’s message to voters who couldn’t read. For example, John Adams campaigned to the song “Adams and Liberty” in the election of 1800, while Abraham Lincoln used “Battle Cry of Freedom” during his 1864 campaign amidst the Civil War.
In the modern era, campaign songs are less about specific messages and more about rousing and motivating voters, driving them to the polls. These songs are often characterized by their uptempo, driving, patriotic, and anthemic nature, with a deliberate lack of specific details. Their purpose is to create a mood and stir emotional reactions among listeners.
For instance, during the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt adopted the rousing song “Happy Days Are Here Again” as his theme, as it promised better times ahead. In 1960, Frank Sinatra recorded a reworded version of “High Hopes” for John F. Kennedy’s campaign, using its message of optimism to inspire supporters.
“We’re Not Gonna Take It” falls into the category of songs that express anger and frustration, urging people to stand up against perceived injustices. Its power lies in its ambiguity, allowing listeners to interpret it in their own way while still resonating with their shared feelings of discontent.
Dee Snider’s Experience with Campaign Songs
Having been a part of the music industry and covering political campaigns, Dee Snider has witnessed firsthand how candidates use campaign songs to create an atmosphere and connect with their audiences. Snider recalls his experience covering candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, where he observed Clinton entering the stage to the sounds of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” repeatedly.
While Fleetwood Mac didn’t object to having their music used for Clinton’s campaign, other artists have not always been as agreeable. Bruce Springsteen, for example, launched a rebellion against President Reagan in 1984 after Reagan mentioned his name during a campaign stop in New Jersey. Springsteen felt that his lyrics did not align with the conservative president’s message.
Springsteen had previously denied Reagan permission to use his hit song “Born in the USA” as a campaign song, and he pointed out that if Reagan had actually listened to the lyrics, he probably wouldn’t have wanted to use it. This incident sparked a series of conflicts between liberal songwriters and Republican candidates.
Other examples include Bobby McFerrin refusing to let George H.W. Bush use “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in 1988 because McFerrin supported Democrat Michael Dukakis for president. In response, Bush used “This Land Is Your Land” instead, a move that likely had left-wing rabble-rouser Woody Guthrie turning in his grave.
In 1996, GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole used “Soul Man” but altered the lyrics to “Dole Man,” leading to complaints from Isaac Hayes and his co-writer, who did not want to be associated with endorsing the Republican candidate. They threatened to sue for $10,000 every time the song was played, prompting the campaign to back down.
In 2008, Jackson Browne sued Sen. John McCain for using “Running on Empty” in a TV spot, ultimately winning a settlement and a public apology.
Donald Trump also faced backlash from various artists for using their music at his rallies. For instance, Neil Young objected to Trump using “Rockin’ in the Free World” in 2020, stating that he supported Bernie Sanders, whose initials are “BS” (not his policies). The Rolling Stones also sent numerous cease-and-desist letters to Trump for using their song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
The legal issues surrounding the use of songs in political campaigns are complex. Rules for using songs in political ads differ from those governing live rallies. Additionally, rules for big arenas and commercial venues vary from those for public spaces. Moreover, rules for using snippets of songs differ from those for using entire songs.
While campaigns often purchase blanket licenses through performance rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI, which allow them to use a wide range of music without seeking individual permissions, there are situations where artists can successfully object to the use of their work.
However, sometimes artists resort to social media and public shaming as the most effective course of action.
Dee Snider’s Message to Trump-Supporting Republicans: Write Your Own Songs
Dee Snider’s message to Trump-supporting Republicans remains clear: if they wish to use his song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or any other artist’s work, they should respect the artist’s wishes, especially if it goes against their ideologies. Snider’s suggestion to “write your own damn song” serves as a reminder that artists have the right to control the use of their creations and express their disapproval when their work is associated with political campaigns they do not support.
Dee Snider’s outspoken stance highlights the ongoing tension between artists and politicians who appropriate their music for campaign purposes. While some musicians are open to their music being used by politicians they align with, others firmly object, leading to legal disputes and public controversies.
The power of music in politics should not be underestimated. Campaign songs have the ability to inspire, motivate, and convey messages to voters. However, it is essential to respect the rights of artists and their intentions when using their work in a political context.