NEW YORK – Say it ain’t so: After a handful more live dates scheduled throughout the remainder of 2016, metal legends Twisted Sister will be hanging up their leathers for good after 40 years of headbanging service. “I’d rather we go out on top and not keep doing endless ‘final’ reunion tours,” says Twisted frontman Dee Snider.
In the meantime, Snider is keeping himself busy by prepping a solo album for a possible fall release as well as continuing to fight for First Amendment rights. He recently performed an acoustic version of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to mark the opening of the Louder Than Words: Rock, Power & Politics exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on May 19. “I was honored to be there,” Snider acknowledges. “There’s been a connection between rock and politics since the very beginning, and I will always be there when it comes to fighting for just causes and the First Amendment.”
FOX411 sat down with Snider, 61 to discuss the untold origin of “I Wanna Rock,” the constant struggle between politicians and the First Amendment, and Twisted Sister’s ultimate legacy.
FOX411: I’m curious who your influences were when you first started writing songs.
Dee Snider: Songwriting-wise, I’ve really got to go with Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, AC/DC, and — very important — Slade. If not for the [English glam-rock] band Slade, there would be no “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
FOX411: Yeah, Slade wrote a lot of ’70s rock anthems.
Snider: Yes. It’s little known, but they wrote “Cum on Feel the Noize” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” those two Quiet Riot hits. They were a big inspiration. I mean, they inspired a lot of bands — bands like KISS, Cheap Trick, Quiet Riot, and Twisted Sister. Without Slade, there wouldn’t be those bands.
FOX411: How early on did you know you wanted to be a songwriter?
Snider: I wrote all the Twisted songs by myself, but I did it out of necessity, really. When I joined the band, they already had some songs, but I thought they sucked, and I was very vocal about how terrible I thought they were.
I was constantly complaining about the songs, and one day, they said, “Do you write songs?” And I was like (incredulously), “Yeahhh!” “Well, do you have any?” “Well (pauses)… no.” And they were like, “Well then, shut up until you’ve written something!” I was steamed, and I literally went into my room and wrote my first song.
It was put up or shut up. The band wasn’t saying what I wanted to say, so if I wanted to say it, I had to figure out how to be a writer myself.
FOX411: In your 2012 autobiography "Shut Up and Give Me the Mic: A Twisted Memoir," you mention how much you loved the 1967 Human Beinz cover of The Isley Brothers’ classic “Nobody But Me,” which has the repetitive “no no no” line that you said drove your dad a bit crazy whenever you kept on singing it.
Snider: (chuckles) Yes. Well, I don’t know if it drove my dad crazy as much as it was a point of humiliation for me. I think I actually counted how many times “no” was said in that song. (Sings:) “No no no, no no, no no…” It goes on and on. My father just sat there — you know, a guy born in the ’30s, a child of The Depression — listening to his son singing “No” about 700 times in a row, and he ridiculed me for it. It must have gone on for years. It was very inspiring, though.
FOX411: Well, in “I Wanna Rock,” you also have a “no no, no no, no” segment during the choruses. Does that mean those two songs go together?
Snider: (laughs heartily) I never correlated that! That’s the first time someone put that together! (Whispers,) “Yes, Dad…” That’s how I got even with my father! You figured it out. I will notate that for the future: “Somebody pointed out…”
FOX411: I always thought that connection made a lot of sense. One thing I hope people understand if they’ve read your book or seen the documentary is that Twisted is a pioneering act in terms of the music you made. People had a perception you had joined something that had already happened, but it was really you guys and Quiet Riot who were doing something on your own before it coalesced into the metal movement of the ’80s.
Snider: Yeah! People say we jumped on the bandwagon, but I say we built the f---ing bandwagon. There was no bandwagon! I’m grateful that there’s a documentary out now called We Are Twisted F---ing Sister! that people are seeing. Some of my favorite things are the emails, the posts, and having people coming up to me, going, “I saw the doc. It changes everything about my view of the band. You were out there for a moment with Crüe and Ratt and it seemed like you were a part of the thing — not that you were fighting for the thing, and building the thing. I didn’t realize.”
FOX411: You must also feel good seeing generations of fans coming to watch you play live, especially when you see a kid who’s maybe 10 years old standing next to his parents singing “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Snider: Yeah, it’s great. My manager says, “You only have two hits; make them doozies.” These songs are almost folk songs at this point. People really know them.
FOX411: You’re the Bob Dylan of the ’80s, Dee.
Snider: (laughs) I don’t know about that, but “We’re Not Gonna Take It” — everybody in the world knows that song, even if they don’t know who wrote it. I guarantee you people in the Middle East know that song. It’s just transcended things, and it’s transcending generations.
Would I like to have more of a legacy? Sure. Would I have liked the band to have had more of a career and more big albums? Absolutely. But to be lucky enough to even have a couple of songs that people remember you for, to be remembered for something — that’s a blessing.
FOX411: I’d like to bring up a song that’s super-relevant today: “Under the Blade.” A lot of people in those ’80s PMRC days thought it meant something else, but it’s more about the fear of surgery, right?
Snider: Yeah, I said surgery to keep it simple for them, but it was actually the fear of being cut or knifed, whether it was surgically done or in an alleyway. It was about fear under the blade — not about sadomasochism and bondage, oh dirty little Tipper Gore. (chuckles) She must be a wildcat in the sack!
FOX411: When people protest about things like that, it says —
Snider: (nods) It says more about them, when they’re seeing things in songs that don’t exist. The PMRC and the Senate — they had an agenda, and they were manipulating the facts. This is what goes on. This is the world of politics. A lot of people who think they’re fighting for a just cause are willing to manipulate the truth to get that cause: “Collateral damage,” “the greater good” — whatever it takes, for the bigger picture. It doesn’t matter if there were some lies and some untruths mixed in there along the way. A politician has never let the facts get in the way.
FOX411: Did you know Frank Zappa before those Senate hearings in 1985?
Snider: I never met Frank prior to that date, but I was a fan of Frank’s. Interestingly, Frank’s kids were fans of mine. I remember Dweezil and Moon Unit were there, and they were little; they were like 10 and 12. And then him going, “Hey Dee, can Dweezil and Moon Unit meet you?” Yes. And they came back. (smiles)
It’s always an honor when your heroes’ kids are fans. It feels pretty amazing. It was great to get to meet him and to work with him in that capacity, and to fight for a just cause with him. [Frank Zappa died from prostate cancer on December 4, 1993.]
My biggest regret is that I never got to shake John Denver’s hand. He was just as powerful and effective, even more than Frank and me. Frank and I were expected to rail against the machine. John Denver was as American as apple pie, so when he stood tall for anti-censorship, it was the most powerful statement made. And I never got to say thank you. [John Denver died in a solo flight personal aircraft crash on October 12, 1997.]
FOX411: OK, here’s a hypothetical scenario: You, Frank, and John have been asked to record a song together in the studio. What song would you guys cut?
Snider: What song would I like to cut, or what song would we cut? I’d like to do “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” (Snider affects a John Denver twang:) “Why does it hurt when I pee-eee…” (both laugh) [“Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” is on Frank Zappa’s 1979 album, Joe’s Garage.]
FOX411: Tell me a little bit about starring in"Rock of Ages" when you joined the cast on Broadway in 2010.
Snider: It was just surreal, really, because it’s a show about an era I was a part of, and one of the lead characters is an amalgam of me, David Lee Roth, and Bret Michaels — all of us rolled into one — parodying us.
It was really crazy-great to see those songs presented as the great songs they are in legitimate theater, after they were discredited and dismissed so readily by the mainstream music media and press.
Here’s a story for you. Since the day [Europe’s] “The Final Countdown” came out [in 1986], I’ve made fun of that song, and I’ve been goofing on it on my radio show for 20 years. But when I got to Broadway, I had to sing it eight times a week in the show! (chuckles) I told [Europe’s lead singer] Joey Tempest, “You have the last laugh.” Every night (sings through gritted teeth), “It’s the final countdown…” Week after week after week! (laughs again) He who laughs last…
FOX411: You’ve announced Twisted is playing its final shows as a band in 2016. What do you feel your legacy will be?
Snider: I don’t look at Twisted and think we changed the world and we should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
FOX411: Would you want to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You’re certainly eligible.
Snider: Eligible by years, but I don’t think we have the record sales. We don’t have the ongoing legacy. I know it’s not always about sales; that’s why you have a band like The Velvet Underground in there.
I tell people that Twisted Sister represents an attitude. We still do. And when we hit the stage, the attitude reigns supreme. If anything, we leave behind that spirit, that attitude, that in-your-face feeling. I mean, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “I Wanna Rock,” “You Can’t Stop Rock ’N’ Roll” — the song titles themselves say it all. That’s what Twisted Sister stands for and it’s what we believe in. I hope that resonates throughout time.
Mike Mettler is the former editor-in-chief and current music editor of Sound & Vision, and he interviews artists and producers about their love of music and high-resolution audio on his own site, Soundbard.com.