Twisted Sister: An Unpublished History
The story of how five rock and roll thugs from New York City defied the odds, donned hideous outfits and fought their way to the top.
“I have to tell you,” says Jay Jay French, sitting back and taking a moment to reflect on the more than 30-year history of his band, the New York glam-metal act Twisted Sister. “I honestly don’t think I could have written a script as weird as this.”
This writer, for one, couldn’t agree more. It’s the summer of 2006, and I’m sitting with French in the living room of his apartment, located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. On this day, the 54-year-old guitarist is dressed in blue jeans and a loose-fitting t-shirt; he has on a pair of reading glasses and is sporting close-cropped, spiky brown hair. The following weekend, he will put on an outfit similar to the one he wore for the period surrounding Twisted Sister’s 1985 album Come Out and Play, with full makeup and a now necessary wig, and walk onstage in Kavarna, Bulgaria. He and his band mates will play a two-hour set of bouncy, anthemic pop-metal that includes songs like “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “You Can’t Stop Rock ’N’ Roll” and “I Wanna Rock”—songs that, apparently, the entire world knows by heart—and thousands of crazed Bulgarians will scream along to every word. Shortly after walking offstage, French and the rest of Twisted Sister, which is rounded out by the well-known mid-Eighties lineup of Dee Snider, guitarist Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda, bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza and drummer A.J. Pero, will board a plane for the 5,000-plus mile trip back to New York. They’ll return to their families and day jobs, and the next time they see each other, they will most likely be standing in another airport, preparing to head to another gig in another place very far from home.
“Over the past few years we’ve been traveling all over the world and headlining these huge festivals in countries like Spain, Mexico, Finland, Greece—places where we’ve never even played before,” says French. “And we’ve been drawing bigger crowds than we ever did back in the Eighties.”
It’s a bizarre development in a career that has been packed with them. Music fans are familiar with the most well-known points of Twisted Sister’s story: One of the first bona fide stars of the MTV generation, the band, outrageously dressed and led by the wildly over-the-top Snider, were for a short time in the mid Eighties among the biggest and most recognizable acts in rock and roll. They scored big with their third album, 1984’s Stay Hungry, thanks in large part to the cartoonish videos for the singles “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” but were eventually done in by a combination of overexposure and long-simmering inter-band jealousies and resentments.
But that’s only one component of Twisted Sister’s long and varied history. There was also the many years prior to their success spent toiling in the bars and clubs of New York and its surrounding areas, an era marked by innumerable member changes, a seemingly unending string of record label rejections and a slew of alternately tragic and strangely fated scenarios. And there was the band’s post-breakup period, a time when most of the members shunned the limelight—and each other.
In recent years, there has been the reunion, an event that no one in the band imagined would be so successful, or for a long time, would even happen. When it became a reality in the early 2000’s, Twisted Sister chose to return to the scene purely as a nostalgia act, a surprising, but ultimately wise, move; over the past few years the band has received an overwhelming response from massive audience in almost every part of the world. That this has been a part-time endeavor (they have scheduled shows largely during the summer festival months and often around jobs and familial obligations) has resulted in a situation where the members—save for Snider, who still lives very much in the public eye—have forged an existence that seesaws between that of their halcyon Eighties days and the earlier, pre-fame years: They live the rock and roll high life one day, and in obscurity the next.