Since record sales have been in the toilet for years now, more and more rock musicians are publishing memoirs. It makes sense. Their audience doesn't want to hear any new material from them and the musicians don't have to share any royalties with their bandmates. A lot of them are obviously ghost written and are often full of questionable details. In his forward to his autobiography Shut Up and Give Me the Mic, Dee Snider goes out of his way to let everyone know he wrote this book himself and that he was sober enough to remember it all. As he points out, junkie rock stars don't keep journals - "Have you ever known a junkie? They can't remember what they did thirty minutes ago, let alone thirty years ago." And "Real heroin addicts can't hold their own dicks; forget about a pen or pencil." One of the things I've always liked about Dee is that he's not afraid to say what he's thinking.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Dee's book. Most people know about Twisted Sister's huge popularity from their huge Stay Hungry album, but I'm a hardcore old-time SMF lover of the Under The Blade era. I figured that part of the story would get glossed over to get to the glory years. I was totally wrong. The first half of this 400 page book is a headbanger's delight. You get to learn all about Dee's childhood of dealing with being the oldest of six kids fighting for attention and battling with his angry father. It's no wonder that he was attracted to the original heavy bands. Dee refers to himself as an "original headbanger" and he certainly is. He bought the debut albums from Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad as new releases. One of his high school bands only played Sabbath songs. The guy knows and loves his heavy metal. Something I never knew was that Dee was in a few bands with Don Mannello, who would later change his name to Don Fury and become a producer/engineer of Agnostic Front and many other hardcore bands.
There are so many great stories of the early days of Twisted Sister when they were a New York Dolls influenced glam rock band covering David Bowie, Mott The Hoople and Lou Reed in the bars of New Jersey, upstate New York and outer boroughs of New York City. A cover band like Twisted Sister never played cool clubs like CBGB or Max's Kansas City, but to underage drinkers in the suburbs. Eventually Dee starts to move the band in a heavier direction influenced by AC/DC, Judas Priest and Motorhead. This is when the band's real identity started to come together. Dee's wife Suzette started to dress the band in her homemade costumes. By the late 1970's Twisted Sister were a huge band on the local club scene but desperate for a record deal and international rock stardom. Rejected multiple times by every record label, the band continue to slog it out 4 or 5 nights a week in the clubs blasting out 3 sets a night. One of my favorite things in the book is when Dee talks about a club in Portchester, NY called Detroit. I always heard it referred to as "Detroits" and Dee gives an important NYC grammar lesson - "Hey, youse goin' tuh Detroits tuh see Twisted?"
Easily my favorite part of the book are the chapters on the years 1980 to 83, the peak era for metal freaks like me. Going to the UK to blow minds playing huge festivals with Motorhead, Iron Maiden and Michael Schenker Group will make you want to build a time machine. During this time Dee was writing all the rowdy headbanger anthems on the classic Under The Blade and You Can't Stop Rock N Roll albums. This was such a great time for metal. Things were getting heavier and faster all the time creating a new audience. Twisted Sister live was just as heavy as anything else out there but they also helped do cultivate a look that would become known as "hair metal." None of those other bands ever had the pedigree that Twisted Sister had. While all this is going on, Dee's completely sober, married and having kids. Not much in common with Vince Neil, here.
When the band finally does achieve massive success in 1984 with Stay Hungry, Dee goes into extreme detail about how they blew it in the following years. Over-exposure, musical mis-steps and massive financial mistakes. When it all ends with the abomination of the Love Is For Suckers album everyone in the band hates each other. Dee's attempts at a solo career are also failures and he digs himself so deep into debt that he's reduced to working for his brother at $5 an hour. The stories of his lean years should be required reading for any musician or actor who never thinks the bottom is going to drop out. Through it all, he manages to keep his family together and eventually switched gears into radio, acting and voiceover. I cringe a little whenever I see Dee on television but his great sense of humor usually wins me over. I cringed a lot when I heard he was putting out an album of show tunes, but luckily I have not had to hear any of it and don't plan on doing so. All I know is that this is a great rock book. You don't have to be a Twisted Sister fan to enjoy it. It's well written and very entertaining. Read it loud, mutha!
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