TWISTED SISTER - Let’s Twist Again

June 22, 2009, 8 years ago

Words and vintage photos by Mark Gromen

twisted sister feature

25 years after it altered TWISTED SISTER’s landscape, thanks to the success of MTV endorsed sensation ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, an expanded, two-disc version of Stay Hungry (officially re-christened Stay Hungry – 25th Anniversary Edition) has been issued by Rhino. The second disc offers a slew of unused song ideas, as well as demo versions of tracks that ultimately made the cut. The loquacious frontman Dee Snider is what we call in the business “a good interview.” Not only does his longevity provide a wealth of speaking points (which he’s all too willing to talk about), but unlike so many of today’s introspective, guarded musicians, divulges information freely. In looking back on Stay Hungry, he offers, “It’s something I’m proud of, but to be honest, some of it sounds dated, musically. I wrote all the songs, so they’re my children and I love ‘em. I’m pleased, in listening to the extra songs. I brought at least twenty songs to the band (for that record) and some of the stuff we didn’t do is pretty fucking tight! Maybe we should have recorded two albums, like OZZY did, and just stayed out on the road, releasing a follow-up six months later.”

Although they’d had a little sniff of success in the UK: several Kerrang! articles, TV appearances and festival appearances, prior to Stay Hungry Twisted Sister was still in an us-against-them mentality. It comes through in the titles and lyrics. “You pretty much hit the nail on the head. What a lot of people don’t know (and really cracks me up when people refer to it as our sell out record, or attempt to commercialize), I had already written the essence of it when we were recording You Can’t Stop Rock N Roll! We’d just gotten a deal. We hadn’t broken out anywhere. Back then, when we were recording Under The Blade, I was working on (what became) You Can’t Stop Rock N Roll in the downtime. With no major success at that point, I’m very much in that mindset: ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, ‘I Wanna Rock’, ‘Call My Name’, ‘We’re Coming On (Like A Motherfucker)’, ‘Our Voice Will Be Heard’, ‘You’ve Got To Fight’… we were still in the trenches, struggling desperately.”

Listen to ‘Call My Name’, a prophetic cry from someone who wants to be recognized. Fast-forward two and a half decades, is there a music fan on the planet who doesn’t know the name Dee Snider? Regardless of musical contributions, he’s also indelibly etched in American history books for participation in the Senate/PMRC hearing that attempted to demonize rock n roll. “I was listening to that song thinking, ‘How crazy is that?’ Those lyrics were written in 1982. At one point during the release, I was thinking, ‘What is wrong with me that I have this need to hear my name?” Later, I kind of figured it out: being the oldest of six kids, all born close together, not sort of getting the attention at home I wanted. Yeah, I was an attention freak. When I first got back with Twisted Sister. No, actually it was I first started singing the songs again with The SMFs, I thought, ‘Holy fuck, I was pissed off! I’m really not that pissed off anymore. Dude, take a chill pill. Man you were angry.”

That animosity, when channelled proper, provoked the onstage Dee to lash out against the likes of disco, TRAVOLTA, BOY GEORGE/CULTURE CLUB, or an of the '80s pop icons, much to the delight of the crowd. Music was only half the show, the other was Snider’s diatribes. Having seen many of the reformation shows, only the recent Astoria DVD comes close to class Dee. “The best shows were when I was mad at something,” agrees the affable singer. “There was a show at Yogi Berra stadium (in Newark). It was an outdoor stadium, with a club (sized) stage and thousands of people. I was like, ‘What is this shit?’ I was on fucking fire! For the most part, I still talk onstage, but it tends to be more fun, almost comical. Some people say, ‘You look like a stand-up comedian up there.’ Thank God, with success, with hearing people call my name, I mellowed. I don’t want to be pissed off all my life. I didn’t want to be pissed off back then either. I was mad at the world. My wife said I was a miserable fucking person to be around. I’m happier now. Unless something is particularly bugging the shit out of me, it tends to more of a party, positive fun thing onstage these days. Back then, I got onstage looking for a fight. I was ready for a fight and I’d find a fight. I was definitely an angry young man!”

By their creator’s own admission, some of the bonus material is very strong. So why did these unheard tracks fail to see the light of day? Although it was the vinyl era, with a more restrictive time limit than either CD or even cassettes, Snider calmly explains (although a hint of that old animosity creeps into his voice). “Very simply. Record companies are scumbags! This is amazing. By law, it’s called statutory rate, a songwriter gets X amount of cents per song. It’s the law. Record companies, breaking the law, say ‘We only pay a _ rate,’ which means you get 75% of the legal amount, the amount you are owed, by law! You say, ‘Hey, you can’t do that. It’s the law’ and they say, ‘Then go someplace else and we’re only gonna pay for ten songs. You put any other songs on there, we’re not going to pay for them.’ I was like, ‘You fucking scumbags!’ You were taking things away from the fans, which sucked, but you were reluctant to give anything to the record company because they were fucking you. Record companies blow and the death they are suffering, they deserve. They exploit the artists. They exploit the public. Unfortunately the artists suffer more than anyone. We recorded all these songs then sit down, the band, management, good friends, our A&R; guy and voted on them. The ones that got the most went on the record.”

“I liked it,” is his minimalistic critique of ‘Prime Motivator’, which kicks off with a bit of R&B; thump. “Jay Jay (French, founding guitarist) was like, ‘Isn’t that a PRETENDERS song?” He hums the bass line. “It’s a little left of center for us. I don’t think Mark (Mendoza, bass) was a big fan of that one. I really like ‘Death Ride’ and ‘What’s Life Without You’, some of the fast ones. It’s not like I like everything. When I hear those Club Daze CDs, it’s like, ‘Holy shit, no wonder we didn’t get signed’ and I wrote all those songs! That stuff was weak, but I’m really critical.” In quotes leading up to this latest package, he’s been quoted as saying he over-wrote for each album, so might there be other batches on unfinished gems lurking in the future? “Come Out And Play, there’s a ton more music. Don’t know where it is. Love Is For Suckers, DESPERADO, WIDOWMAKER there’s so much music, but none of those records have the significance, sales wise or public interest, to warrant this whole (re-issue) deal. The record company isn’t doing this with a lot of bands. They aren’t going to do it with an album that sold gold (original Stay Hungry is 3x platinum in the USA). Maybe we’ll do some download stuff on the website, if there’s a hunger from the core audience. I’m not above doing that, but I don’t see this type of presentation for any other record.”
“What I love about that one,” begins Snider commenting on ‘We’re Coming On’, “I wrote this really catchy, almost like an (advertising) jingle hook, a commercial: ‘It’s the new Coca Cola (like a mutherfucker).’ I just loved the humor of a real catchy song with whispered phrase ‘Like a motherfucker’. For whatever reason, it just ended up not being chosen.” Odd he mentions commercial tie-ins (almost unthinkable for rock music at that time, MTV a gamble just launched), as ‘This One’s For You’ seems to be a take-off on the Budweiser catch phrase of the day. “That’s the only song I didn’t write. Eddie Ojeda (guitar) co-wrote that with me. After the royalty checks started coming in, people were like, ‘We want to write songs.’ Eddie submitted a couple of songs. He sent me the music and I did the lyrics, whatever popped into my head. It probably was the Bud commercial. At the time, there were no thoughts of being in a commercial. At the time, there was no commercial metal scene. The wall had not come down yet. It was more of ‘Hey, I took your catch phrase and this one’s for you; half a peace sign (and not the half you want either)!’ That was more the attitude.”

My how attitudes can change. Vilified for corrupting youth and his admittedly antagonistic onstage persona, Snider and Twisted Sister are making a small token of gratitude to those that were there at the start, the small, independent record store owner. “It’s tragic. The mom & pop stores that built metal, that made us, Johnny Zs store down in Jersey and the like around the country, pushing Twisted Sister. The first wave of Twisted albums came out, they weren’t in the regular (chain) store. Everyone eventually jumped on the bandwagon once the record broke, but it was the mom & pops first. As the industry has imploded, and the downloading thing has started, great little stores, the corner store, have disappeared. Those were places you not only found the record, but were exposed to (new bands) too. This is not going to change the world in any fashion, but it’s a bunch of old guys tipping their hats to the people who helped make us who we are and bring our music into the mainstream.” As a bonus, those that buy Stay Hungry – 25th Anniversary Edition through a participating mom & pop store on Tuesday, June 30th (check out the band’s website for a list of vendors), will receive an uncensored DVD of the San Bernadino, CA show from ’84. “A concert director from HBO, did all the comedy specials, approached Atlantic Records to do a concert video and two videos. It was a new world back then, video was pretty new and Atlantic didn’t see the writing on the wall. So they offered ZEBRA, INXS and Twisted Sister. The director’s son, who is the kid in the ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ video, saying ‘I wanna rock’ told his father, ‘I love this band Twisted Sister,’ so his father trusted his judgement. It was high end, state-of-the-art equipment at the time. It was put out by Embassy Home Video and shown 14 times on MTV in ’84, then Embassy folded, or fell off the face of the Earth. It was a long time finding the original, unedited version.”

“My memories of it? Honestly, we walked off the stage that night thinking it was the worst show we’d ever done. We were mortified. We thought we’d blown our only opportunity at stardom and killed our careers. I kid you not! Everything went wrong. Look closely at the back of pants. The suspenders that hold my pants up had ripped away from the pants. First song, so my bands were falling down. I’m pulling them up constantly. I had a wardrobe malfunction that was fucking up my entire show. All the guys thought it sucked, so I said, ‘Maybe nobody noticed. Don’t say anything. Let’s see what they thought.’ You’re always harder on yourself than anyone else. The (dressing room) doors opened up and everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, that was unbelievable…’ We were like, ‘Nobody say anything!’ It was the performance video that helped launch the band.”

Which brings us full circle, as the band plan to retire the costumes (troublesome as they’ve been throughout the years) after the 25th anniversary dates. “It was much debated and I’m torn both ways. I’m in my 50s and I don’t see Gene and Paul (KISS tandem) as my life models. At some point, is it too ludicrous? I look like an aging drag queen, but then I’ve always looked like one and look remarkably similar. I didn’t expect this reunion thing to go on. It’s like a fart in a paper bag, the smell never goes away. It’s taking on KISS proportions, and I mocked KISS, yet here we are entering year seven! Remember, a few years ago I announced I was leaving and then the Christmas album was a success. ‘It’s our biggest selling album since the 80s, are you really going to leave now?’ Count me in. When you see the ‘30’ video, it sort of plays off ‘The Price’ video and we rock. With or without make-up, hopefully people will be entertained.” If not? Half jokingly, punctuated by that Snider laugh, “In the long history of people who retired, came out of retirement, took off the make-up and put the make-up back on, we’ll follow Ozzy and KISS, ALICE COOPER and whoever else, ‘Quick! Put the make-up back on. This boat ain’t floating! They ain’t buying what we’re selling!”

You Can’t Stop Rock N Roll…

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