The Rumpus Readers Interview Dee Snider

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Twisted Sister has just released Stay Hungry, a remastered double CD of their 1984 hit. We were given a chance to interview Dee Snider from Twisted Sister. We passed the opportunity on to our readers—and we ended up with an interview that was much more interesting than we had expected.

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Rumpus Reader: Everybody always says ‘Dee Snider’s so smart, Dee Snider’s such a nice guy.’ So I believe them. Did being smart and nice get in the way when you were trying to be a metal god?

Dee Snider: That’s a very good question. I wasn’t so nice back then. And, ah, but I’ve always been smart, and yes, it’s gotten in the way. And I still think it gets in the way, even today, that I’m sometimes, I’m too smart for my own good. You know, I did a reality show called “Gone Country” a year ago, and I was, because I’ve produced things myself, I was like telling the producers how to do the show. They really didn’t appreciate that, they just wanted a dumb rocker on the show and they got some guy telling them how to do their job. So, yeah, being too smart can get in the way.

Reader: Can you talk about giving testimony on Capitol Hill along with Frank Zappa?

Snider: You know, at the time I was asked and I don’t know how the exact call came in. People always ask me “Who asked you?” I say “I don’t know – management said they want you to come and testify.” I jumped at the opportunity. I viewed it as carrying the flag. It’s a battle, leading the masses, leading our people, into battle.

When I got there, I was really disappointed to see that not only were the fans apathetic, but my peers – other bands – were laying low and the record industry had already agreed to that warning parental advisory sticker before we even had a chance to talk. It was a very disheartening thing.

I came out of there, a lot of the press had totally manipulated what I said and tried to make me look bad. Although the monthlies, once they came out with the true evidence of what had transpired was there… But the dailies, they twisted things up a lot – a lot of yellow journalism.

I felt really abandoned by my fans. And my letters were being checked, my mail was being checked, my packages inspected, my shows were being protested and canceled, and I just really felt “What did I do?” I tried to do the right thing and I was really just hung out to dry.

But, over the years, the truth has won out and the response that I get now – you know in schools they teach about this now – I get so much respect and so much appreciation, it was worth it. It was worth it back then. I never regretted it because I knew I was doing the right thing, but I was very disappointed and very disenchanted by the lack of support back then. But today, not a day goes by that somebody doesn’t thank me for standing up, for fighting censorship and I get a lot of props.

It wasn’t just my fan base, it was the fans in general. They just didn’t get the significance of this crack in out first amendment freedom rights. It’s just “they want to put some sticker on the record, we don’t care.” But I knew, Frank Zappa knew, John Denver knew, that this would be used to widen the crack in our freedom of speech. That it would be used for the wrong reasons.

It wasn’t just about educating parents, it was about preventing us from getting the music we loved. And as I feared, stores do use the sticker as a way to keep certain materials out of the stores. They won’t rack certain records, or CDs, they won’t even sell certain ones. It’s even gone one step further when the Best Buys and the Wal-Marts, they force record companies to make alternative versions. They sell you edited product without you knowing it’s edited. You do not get the artists’ vision. That happens with DVDs as well. So this is just wrong. And that was our fear that this would be used, the idea of just stickering records, wholly different than it was.

Reader: Where do you rank yourself among the biggest celebrities to come from Long Island (other notables include Billy Joel, Howard Stern, Eddie Murphy, Public Enemy and Rodney Dangerfield)?

Snider: Yeah, there’s a lot. You got Mariah Carey, Pat Benatar, Cyndi Lauper. I mean, it goes on and on and on. I think that internationally-speaking, I’m probably up in the Top 5. And nationally-speaking, maybe the same. Certainly Billy is the big one. Howard’s an interesting one, because radio’s a very regional thing. So like back when he was doing terrestrial, in the 75 markets he was on, he’s a superstar. But you go to other markets where they never heard of Howard Stern and he could walk down the street. It’s weird how radio can be like that. But there’s quite a few celebrities, and somehow I’ve made my way up into at least the Top 10, so I’m pretty proud of that.

Reader: How did Dee Snider wind up writing a tips-for-teens book?

Snider: Again, you think at the time how you view things and how people view things, you know it’s not taken the same way.

They came to me and they said would you like to write a book, a Teenage Survival Guide? And I thought this is a great opportunity for someone like a big brother or cool uncle to talk frankly and openly – the kind of talk you get from a cool uncle or a big brother and I really wanted to do this book for that reason. At the time, before the book even came out, I had a war with Doubleday and I told them that I refused to, because they didn’t keep my final edit – they were trying to put big words in, and even though I use big words, I wanted something that was really frank and a straight talk and they wouldn’t use my final edit. I said well, screw you I’m not supporting the book. I wouldn’t promote it, I wouldn’t do anything. In retrospect, it was a mistake because the reviews on the book were incredible. Said it was the greatest book written for people who were growing up and I realized in retrospect even though it was only 80% of what I wanted, compared to all the books by therapists and ministers and just all the wrong people to be writing books, school teachers, it was still head and shoulders better than any other book.

Oddly, there’s a lot more to this book than meets the eye. It gets passed around, it’s in libraries, it costs a lot of money to buy a copy if you can get your hands on it. And in Russia, in Russia, it’s mandatory reading for every school kid. Mandatory. They got their hands on a copy, years ago, as the Soviet Union, and released it in installments in the only Soviet teen magazine. This was in the 80s- I had no idea! I thought they were kidding when I heard about it. Because my grandfather was a persecuted Russian Jew who escaped the country, so how ironic is that?

And it turns out that when the walls came down, one of the first things they did was ask me about publishing in hard cover. So it is out there. And then I was interviewed a few years back by the Moscow Times and they said how’s it feel to know that every Russian school child has to read your Teenage Survival Guide? I said slightly terrifying. But that’s kinda cool.

Reader: Dee, I heard you were in a ‘50s cover band with my ex-step-uncle Robbie Light in the ‘60s. Is that true, or was Uncle Robbie shitting me?

Snider: Actually I wasn’t in a ‘50s cover band with Robbie – Robbie and I were in a Black Sabbath cover band. And we’re old, so this was when Black Sabbath first came out, we played just Black Sabbath. We were junior high school. But, that cover band, the ‘50s cover band, I actually had to choose between joining The Dukes – that was the band – and joining Twisted Sister, and I was offered both situations. And one of my guilty pleasures is ‘50s doo-wop music, I love that old stuff, and I had to say “OK, hmm, do I go with The Dukes or do I join Twisted Sister? And I said, well, don’t wanna cut my hair, don’t want a pompadour, and I don’t think that playing ‘50s music is a career move. I joined Twisted Sister, wisely, I think. I chose wisely. But your Uncle’s not lying to you and tell Robbie that Dee said hey!

Great questions, people. You got a smart readership.