FOR MANY '80s metal bands, it was hair today, gone tomorrow.
Take Twisted Sister. Please!
The group's last tour took place in October of 1987, after three years in the spotlight of MTV and the national media, as well as the searchlight of a Senate committee investigating "porn rock."
(Cue spooky music) They're back!!!!
But not until summer, says Dee Snider, who brings his twisted show, but not the reunited Sisters, to Jaxx tonight.
"For a good 10 years, we pretty much didn't speak to each other," Snider says of former band mates Jay Jay French, Eddie Ojeda, Mark "The Animal" Mendoza and A.J. Pero. Together, they'd weathered a decade of struggle before finding an audience in the early '80s with defiant metal anthems like "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock," only to lose it because of overexposure and mediocre recordings that exacerbated personal conflicts.
"Then we started to let bygones be bygones," Snider says, "accepting that, like a marriage, you had some good years and towards the end it got bad. But the bad fades away and you can sort of be friends."
The "come together" moment was Snider's 1998 low-budget horror film, "Strangeland," based on a couple of songs from Twisted Sister's 1984 "Stay Hungry" album. The band's final lineup got together in the studio to record a new song, "Heroes Are Hard to Find," and did so again in 2001 for a multi-artist tribute album, "Twisted Forever." The band went public again in October of 2001 for New York Steel, a benefit concert for the families of firefighters, police officers and EMS workers who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"No makeup or costumes or anything, but we went out and played a short set together for the first time," Snider says. VH1 was filming the inevitable "Behind the Music" at about the same time and a reunion tour would have taken place last year, except that band factions had major disagreements about whether to go out with or without the outlandish costumes of yesteryear. Who could forget those mile-high platform boots, Snider's mascara madness and the kind of hair that defined hair band? Some Sisters apparently preferred to do just that.
According to Snider, "the resolution is that Twisted Sister is known for its look as much as for its music, and to go out there and not look like Twisted Sister -- or a reasonable facsimile, given the fact that we're all a bit older than we were back then -- is really shortchanging the audience. My face makeup is as much my mark as Gene Simmons's demon makeup is or Alice Cooper's whiplash mascara is."
Not just Snider's mark these days, of course. Even casual fans have noted that a certain Christina Aguilera has become the spitting image of a certain Dee Snider (for proof, go to www.deeischristina.com). Aguilera unveiled her new look in June of 2001 on the MTV Movie Awards when she performed "Lady Marmalade" with Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink.
"When it happened, my phone was ringing off the hook," Snider says, laughing. "What were her hairdresser and makeup artist thinking? You're a petite, cute 19-year-old -- let's make you look like Dee Snider from Twisted Sister!"
Snider, who hosts a syndicated weekly '80s rock radio show, "House of Hair," and until recently did a daily morning radio show simulcast in several cities, says he tried to get Aguilera as a guest. "The response from her people was no way! I don't think she has much of a sense of humor. C'mon, be a little self-deprecating, Christina. Let's convince people once and for all, by being seen in the same place at the same time, that Dee is not Christina."
Incidentally, Snider suggests Aguilera's not the only one commiting hair-esy, pointing to Hedwig (of the Angry Inch) and Sarah Jessica Parker ("She owes me a great deal").
Such connections would be easier to make if Snider had a higher public profile, say along the lines of Ozzy Osbourne. Actually, that came pretty close to happening and we might well be talking about "The Sniders of Great Neck" instead of "The Osbournes." About eight years ago, Howard Stern suggested to his frequent guest that cameras should follow Snider and his family -- Suzette, his wife of 26 years, and four kids aged 19 to 5 -- because they were like the Munsters -- "trying to be normal but we can't because we're the Munsters," Snider recalls.
He sold the concept to MTM Productions -- "it was more an 'Everybody Loves Raymond' scenario, a sitcom rather than a reality show, starring me but with other people playing my family." But MTM folded and there was a brief dance with Disney. According to Snider, "They came after me, wanting to use my actual family as actors in a real life 'Ozzie and Harriet.' "
This time, Snider himself pulled the plug. "What am I, insane? I've got one of the only successful marriages and home lives in the business and I'm going to take what's been an oasis through thick and thin and make this my job?"
On the other hand, VH1 did get Snider to relive one of his most memorable performances. When Big Brother and the Mothers of Prevention met Twisted Sister on Capitol Hill in the fall of 1985, it thrust the group's outrageous front man into the role of spokesman for degeneration, at least in the eyes and ears of those senators and representatives who heeded the call of the Parents Music Resource Center. Earlier this year, Snider got to play himself in "Warning: Parental Advisory," VH1's recounting of those hearings.
"Reading a script with myself as a character was surreal," he says. Snider and Twisted Sister were, of course, the embodiment of what the PMRC and the Senate Commerce Committee feared, probably more for their outlandish videos than their lyrics. Remembering Sen. Paula Hawkins's bone-dry recital of "explicit" lyrics, Snider notes "how innocuous the lyrics they were protesting were in comparison to the lyrics of today. That stuff was easy listening!"
The hardly Twisted Sister proved to be an articulate defender of free speech and champion of parental responsibility (he probably shocked the committee when he announced he didn't smoke, drink or do drugs).
Snider's confident delivery, and a voice made raspy from years of wailing at the top of his lungs, has been in the news again this year. Technically, that would be on the news: that was Snider doing voice-over tag lines for cable's MSNBC.
In their own way, "You can think for yourself!" and "Getting the tough interviews . . . Finding the real answers" are as hook-y as "We're Not Gonna Take It," and though Snider's MSNBC contract wasn't renewed, his voice still pops up occasionally on the network. He's been doing voice-overs for almost a decade, for New York Lotto, the Discovery Channel, Pizza Hut and Playstation.
"I have an ability to read copy in a unique-sounding voice that people like," Snider says. "It's the easiest job on Earth and it pays insanely well." He works from a basement studio in his Long Island house, also home base for "House of Hair," now in its fifth year and syndicated to 100 stations. Home is something of a multimedia hub: Snider's also started a record label and he's working on multiple screenplays, including a family-oriented film, "The Junk Squad," and a long-simmering sequel to "Strangeland." Snider wrote and co-produced that cult film, also starring as Captain Howdy, a sadistic serial killer-torturer who's into "body art."
"People tell me it's one of the most disturbing and creepy movies they've ever seen," the auteur says proudly.
The New York Post suggested "Snider is the screenwriter from hell! He is one sick pup! If this is an example of what is going on in his mind, he should be forced to have a lobotomy." In classic horror tradition, Snider would perform it on himself. After all, he recently received an honorary PhD from the New York College of Health Professions for his "spirit, courage and personal sacrifice in standing up for what he believes in."
Which, appropriately, includes Christmas. Just ask Celine Dion, who unknowingly recorded a Snider Christmas ballad.
Seems that a few years ago, Suzette Snider asked her husband to write her a Christmas song as a present.
"And I told her she was insane," he recalls.
But he did, a lovely song he titled "God Bless Us Everyone." Unfortunately, Snider couldn't sing it -- it wasn't in his range -- so he had some studio musicians record it for Suzette. Producer Rick Wake, who's worked with such pop divas as Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez, kept a copy and called Snider four years ago to tell him Dion wanted to record it.
"I asked 'Does she know it's me?'
"He said no. And I said, 'Well, don't tell her. I don't want to jinx this.' "
Dion included it on her first Christmas album, 1998's "These Are Special Times," though she changed the title to "The Magic of Christmas." Which, Snider says, "was fine. Just send me my 7.5 cents per record." The album credit reads D. Snider. It has now sold 10 million copies worldwide.
The next year, Dion and Rosie O'Donnell redid the song as a duet on Rosie's Christmas album and opened O'Donnell's Christmas special on ABC with it.
"I'm sitting at home watching it, my wife's crying, and I'm thinking 'This is just too much,' " Snyder says. "At the end, the camera pulls away and they're broadcasting into Times Square with Rosie and Celine and the children's choir holding candles, singing 'God Bless Us Everyone . . . '
"I just wanted to pop out from behind the curtain: It's me! It's me! Merry Christmas!"
DEE SNIDER -- Appearing Friday at Jaxx. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Dee Snider, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8101. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)