Fine wine, scotch, cheddar cheese… all things that get better with age. And though we’re now light years away from Twisted Sister’s ‘Hey Day’, a couple of their epic anthems have not only stood the test of time, they’ve blossomed beyond the confines of their genre and era. Still, the mere mention of Twisted Sister often garners that same old snicker, haughty gestures mockingly appraising their accomplishments as somehow unworthy of esteem. However, their achievements as cultural icon remain. We’re Not Gonna Take It alone is engrained in the tiny glossary of tunes to grow bigger than the band itself. It is an achievement of epic proportions, unmatched by so called better, more talented rock groups.
So sitting in the dressing room at the Hudson Valley Civic Center with founder Jay Jay French, a man of 60 years who looks to be 40, when asked about the band’s legendary status he shrugs it off as unimportant, while still aware of their conquest. “Is that for anybody to decide? I guess the fact that we’ve been around for forty years stands for something. The fact that the new Betty White program Off Her Rocker just licensed I Wanna Rock as the show’s theme song stands for something. We’re doing a Mariachi version of We’re Not Gonna Take It for a Tequila commercial, and we also licensed the song to the Mexican government for another high profile project, that stands for something. So I guess history will decide if we’re legends.” Unsatisfied with Jay Jay’s modesty, I pushed him a bit more to fly the ‘Legend Flag’ for Twisted, “Those two songs are world wide anthems, anywhere in the world I Wanna Rock and We’re Not Gonna Take It cause explosions, so I guess that does denote some sort of legendary status, but on the other hand, they didn’t invite us to play the Super Bowl yet. Does that make you a legend? The Black Eyed Peas played the Superbowl, I doubt they’ll be legends.” And thus, in a roundabout way Jay Jay proves the point. I am hard pressed to remember the big hits the Black Eyed Peas pumped out just a few years ago. Twisted Sister’s hits are bigger today than they ever were. Certainly, at the very least, that fact alone puts them in the ‘Legend Ballpark.’
Oddly enough, before the events of 9/11/2001, Twisted Sister barely existed as a band. They would come together on occasion, most notably to record the song Heroes Are Hard To Find for Dee Snider’s late 90’s horror flick Strangeland, but tensions ran high and publicly unfriendly until the New York Steel 9/11 Benefit show that sparked a true reunion. Through the 90’s Dee bounced from bands such as Desperado and Widowmaker, radio gigs, and touring with the SMF’s covering the Twisted Catalogue. Jay Jay ran a successful Management company, most notably guiding the band Sevendust to 90’s success, and though he clarifies, “We all could have done without 9/11. The horror all those families had to endure doesn’t compare with any of the crap going on with my band at the time.” The event turned out to be a catalyst for their rebirth so, “I am proud of the fact that we were able to put aside all our differences for that benefit, because it was so much more about New Yorker’s for New Yorker’s than any of our problems.”
Since then, Twisted Sister are no strangers to performing charity gigs and getting involved in charitable causes. “We do a lot of these types of events. Last year we did a benefit for Uveitis research. My daughter has Uveitis, a rare eye disease. Mark and Dee do these Bikers For Babies runs to raise money and awareness for issues surrounding premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. A.J.’s involved with Fallen Blue raising money for the families of Police Officers killed in the line of duty, Eddie’s involved with Breast Cancer awareness, and even Dee’s appearance on Celebrity Apprentice is for charity and his work with muscular dystrophy.” Having had a successful career, then surviving the down times of the 90’s, Jay Jay recognizes that maybe a little bit of the ‘Golden Rule’ comes into play. “It makes you feel good to do good things for others. It’s gratifying. I don’t think we realized early in our careers that we had this power or ability to make a difference in the lives of others, to do something meaningful. It’s a give back. It’s a Karma thing. We’re connected to our community, locally and globally.” Jay Jay then stops for a moment to reflect on the reason for the show he’s about to play in a few hours, a benefit for the grieving family of John Falcone, a Poughkeepsie police officer killed in the line of duty last year. “This town represents a big part of our history. WPDH was the first radio station to ever play a Twisted Sister single, so when the promoters approached us we decided to do it because this place is part of our DNA. Hopefully we’ll make a lot of money for the family.” Officer Falcone saved the life of a 3 year old child before being slain by a deranged gunman.
But are Twisted Sister a tight knit group of brothers nowadays? As an unsigned club act in the 70’s and early 80’s Twisted were notorious for their all for one, no holds barred attitude, as quick to jump into a bar fight as they were to barrage the crowd with awesome renditions of AC/DC or Rolling Stones covers. Still, it took an invasion from foreign aggressors to get these guys back on stage again. “A band is like an Iceberg. You only see the 10 percent above water, the other 90 percent is underwater and holds it all together. When we’re on stage it is like a gang. We’ve been together a long time and we have each others back. Championship football teams don’t always have happy locker rooms, so yeah we have our clashes but it’s more because everybody has such passion for this project. I don’t care who it is though, Judas Priest, Kiss, whoever, show me a band that’s together 40 years that doesn’t hate each others guts and I’ll show you a band who isn’t worth shit. Some bands can’t get over their issues, we’ve gotten over our issues just enough. We managed to figure it out.” And that in many ways defines who Twisted Sister are not only as a band, but as people. Using Dee as the primary example, these are guys who have constantly reinvented themselves. After Twisted fell part in the late 80’s, Dee went on to a couple of critically successful bands, became a radio deejay, wrote songs and scripts, starred in a film he wrote, and survived, as did the whole band, long enough to see it too fruition. They’ve outlived the profitability and viability of most of their peers, and now enjoy the 20/20 vision of hindsight, knowing they’ve crossed the invisible spectrum of success beyond one or two hit wonder. They are two mega global cross cultural hit wonders, to which 8 and 80 year olds sing along in sports arenas, movie soundtracks, commercials, and musicals worldwide.
According to Jay Jay however, the essence of Twisted Sister is that of a “live” rock n’ roll band who built themselves over years of gigging, filling thousands of seats long before a Twisted album ever hit record store shelves. “By the time we had made it people were saying ‘look at this new thing’ but it was already old to us, we had been doing it for 10 years in the clubs. We were a 70’s band that made it in the 80’s.” And thus, he doesn’t see his band as contemporaries alongside other bands who also made their big splash in the hairspray laden decade. “We had nothing in common with Ratt, nothing in common with Motley Crue, nothing in common with Van Halen, nothing in common with anybody. We don’t even know these people. Yeah sure we’ll run across them at shows but we don’t socialize with them. We were really kind of outcasts. On the east coast it was Kiss, Twisted Sister, and Cinderella. On the west coast it was this cheesy kind of Metal stuff that was thin and really kind of a lame style of rock. We were a much more ballsy bar band. We cut our teeth in the clubs. We became a predatory entity where our main objective was to blow every other band off the stage with our performance.”
In recent years Twisted Sister has sort of made its niche. Dee Snider told me a few years back, “We know the demand really isn’t there for brand new albums, we are for the most part a nostalgia act, though I would never rule out something new. The Christmas record isn’t really new stuff, in fact it’s more of a way to market and promote our Christmas shows. We know the older fans want to remember the old times and the kids want to see what they missed, and that’s kind of where we are trying to fit in nowadays.” It is this attitude of acceptance and a sort of arrogant humility that keeps the band moving forward while remaining firmly grounded to the core beliefs in who they believe themselves to be. Jay Jay puts it like this, ” I don’t see myself as some sort genius musician or guitar virtuoso, but I am an artistic performer and I guarantee that in whatever way some other guy is better than me on their instrument it doesn’t mean anything. I will still blow them off the stage any night and every night. I celebrated my 9,000th show last year and our live performance is where we live and breathe.”
Therefore, Twisted Sister marches on, older and wiser, but still cocky as a streetwise teenager. There’s no arguing they’ve not only survived, but flourished. With a front man more recognizable than any of his 80’s peers, Dee is a star in television, films, music, and books, as noticeable today as he was in 1984 on the cover of Stay Hungry or appearing before Congress protesting the PMRC. Twisted Sister on stage and in person emit an air of authenticity that keeps them packing halls all over the world. Jay Jay ends things this way, “We’ve played in 33 countries, and most of those places over the past 10 years. The enthusiasm is incredible. Kids aren’t only singing the words, they’re singing the guitar solos. It’s amazing. We were the real deal 40 years ago, 30 years ago, and 20 years ago. As long as we keep playing, we will always be the real deal.”