Takin’ a Walk.
We couldn’t get signed. We were rejected by every label in the United States five times. Five times! We eventually went to England to get an independent record deal and we first broke like Joan Jett has done, Stray Cats did. Hendrix also went to England and broke out of the UK. We had to do that because as popular as we were in the Tri-State area, we could not get a record deal. They would not sign us.
This is the Takin’ a Walk Podcast with Buzz Knight. This episode, Buzz talks with one of the most colorful figures in music history.
Dee Snider was the front man for the legendary heavy metal band, Twisted Sister. He also continues to host the House of Hair Radio Show. Join Buzz talking with Dee Snider next on Takin’ a Walk.
Dee Snider, welcome to a virtual edition of the Takin’ a Walk Podcast. I wish it could be in person, but maybe you could add the huffing and puffing effects in.
Well, I’m in really good aerobic shape, Buzz, so I’ll have trouble faking that I’m winded.
Do you take walks, though? I mean, do you do that out in sunny California?
You know what? One of my favorite things. I grew up in New York, my wife and I now live by the beach in California, and we have a house on the Caribbean in Belize. So walking on the beach is one of my favorite things, which that definitely goes against the pale ghost whiteness of normal rock stars who are vampires. But in my older age, I want to be tan and healthy and happy.
So what was it like growing up in those mean streets of Astoria?
Well, families who go to New York, immigrant families; my parents are children of immigrants; they moved to Brooklyn, they moved to Queens. Astoria was where my parents lived and grew up in that area. But then the dream is a dream for a better life. We’re all always dreaming for a better life for our kids. We all want it better than we had it.
So back then, the better life was to go out to Long Island, the suburbs, and live in the tract housing and get away from the mean streets of New York City and Queens.
You said it, I didn’t; but they didn’t realize that there was a whole suburban gang scene going on where I lived, which I’ve written about in my new novel called Frats, which you can’t see when we’re walking. I was in as much danger there as I was in Queens, if not more, because they were called fraternities, high school fraternities.
They didn’t exist anywhere else in the world except in a small microcosm in South Shore of Nassau County in the ’70s and ’80s. They had charters with the police department and had Greek letters. And so the school viewed them as being, “Oh, they’re legitimate. They’re like college fraternities, but it’s high school.”
They marched in the parades. They would have the Color Walk with their banners. Yet basically all they did was fight and beat people up. Known as gangs, but they were allowed to roam the halls wearing their colors and their jackets. And Frats is based on actual events about that period of time in the ’70s when that existed.
So tell me about Frats, and what’s going to happen that is a future evolution of that book.
So I’ve been writing for many, many years. And people, if you check it out, I promise you, I’ve been writing over 30 years: whether it was screenplays or short stories or just articles and memoirs, all kinds of things. I finally decided to do a novel, and the reviews are excellent.
People are kind of stunned, but I guess it’s a craft. And I’ve developed it, and I can write. But when a rock star writes a book, people don’t take you seriously. So it’s on a small independent, Red Penguin Books, available in stores anywhere you get books.
But I didn’t expect much more, but it’s a very rich story. And I got contacted by a major studio … Can’t name them now, we’re putting a deal together … who wants to make a movie out of it. But you want to say, “Well, what’s it about?” I just told you. But think Outsiders set in the suburban ’70s. You remember the movie Outsiders? This is about gang violence in suburbia in the ’70s.
Anyway, that was a really exciting meeting I had earlier this week. And I’m hoping it gets brought to the screen, because the story is worthy. It’s a powerful story. It’s a coming-of-age story.
It’s also about male toxicity, that whole thing that … I didn’t realize I was writing about that, but it is. If you’re wondering why we still have a lot of very violent men in the world, it’s because many of us were raised … I don’t know what we were raised like. But we were raised like animals, and we continue to.
It was very hard for me, being raised by a cop, the heavy-handed dad, to not inflict this on my own children, because it turned me into a tough guy. It made me colder. It made me a guy whose tear ducts dried up. It made me that hard person, and I didn’t want my sons to be affected by it. But to be honest, they still were. It’s hard not to be affected when your dad’s a tough guy.
And Mr. Tough Guy was in the church choir, wasn’t he?
Yeah, yeah. The Tough Guy was in a lot. I became Tough Guy. I was like an outcast. In the book Frats, it’s about the fraternities. The guy who the book’s about, Bobby, the main character, I’m not Bobby. I am one of the nerds that is always in danger of getting their asses kicked by the gangs. I spent my life trying to avoid them. I was a big nerd, and I was a big weird nerd. So they kind of said, “Better stay away from him. It just might go back. It might go wildly wrong.”
But at the same time, I did have my moments of getting jumped. But I was not that tough a guy growing up. Life makes you that way. And you just have to protect yourself and defend yourself when you live in the world that I grew up in. And it just makes you stronger. Hey, if nobody bothered me or picked on me, I don’t know: I’d just be a geek crying, watching sad movies or something. I don’t know what, but that’s not me.
We’ll be right back with more of the Takin’ a Walk Podcast.
Welcome back to the Takin’ a Walk Podcast.
Well, when Twisted Sister First really broke out big, I was working in that period in Connecticut programming at I-95, and seeing you and the band at a number of salty places like the Fore N’ Aft. Remember the Fore N’ Aft?
These are places that make you tough. Agora, there was Toad’s Place, there was Great American Music Hall. There’s so many legendary clubs in the New York area. Fore N’ Aft for sure.
We saw you regularly there as you guys were out playing all the time. We would do our station promotion nights there frequently. And then I remember suddenly there’s an explosion of Twisted Sister fame over your music. Were you guys taken by surprise about how quickly that all happened?
Well, the band was together for a long time and the reason why I-95, which by the way my radio show, House of Hair is on I-95 still, all these years later.
The reason why you guys came down to our shows is because they’re always packed. You knew the place; there’d be a thousand kids there, teenagers. That’s why people came to our shows. We packed them in. People kept expecting us to move on and leave, and we just were there for year after year.
We couldn’t get signed. We were rejected by every label in the United States five times. Five times! We eventually went to England to get an independent record deal, and we first broke like Joan Jett has done, Stray Cats did. Hendrix also went to England and broke out of the UK. We had to do that because as popular as we were in the Tri-State area, we could not get a record deal. They would not sign us.
So when it finally happened, yeah, it started. It’s like when you finally broke through, it just the wall came down and we plowed through. But as a band, we had done so much, experienced so much, it was like … I don’t want to say too little, too late, but it was almost like … “Big whoop” is not the word, either, but we had already played arenas. Opening up for people that were in the Tri-State area, for Judas Priest and Blue Oyster Cult.
We had been in arenas, we’d recorded in the top recording studios, our demos, in Electric Lady with Eddie Kramer. I remember the Rolling Stones doing Some Girls down the hall. I mean, we had bodyguards in the Tri-State area. We had thousands and thousands of fans. So in a microcosm, we were rock stars, but we hadn’t received it on an international level. So when it finally happened, it was like, “It’s about time.” That was the feeling. “It’s about damned time.”
I remember at the Episcopal Church that my wife and I belonged to … in Connecticut, actually during that period … And I know you ultimately turned to the Episcopal Church as well.
But I remember being called after a particular mass to a meeting almost of the church elders about the whole PMRC thing that was going on.
Which was pretty awkward, I might say. Can you describe what it was like being there with John Denver, Frank Zappa in the middle of all of that fight?
At the time we were in the center of the controversy. There was a list called the Filthy 15, and We’re Not Gonna Take It was on there for violence. It was a violent song, apparently.
We were dealing with protests at our shows and picket lines, especially down in the Bible Belt. Shows canceled because our New York mouths, the things we said on stage got me arrested down in Texas. So I was very much in the middle of it and it felt … We were Twisted effing Sister, man. I mean, I kind of expected it.
And when they asked me to go to Washington to testify, I viewed it as carrying the flag into battle. I said, “Wow.” I thought, “I’m going to lead the army into battle.”
I didn’t know until well later that John Denver and Frank Zappa; both may they rest in peace; were both going to be there, neither who was on the list. Neither who was a targeted band or artist. And to their credit, they stepped forward at a time, it turned out, not many people did. Not many people stepped up.
As a matter of fact, after those Senate hearings, I was pretty much canceled. It was before they called it canceling, but I became Public Enemy Number One. And it really hurt Twisted’s career that I stepped forward like that.
Alice Cooper once said to me, “Why’d you do that?” He said, “You should have just said, ‘It’s all true. It’s all true.'”
Because what they were accusing us of fed the rock and roll ethos; it fed the image of rock and roll. Me stepping forward and showing them they were wrong; I was intelligent and I didn’t drink and I didn’t do drugs and I was married and I was a Christian and I had a child; that was not rock and roll.
And it was damaging to my image because unbeknownst to me, people want lifestylers. They want not just people who are rocking out on stage, they want you doing the same thing off stage. And me, I was just recovering from every show. So I didn’t live the rock and roll lifestyle. I was rock and roll.
But be that as it may, I didn’t know what Frank and John would be about. Frank, of course, is always fucking disdainful of anything normal. Meeting him was amazing, and he went in there and kicked ass.
John Denver was a big surprise. At that point, he was so mom and apple pie with his annual Christmas special. We thought he might turn on rock and roll, but he didn’t. And Frank and I were cheering in the back room.
And when he said, “I liken this censorship hearing to Nazi book burnings,” wow! People don’t remember. They know John was there, but the power of his words had a much greater effect on those senators, because they liked him. And they thought he would be on their side, which he was not.
Isn’t it sort of chilling, thinking about the world we live in today and certainly how books and stuff are being banned and about the fight that you led?
It is. And look, censorship has been a thing since the beginning of time, if you really step back from it. And if I really step back, I almost feel sorry for puritan people. Puritan’s a general word, meaning people who have a very conservative belief system.
Because they keep trying to draw a line to stop things like … And every time they give an inch, the people on the other side keep stepping over the line, and try to push it further.
If you go to television, it was a time when a husband and wife couldn’t be in the same bed together on TV. Eventually you have shows like Friends on prime time TV, where everybody’s sleeping around and the whole thing’s about sexual interrelationships; not everything’s about it, but it was open. That was just acceptable thing. But that’s a far cry from where things started on TV.
And it’s always been like that. The conservative people try to control expression, freedom of expression. And every time they give a little bit, we keep pushing more and more and more.
The odd thing about the pendulum is that now we’re seeing the censorship coming more from the left than the right, even though they’re getting back to it. The right is getting back to it with certain things that they’re doing … Won’t get into that.
But the PC cancel culture: that is censorship. We were talking the other day, Buzz; one of the legendary comedy movies of all time by Mel Brooks, Blazing Saddles. In the ’70s, this thing, man, it pushed every button, offended everybody, and it was a hit, and he was hysterical. And you couldn’t make that movie today.
You could not make a movie openly using the N word, and talking about rape as a joke, and talking about all groups, all religious groups: nobody was safe in Blazing Saddles. But now you can’t make a movie like that because it offends people. You don’t want to offend people.
That’s another extreme of censorship. That’s an extreme of censorship. Wanting to ban records and label records, that was one-sided censorship. Another is saying, “Well, you can’t say those things because they hurt people’s feelings, because they’re offensive.”
I was writing a song on my last album, Leave a Scar, called In for the Kill. It was metaphorical; it was about going for it. That moment of, “In for the kill, fire at will. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment. My time is now.”
And I found myself going, “Oh, wait a second. In for the kill, fire at will; I don’t know. Can I say that?” And I was like, “Holy crap! I’m Dee Snider. I fought censorship, and I’m sitting here censoring myself from saying words because I might offend somebody with a metaphor?” Needless to say, the song’s on the record, Leave a Scar.
I admire your tenacity, your resilience, your creativity, the book; congratulations on it. And the future film, congratulations on it.
And it’s so great to reconnect with you, Dee Snider, on Takin’ a Walk.
Buzz, a pleasure as always. Look forward to talking to you again. We ain’t finished, brother; we got a lot more to say.
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