When 2-year-old Jesse Snider sees his daddy off to work, it is not the usual toddler goodbye. Jesse’s daddy, after all, dresses in bondage gear, rather than Brooks Brothers suits, and pretties up with lipstick, eyeliner and a mean tattoo. Also, Daddy’s company isn’t Mutual Life. It is Twisted Sister, the hard-rock heavyweights, for whom Daddy, or Dee Snider, 29, plays raucous frontman and resident songwriter. To its many fans the group “is like a bad car accident,” explains Dee of the band’s appeal. “You don’t want to look, but you have to.”
Twisted’s heavy-metal fans aren’t just looking, of course; they’re buying. The band’s Stay Hungry LP (whose cover depicts Jesse’s dad gnawing a bone) has sold more than a million copies since June and has prompted road-show bookings through spring of 1985. Their frantic, slapstick videos, meanwhile, are mainstays on MTV’s playlists, and the single We’re Not Gonna Take It—a truculent teen anthem of high school revenge—has scaled the charts in Australia, Britain and North America. About the only place the group hasn’t been welcomed is Amarillo, Texas, where Snider’s typically invective stage show led to his Oct. 7 arrest for using “profane and abusive” language. The result: $75 bail and a quick retreat to more tolerant venues.
At least folks are listening these days to the five-man band from suburban New York. There was a time when “people saw how we looked,” says guitarist Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda, 30, “and they didn’t stay around to hear how we sounded.”
That was the case in 1976 soon after Daniel Dee Snider, a former communications major at New York Institute of Technology, had hooked up with Jay Jay French, an aspiring guitarist who’d tired of working for a catering service. The pair formed a new band, adopted the Twisted Sister name from a defunct group and began dressing up in high heels, net stockings and mutilated dresses. Given their costumes, Twisted Sister “couldn’t have been a better description,” says French, 30.
The newly formed pseudosorority prepared for its first shows with the brio of beauty-pageant contestants. Recalls Dee, “We’d go to a women’s clothing store, buy something really disgusting, cut it up and wear it. It was the cheapest way to get an effect.” Back home in Baldwin, Long Island, Dee’s parents, Bob and Marge, were aghast at their son’s nonsuburban behavior and tried to get him to sell insurance. When that failed they resigned themselves to rock ‘n’ roll parenthood. “They gave me a makeup case,” Dee remembers fondly. “Samsonite—top of the line.”
Twisted Sister played in local Long Island bars, building up a devoted local audience of “dirtbags”—Dee’s pet name for the band’s fans. Even without a recording deal the group’s loud and often larcenous act (“Nothing about us is original,” says Dee) was popular enough by 1979 to draw more than 3,300 people to a New York Palladium gig. Whereupon Snider entered a new phase.
“I was the most obnoxious, egocentric, irritating son-of-a-bitch you ever saw. I walked into the Palladium, and it was, ‘Get out of my way! You are near the next superstar of this planet.’ Evil is not the word for what I became, but just…dark. My whole mind was dark. Night after night I was a real horror show. I had a bodyguard, and he was dark and I was dark, and we just walked around being dark.”
The orbit of Snider’s arrogance got wider, going more and more awry. At one 1980 show Dee was angered by a boy who lobbed a bottle at him (“Only wimps throw things”) and swandived off the stage into the crowd. “I was wearing a silver leather outfit with six-inch spike heels,” he notes with historical precision. “I figured that if I dived, my loyal fans would catch me. I flew past Jay, landed, came up and looked around, trying to find my loyal fans, and there they were—making a space for us to fight.” Worse yet, Dee smashed his right leg on the way down, and the band was forced to cancel a week of concerts.
The sisterhood regrouped in Manhattan, hired a manager and set about peddling its demo tapes. “We got rejected on every level,” Dee says. “During those years that no company wanted us, I felt that my darkness was coming back on me.” Twisted Sister traveled to England in 1982 and finally found the light when Foreigner’s Mick Jones persuaded a record company talent scout to check out a performance by the group on British TV. “The executive thought we were raving lunatics,” recounts Ojeda. “He said, ‘I don’t want to meet them—I just want to sign them.’ ”
The band members, who now include drummer A.J. Pero, 25, and bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza, 28, live in New York and, during respites from the road, its bedroom suburbs. All but Mendoza are married. French (a/k/a John Segall) is wed to Animal’s sister Jodie; Dee tied the knot with Suzette Guilot, 24, and a fan of his since age 15, in 1981. The Sniders live with son Jesse in a three-bedroom, Tudor house in southern Long Island where Dee keeps a mint collection of comic books, and where Suzette designs all the band’s costumes. Dee’s parents and five siblings live within driving distance—a ride Snider likes to take in his 1969 Mustang Boss 302.
“I stay here to be near my family,” says Dee, admitting that a country home in New England might be nice one day. It would be a place to raise a son and perhaps undo the damage caused by rock ‘n’ roll excesses. “Me, I probably have a hearing problem,” Dee admits. “But I’ve got it sussed out: Keep your hair long, and don’t clean your ears. Later I’ll want to hear the high frequencies again, the birds tweeting in the morning and the raindrops on the roof. I’m leaving the wax in my ears now, but when I retire I’ll pull those babies out.”