Twisted Sister: An Unpublished History
By 1984, MTV had begun to rival radio in terms of its importance as a tool for breaking new acts. And as far as the network was concerned, the more outrageous a band’s look, the better. As a result, in the early Eighties a new wave of image-conscious glam-metal acts, which included bands like Motley Crue, Ratt and Quiet Riot, was benefiting enormously from heavy MTV exposure. But none of these bands embraced the concept, and potential, of the video as expertly as did Twisted Sister. Their clips for the Stay Hungry tracks “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” were three-minute slapstick comedies, full of humorously over-the-top violence and colorful, larger-than-life characters. Both featured the band members, in full glam regalia, facing off against a parent/teacher authority figure in a Wile E. Coyote-type battle of wills, and were set to a perfect pop-metal soundtrack. The songs, like all of Twisted Sister’s recorded material, were penned by Snider, and like the majority of his work, were anthemic, catchy and ideal for riling up a club full of SMF’s; now they were stimulating kids in their living rooms all over the country. After more than a decade of struggling, Twisted Sister had finally found their moment. In what seemed like overnight, Twisted Sister were famous, their faces plastered in every magazine and all over television.
But it was one person’s face in particular. As the band’s star rose, Snider’s exploded. Being the frontman, this was, to some degree, expected. But given Snider’s natural exuberance and gregariousness, he gradually began to be perceived as a personality separate from his band, and became a celebrity in his own right. (It didn’t help matters that the Stay Hungry album cover, originally conceived as a full-band photo, in the end featured only Snider, a crazed look on his face and wielding an oversized bone). Resentment began to set in. “The rest of us wouldn’t have cared if Dee had bothered to, you know, at least acknowledge that he saw what was going on, and the role that we all played in making it happen,” says French. “But he didn’t. He just ran with it.”
“Certainly I was a megalomaniac,” says Snider. “But I always had been. It just got worse when I was proven right. Here I was writing all these songs and driving this vehicle, and then all of a sudden I was getting all the attention as the songwriter, the crazy one, the frontman, the creative force. And that really alienated the rest of the band. It’s really unfair, but that’s how it is in most cases.”
In addition to a marked discrepancy in terms of the amount of attention the band members received, there was also a widening financial gap. As Twisted Sister’s sole songwriter, Snider was reaping the majority of the monetary rewards from their newfound success. “By the time we got a deal I had written 100 songs or so, and no one ever questioned that they were my songs,” he says by way of explanation. “Then all of a sudden they had value. But as far as publishing, no one asked [for a percentage], and if they did I wouldn’t have shared it—I didn’t feel that I had anybody to share it with. They were clearly my songs. And the other guys was never discouraged from submitting their own, they just never did.”
When all was said and done, Stay Hungry had sold upwards of two million copies and produced three hit singles. But, says French, what should have been a triumphant moment felt like anything but. “I think Stay Hungry was a dividing line. As the record got bigger and bigger the band got unhappier and unhappier. I remember the day I was told it was double platinum. I was like ‘Yeah? So what.’ After all that time, I didn’t even care. I was pissed off that I couldn’t enjoy it. I mean, people think of us as an Eighties metal band, but we weren’t. We were a Seventies bar band that happened to make it in the Eighties—we had absolutely nothing in common with guys like Motley Crue and Dokken. I was already 30 years old, and we had played so much, and done it for so long.”
Twisted Sister was on the outs without one another, and also feeling increasingly disconnected from the poppy hair-metal scene they were now a part of. “In the new MTV world, we quickly became defined as the ‘Teen Anthem Band,’ ” says Snider. “And that was detrimental to our longevity.” Veteran Twisted Sister fans had become disenchanted by the band’s now cartoonish image, while, on the other hand, inflammatory watchdog organizations like the Tipper Gore-led Parents Music Resource Center were attacking them (along with acts like W.A.S.P., Motley Crue and AC/DC) for incorporating what they deemed to be inappropriate lyric content and imagery in their songs. This led to an unusual moment in September, 1985, when Snider, dressed in jeans and denim jacket, his long hair flowing wildly and teeth shaved into fangs, appeared on the floor of the U.S. Senate, alongside Frank Zappa and John Denver, to defend his band. In one particularly humorous exchange, Senate member and future vice president Al Gore, in response to Snider’s proclamation that his band’s fan club was named the Sick Motherfucking Fans of Twisted Sister, asked the singer if it was a “Christian group.”
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