(photo: Associated Press)
Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider is not at all ashamed to admit he and Donald Trump are friends. That explains why Snider allowed the leading Republican presidential candidate to use Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” while swaggering down the campaign trail. Yet Snider implied to Yahoo Music that he will not vote for Trump come election time.
“Would you nominate or elect any friend you have as president of the United States?” Snider rhetorically asks. “My best friend is legally insane. He gets checks from the government. I’m not voting for him. He’s my best friend. There isn’t a friend I have, and I love them all dearly, that I would want to see become president of the United States. Donald Trump is a friend. I’ve done nothing to not be friends with him and he’s done nothing to not be friends with me. Again, I value all my friends. They’re great. But I couldn’t imagine any of them becoming President.”
Having said all he has to say about the Presidential race, the only politics Snider wants to talk about are the politics of Twisted Sister, which director Andrew Horn accurately chronicled in his new film We Are Twisted F—ing Sister!, which hits select theaters February 19 and comes out on DVD February 23.
To date, Twisted Sister remain best known for their outrageous, triple-platinum 1984 metal album Stay Hungry, and the 1985 Senate hearing, in which Snider, Frank Zappa, and John Denver spoke to representatives and the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) about the dangers of rating rock albums. But there’s a lot more to the Twisted story.
We Are Twisted F—ing Sister! tells the captivating tale of a suburban New York bar band that bashed around the local circuit for 10 years before getting signed to a ramshackle German label. The movie addresses the various pre-Snider members who joined the band and the persistence and tenacity it took for Twisted Sister to reach the top of the metal heap. And the movie ends well before the band goes national, let alone multiplatinum.
“This is the unknown story about Twisted Sister,” Snider says. “We’re not the group that jumped on the hair-bandwagon when we released Stay Hungry. We had two records before that and we were around a decade before then. This is the band that physically built the hair-bandwagon. We made it and then everybody else got onboard.”
During the years the group struggled to get signed, Snider and guitarist/band founder Jay Jay French engaged in vicious verbal infighting as the two vied for control. When he proved he had the most charisma and could write the best songs, Snider won the battle, but not without considerable frustration.
“Jay Jay became my nemesis within my own band,” Snider says. “He was the motivation and driving force for me to write songs, to be better and basically show him that I had what it took, because I felt he treated me poorly in the early days of the band.”
In retrospect, the rivalry was inevitable. Everyone else came from New York; Snider grew up in Long Island. And while he had possessed the right showmanship, shamelessness, and never-say-die attitude to propel the cross-dressing group to stardom, he was aggressively ambitious from the start and French wasn’t about to release the Twisted helm.
“When I joined the band I was younger than the other guys and was this innocent rube from the suburbs,” Snider says. “I remember going to pick up Jay Jay and [guitarist] Eddie [Ojeda] in New York the first time and I was terrified. Jay Jay lived near Harlem and I was literally afraid. So they looked at me as the rube that I was. But unfortunately or fortunately for them, that rube had a chip on his shoulder and wound up taking over the band and pretty much owning the show. I had something to prove and that helped the band get where it needed to go, ultimately.”
Some scenes in the movie depict Twisted Sister onstage in full drag performing covers of songs by David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and Velvet Underground. Others illustrate Twisted Sister using their creative and dramatic abilities to win over the crowd, waging anti-disco campaigns, inventing gong show displays, and pioneering drink-’til-you-puke contests.
“We were playing at the height of the disco era, and rock bands couldn’t get arrested back then, let alone get work, and we were doning three or four sets a night every night of the week,” Snider says. “The only way to get work was to play covers, and the only way to win over an audience was to do things other bands weren’t doing and get them into your performance by putting on your own freak show.”
While We Are Twisted F—ing Sister! is a revealing showcase of a band struggling against the odds to thrive in climate that didn’t favor commercial metal, the film overlooks the physical adversity the band faced from drunk or intolerant crowd members.
“As the frontman, I would be the one who would be jumping off the stage getting into a fight,” he says. “You’re wearing women’s clothing and you’re playing biker bars. You had to prove your mettle or you’d be run out of town on a rail. And you had to stand up to the challenge if you were going to earn your place in those tough clubs.”
Snider says in the early days of the band he would get into some at least one fight every single night. And he claims he accidentally invented stagediving while leaping into the crowd to reach an audience member who had thrown a bottle at the band.
“Since stagediving had not been really done before, smartly the crowd of 1,000 people parted and allowed me to hit the floor,” Snider says. “So I got bumps and bruises from that, but ultimately won the day. Another time, there was an altercation where I was in some Adirondack backwoods tour and I got into a fight with some local yokels who showed up 20-strong with axe handles and bats and were waiting for the band to come out. We had to be escorted out of town by armed guards with guns drawn. These people wanted to kill me.”
Snider made another narrow escape after he called out a group of Hell’s Angels who were standing in the crowd with their arms crossed. “I didn’t realize they were Hell’s Angels,” he says. “The spotlights were in my eyes. “That didn’t work out too well.”
The downfall of Twisted Sister is hinted at in We Are Twisted F—ing Sister! but never explicitly outlined. Here’s the quickie outline: After Stay Hungry exploded and the band became MTV darlings, the mainstream thought they were degenerates, druggies, and everything good, God-fearing American parents warned their kids about. In reality, the two leaders of the band, Snider and French, were straight and sober, and Snider was happily married.
“In the beginning, I actually kept my sobriety a secret,” Snider says “It was like being closet gay. I’m closet sober. People could accept me wearing stockings and garters and a negligee and a face full of women’s makeup if I was high. But if I was sober? They were like, ‘What’s wrong with you?!?’”
The PMRC hearing was the final straw for Twisted Sister. On some level Snider’s articulate testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee was a triumph that demonstrated the rocker’s intelligence and revealed him as a role model status for those liked to rock but didn’t party. At the time, however, there weren’t too many of those, and fans were discouraged that Twisted Sister weren’t the “real deal,” so they turned their attention to bands like Mötley Crüe.
“Their singer Vince Neil could go and literally kill someone in a car accident,” Snider says. “There were two other women who were in a van who were permanently crippled from that famous car accident that killed Razzle from Hanoi Rocks. And people are cool with that. They’re like, ‘Yeah, al right! Rock ‘n’ roll!!’ And the guy didn’t do any serious jail time. [Neil was sentenced to a 30-day sentence and was released after 20]. I’m like, ‘Really? Really? He’s a murderer.’ I don’t get that at all.”
While Twisted Sister continued to record albums and tour after the PMRC hearing, their record sales dropped precipitously and their audiences got noticeably smaller. “We became posterboys for everything that was wrong with rock ‘n’ roll for the parents, but the kids knew we were the least offensive of bands, and they wanted lifestylers. They want people who are as f—ed up offstage as they are onstage. And I can’t deliver that. I can’t be that dancing monkey for people.”
In 1988, after being dropped by their label, Twisted Sister broke up. It wasn’t just the absence or tour support or income that hastened their demise. The infighting between Snider and French grew intolerable and drained the joy away from being in the band.
“We had 10 years leading up to four years in the spotlight and then the band just fell apart,” Snider says. “And I think that’s partially due to the fact that it took so much energy on our part to get to where we were going, by the time we got there the problems we had that we had previously set aside to reach out goal, came back with a vengeance. Now that the common enemy was removed we turned to each other and started saying, ‘Now, about that thing you said about me…’ The infighting got ridiculous, and that was the beginning of the end.”
A decade after breaking up, Twisted Sister recorded a song for Snider’s horror movie Strangeland. Then, in November 2001, the band reunited to play a benefit show for the victims of 9/11.
They got back together for other shows and recording projects through the years, including the 2006 holiday album A Twisted Christmas. Then in March 2015, drummer A.J. Pero suddenly died while onboard another group’s tour bus, and Twisted Sister embarked on a farewell tour with Winery Dogs drummer Mike Portnoy. While the band will continue to play occasional one-offs, Dee insists their touring days are over.
“Fortunately, not partying for all those years allowed me to save enough brain cells to ensure I still have a life and career,” Snider says. “I’m doing a radio show and movies and who knows? Anything could happen at any time.“